17th August 2017
Tour leader Cally Savage has just returned from leading our Ride the Caucasus horse trek in Georgia. Below Cally recounts her first impressions of the majestic Tusheti region...
We began our journey into Tusheti in the early hours of Monday morning after spending the previous night gazing at the mountain range from our guesthouse in Telavi. Telavi is the capital of the province of Kakheti with an approximate population of 22,000. It's an important tourist centre as it's the last big town before entering Tusheti National Park. The road leads deep into the beautiful gorge of the Stori river and then rises in a breathtaking serpentine above a forest belt about 2500m above sea level.
Our vehicles were based on a small pick-up truck design, a Mitsubishi Delica. They are ideal in this terrain where it's crucial to have off road vehicles to navigate the tough climbs into Tusheti whilst also being comfortable and capable of carrying tourists like a people carrier. It's quite an extreme journey which needs skilled drivers. This mountain highway was only paved in 1978; prior to this time it was only accessible by foot or horseback.
As we finally reach the highest point of this pass called the Abano Pass, approximately 2800m above sea level, it rewards the traveller immensely. The views are incredible and we can all feel the altitude at play as we take a short walk up to the tower at the very top of the pass. After a few hours covering this 90 kilometre section of the highway which is only passable for five months of the year, we reach our guesthouse for the next two nights in Omalo, the centre of Tusheti. Tushetians are nomadic people. In winter months they live in the lower flatlands, predominately from the Alvani region and in the warmer summer months they head up into the mountains. To carve out an existence all year round is incredibly challenging as temperatures can plummet to -30.
With the sun high in the sky we set out excitedly for our first ride on our new horses. We made our way down from the guesthouse through lower Omalo into one of the many pine forests we would encounter on this trip. The view was simply stunning everywhere you looked - wide open fields with not a fence in sight, wildflowers endemic to the region under your horse's hooves and mountains stretching up high into the sky and for miles across. It was a landscape which proved very challenging to capture adequately on a camera lens, owing to the vastness and scale of it all.
Our horses were born and bred in the Tusheti region and have a very calm temperament, good endurance levels and are incredibly sure footed in order to tackle the challenging terrain this region imposes. They excelled at scrambling over rock and are shod with a shoe that has two points extended at either side of the heel in order to act as a spike when travelling over loose scree and rock.