Road to Ushguli – Republic of Georgia

The rain was still forecast at 90% all day, so our guide Sofie switched the agenda to allow us to try for a shorter, less difficult hike today, and the more difficult hike tomorrow . . . “difficult” is a relative term so for me even “less difficult” might give me pause! For today’s destination, two small 4×4 minivans were hired for what could be a wet, muddy trip, particularly if the rain didn’t let up. The steep majestic mountains we drove through were beautiful, with lush green trees and meadows on both sides of the valley. But the raging waters of the Mulkhura River and the continuing rain added an extra level of anxiety to the drive. After an hour and twenty minutes of weaving and maneuvering around water-soaked gullies, mud slides, rock slides, resting cattle, and sink holes in the narrow dirt road, we stopped at an iconic Svan tower, one of many stone structures that can be seen throughout the valley. Ranging from heights of 60’ to 80’ or more, the towers were constructed by each landowner as protection against invaders and physical disasters. When possible, towers were positioned so that a corner faced into the likely path of an avalanche, and history has shown that to be effective. The structures were multi-level and built large enough to house and protect the entire family.

Our end goal was two-fold: the three medieval villages of Ushguli; and, Queen Tamar’s Tower, 820’ above the village. Located at an elevation of 7,874′, Ushguli has dozens of dark brown Svan Towers scattered throughout the valley. Ushguli is one of the highest continuously inhabited settlements in Europe; Queen Tamar was Georgia’s first female to rule the country, having been crowned as Queen at the age of 12 by her father, the King in 1172.

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