Yesterday we felt that we’d been in Mestia long enough and that it was time to move on. Our next destination was Ushguli, a community of four villages in the remote northeastern corner of Svaneti.
What is so special about Ushguli? First and foremost it is said to be beautifully located high up in the Caucasus. Second, it boasts about 20 Svan towers and numerous old houses, which have been listed as world heritage by the UNESCO. Third, at an elevation of approx. 2100m, it claims to be the highest year-round inhabited community in Europe(!).
So we left Mestia around 11am. The road, which is now merely a track (though a pretty good one most of the time), follows the Mulkhura river eastwards towards a few hamlets, then crosses the Ughviri Pass (1922m) and from then on follows the Enguri river. We had a short break before climbing up the pass when a police jeep stopped next to us. The first question was about our nationality. We answered and the police officer started babbling away in fluent German! Amongst other things we learned that the road from Ushguli to Lentekhi is impassable for cars, but we wouldn’t have any problems with our bikes.
We crossed the pass and from that moment on the landscape was of an otherworldly beauty impossible to describe in words.
We came to the hamlet of Bogreshi and visited the St. George’s Church of Nakipari nearby. Bogreshi and Nakipari where the first places we’d seen that were truly out of the loop. That is, there are no shops there, no tourism worth mentioning, no jobs, no future for the people living there other than doing what they’ve done for centuries: subsistance farming and herding.
Many houses are really old, exceptionally beautiful, in a bad state of disrepair, and/or abandoned.
We continued along the Enguri and were wow’ing and aaah’ing constantly, about the beauty of nature or about location or architecture of houses and towers. Our cameras were busy all the time.
Visited the St. Barbara Church of Khe, a tiny chapel in a tiny hamlet. The key keeper’s family invited us to cheese, bread and matsoni (yoghurt), which was a much appreciated gesture. The situation got a bit awkward at the end when Alex tried to pay for the food, but neither of us was sure if that was appropriate, and how much would be a sensible sum. They did accept the money.
Khe, just like Bogreshi and Nakipari, is out of any loop as well.
We finally arrived in Ushguli at almost 8pm and were again awestruck by the views. The truly old buildings, towers and ruins were illuminated by the setting sun.
Checked into a Lonely Planet-recommended guesthouse, or so we thought.
It’s only about 45km to Ushguli but that distance took us 5 hours of net riding time (excl. breaks). In total we spent almost 9 hours on the road (incl. lots of photo breaks, etc.).