Unbelievable Beauty Of An Unspoiled Land
Hope you are all doing well. Here, I want to share with you all an interesting place in Georgia but before mentioning about it I want to tell why I consider this place to be interesting.
Have you ever met a civilization where they still maintain their traditions that their ancestors did? Have you ever met people who still worship God and live in the same way like their ancestors? If not then Tusheti is the place where you can find them. It is not only a place to learn about people it is a place that is blessed with an abundant natural beauty. You will understand at the end of my article the reason why I keep on speaking great about the land of Tusheti. Its best to visit Tusheti during the summer months. Summers usually last from April till the end of August. Travelling to Tusheti is not a hard as frequent minivans or mashruthka services are available from the capital city of Tbilisi. Minivans can be boarded from different bus stations such as Didube bus station, Orthachala bus station and Vukzali bus station. There are even trains that leave from Tbilisi Central Railway Station located in Vukzali. Tusheti is also easily accessible from other important cities in Tbilisi.
Tusheti is a region in the Republic of Georgia located on the northern slopes of Caucasus mountains at an elevation of 1650 to 4493 metres above sea level. The people inhabiting Tusheti are called Tushs. The region receives rainfall at a level of 450 to 900 mm per year and most of the rainfall falls as snow. Located on the slopes of the great Caucasus range it is no wonder that the place is cold throughout the year with an average temperature of 5 degree Celcius annually. However during the month of June ie, at the beginning of summer the temperature may rise to 10 to 15 degree Celcius.
The people inhabiting Tusheti, the Tushs are nomad people and their population are also wanderers. These people live in the mountains during summer and during winter they move down the hill to live in the Alvani valley. In the Alvani valley are located two Tush villages called as Kvemo Alvani [Lower Alvani] and Zemo Alvani [Upper Alvani]. So both Tusheti and Alvani are the two major hometowns of the Tushs however Tusheti is the historical territory of the Tush people. Tusheti has its border with two Russian territories. One on its north called Chechnya and the other in the east called Dagestan. On its southern border Tusheti has the Georgian territory of Eastern Kakheti. The region of Tusheti has some high gorgeous ridges at an altitiude of 3000 to 4500 metres. The most amazing ones to see is the mount Tebulo with its peak at 4492 metres above sea level, mount Komito at a level of 4261 metres above sea level, mount Dano 4174 metres above sea level, mount Disklosmta at an elevation of 4285 metres above sea level. These peaks seperate Tusheti from the Russian federation.
There are some beautiful ravines in the Inner Tusheti such as Pirikiti kedi which starts from the two rivers Alazani and Amugo dividing Tusheti into two gorges. The one in the north is called as Pirikiti Gorge and the other in the south is called as Gometseri Gorge. There are some narrow footpath over the Pirkiti gorge thereby connecting the two gorges in the north and south. The paths are called as Larovani path and Nakle Kholi path located at an altitude of 3317 metres and 2903 metres above sea level respectively. The mountain region contains full of ravines formed by rapid flow of water overtime from the mountains into rivers such as Gometseri Alazani and Pirikiti Alazani which make up the major water source of Tusheti. The Gometseri Alazani is joined by rivers such as Ortskali river in the village called Gogrula and Chanchakovani Tskali in the village Khakhabo. The Pirkiti Alazani is joined by other rivers such as Larovani Tskali. After which both the Alazani rivers run parallel to each other until they meet each other at the village called Shenako making up a large river. This water source leaves the Georgian territory and enters Dagestan where it gets a name called Andis Koisu which later on is joined by the river called Avarias Koisu draining into the Caspian sea with a name River Sulaki. I gave a detail explanation about the course of the river because the entire region of Tusheti is located within the river basin which is divided into three gorges or canyons. They are named as Pirikiti Gorge, Gometeseri gorge and Chanchakhovani Gorge.
Mountains are a kind of major attraction in Tusheti however the ice formation in the Tusheti mountains in the recent years is a little poorer than the past. There are approximately twenty one glaciers found in the region of Tusheti and some of the most important glaciers are Tebulo mountain glacier, two glaciers on Hatsunta ridge and one in the Diklo mountain. There is also an interesting lake called Oreti which is often mentioned as a bottomless lake. This lake hasn't been studied properly yet but it is believed to be a point of ice formation. Tusheti is a good place for those who like to do some mountain climbing and research some ancient history. The entire territory of Tusheti contains some clay slates that is considered to be of Jurassic period. There is also a sour water source called as Vedzebi which is situated on the eastern side of Tusheti which is used by the Tushs for drinking, cooking and bathing.
The region of Tusheti has a diverse variety of flora. The pine trees make up the middle and lower part of the Tusheti region. These pine forests in the region located at an altitude of 1600 to 2700 metres above sea level are considered to be the only one in the earth protected from human influence. Along with the pine trees there are also found Birch trees which make up the upper deck of the Tusheti regions. Pine forests and the Birch forests are the major flora in the region of Tusheti along with which different trees such as lime trees, woolly birch, caucasian ash, alder trees, maple trees, asp trees are also found. There are also seen some other plants such as Caucasian rhododendron, barberry, wild nut, honeysuckle, raisins etc. Ther upper level of the mountains also contain high mountain grasses which are the best source of making hay for cattles. There are also meadows that extend above the sub-alpine zone which is an ideal place for sheeps during summer. There are some unique varities of edible mushrooms found here which is not found in any other part in Georgia. There are some unique tree varieties found here in the mountains of Tusheti and it is considered to be a product of evolution for more than two million years. Such trees are Sosnowksy pine, mezereon, willow, elm etc. The blooming flowers from the plants with its snow covered mountains and trees during the summer months is an awesome sight to see. There are also a diverse variety of fauna found in Tusheti. Birds such as black grouse, snow cock, hwali, quail, raven, vulture, jay, woodcock, landrail, ring-dove, woodpecker etc are found in this region. The major animals found in the region of Tusheti are Caucasian goat, deer, bear, wolf, hyena, fox, marten, rabbit etc. The mountains of Tusheti also houses some species of reptiles such as frog, Caucasian ader, weasel, snails etc.
As I mentioned before the region of Tusheti is situated in the river basins divided into three gorges. There are four communities of people living int Tusheti thet are Pirikiti, Gometsari, Tsovata and Chagma [Chachakhovani]. The first three communties they are divided from each other by mountains. The first communtiy ie, Pirkiti is located in the pirkiti Alazani gorge, the second and the third communities ie, Gometsari and Tsovata are located in the Gometsari Alazani gorge and Chachakhovani is located in the place where the two Alazani rivers meet. Gometsari and Chachakovani occupy a woody area in Tusheti whereas the other two Tsovata and Pirikit occupy a mountainous narrow areas. There is an intense natural framework around the community of Pirikiti. Dartlo is a beautiful village in this community which is located in the middle gorge. Along the west side of Dartlo there are series of ancient villages such as Dartlo, Chesho, Parsma, Grievi, Dakiurta, Hegho, Chontio.
If you can remember from the above the village Hegho is the place where a river called Larovanis Tskali joins the Alazani. It was destroyed much before than the other ancient villages in this community. The houses are small but steady, the churches are made of float stones with fence roofs that are erected high. The village present at the highest elevation in Tusheti is called as Girevi and it is located at an altitude of 2400 metres above sea level. Before this the village at the highest point in Tusheti was Chontio which has only ruined houses found scattered in the mountain slopes. This village is located at an altitude of 2500 metres above sea level much higher than the present high village. Between the villages there are some fortress that are lean which looks down from the villages. In the Gometsari gorge you can find villages and ancient sites on the mountain slopes. The villages found in the gorge include Bochorna, Dochu, Beqhela, Jvarboseli, Verkhovani, Dadikurta, Illiurta, Vakisdziri, Alisgori, Koklata, vestmo, Goglurta etc. Most of the villages are empty now and you can see only ruins of those villages at the place where it existed. The worth mentioning ancient villages are present among the Tsovata community. Tsovata and Gometsari as I mentioned above are located more or less in the same area and the region of Tsovata community starts from the village called Verkhovani. The ancient village sites in this community starts with Tsaro followed by Mozarta, Indurta, Sagirta, Etelta. These villages that had a strong history can be mostly seen only as ruins at present. In the final community called as Chachakovani or chagma is the only communtiy among the four in Tusheti that is densely populated. It consists of villages such as Omalo, Shenako and Diklo. The fortresses found between villages were used for communicating with the nearby villages during the time to enemy invasions or such catastrophes. Abannosseri pass is a beautiful motorway that was built a long time before and it is the only motorway across the gorge with other paths only ideal for horse rides. The mountain passes are open only during summer season.
Apart from the above mentioned Abannosseri pass which connects Kaheti from Khizo alazani through the Stori gorge is located at an alitiude of 2992 metres above sea level there are also several other mountain passes in this region such as Sakorne pass at an altitude of 2835 metres above sea level which connects Panikisi Gorge to Gometsari; Samkinvrostsveri pass located at an altitude of 3176 metres above sea level connecting Tusheti region to Pankisi Gorge. There is also a second Abanosseri pass which connects pirikita Khevsureti to Pirikita Tusheti located in the Hatsunta mountain found at an altitude of 3431 metres above sea level. The pirikita Alazani gorge is connected with Chechenya with four passes called Tebulo at an elevation of 3342 metres above sea level, Ukerecho 3023 metres above sea level, Kachu 3552 metres above sea level, kachu which is 3552 metres above sea level. The mountain passes located in the Makratela mountains in Prikita and Gometsar such as Larovani which is 3317 metres above sea level and Nakle Kholi which is 2903 metres above sea level connects Pirikiti with Tsovata community.
The man made architecture of ancient time blends with the natural beauty of Tusheti. The villages of Tusheti are adorned with castles and fortresses. The ruins that have survived till date are proud monuments that symbolizes the reverence and respect of the Tushs. The fortresses that can be seen in two architectural forms. One of the architectural form is quadrangle in shape which has three to four storeys. These were actually military fortresses which has a square shaped opening for the guns. Example for this kind of fortress are Kesalo which is built on a steep rock. On the east and west side of the Kesalo fortress the walls are fortified with three additional fortresses. Omalo fortress that is surrounded with walls and fortress has also a natural rock on one side from a deep gorge of alazani river. From the Omalo fortress people used to throw stones at their enemys and the fortress has a fenced roof. The fortress of Omalo is built on a high hill which is surrounded by a high wall made of a float stone. There was also an underground tunnel that is built in the direction of Indurti Tskali. This is used by the guards to bring water without being detected by the enemies. The length of the tunnel is about 120 metres however the tunnel is ruined at present.
Tsovata fortress is similar to Omalo fortress both of which were inacessible for the Kists and Lezghins. There are also such similar fortresses found in the gorges of Chaghma and Gometsari. The second type of fortress built in Tusheti are those having a pyramidal roof. Fortresses of this kind can be seen only in Pirikita Alazani gorge. They are built with a mortar and are highly defended. These fortresses have many storeys, upto six or more and are covered with float stones. These fortresses were used mainly for self defense. The first floor of the fortress was used to keep the captives, the second, third, fourth, and fifth floor were used by the inmates for living and the top floor was used by the gaurds to defend. They defended themselves by gatherinfg and throwing stones, firing guns from the top etc. The fortresses are considered to originate in the 16th and 17th century. The feudal lords of Shamili often tried to capture the land of Tusheti however with the help of these well defended fortresses they failed each time they arrived.
The ancient Tusheti homes were well equipped to defend themselves from their enemys. Houses of this kind can be seen in all three communities in Tusheti. The first floor of the house in which they keep cattles is called as "Bashte", the second floor which is called as Shua is the fireplace where the family members live in warmth away from cold. The third floor is called as Zedashua which is used as living place by the members of a large family. The fourth floor is called as Cherkho which is a closed square shaped room with a fenced roof through which the defenders can throw stones and shoot at their enemys. It is hard to believe the architectural ability of the ancient people and even the Tushs don't believe that these monuments were built by humans they believe that these structures are built by witches. The Tush who wins the fight hangs the hand of the enemy on the fortress wall.
In Tusheti all members of a single family and their generations had their own change which is called as Khatiwhich is a pile of stones arranged in a ritual design. It is the place where the family's gaurdian angel used to live according to the Tushs. Khati is found in every village and even thre are two or three khatis found in some villages. Khatis are decorated with the horns of goats and white stones. Apart from the churchs they also had piligrim huts, khati barn and alehouse. Each khati is associated with a saint whose name the khati bears. Some examples for such Khatis are Lashari Khati in Chigho, Mariamtsminda Khati in Omalo etc. Khatis found in Tusheti are smaller however at some places some large Khatis can also be found. For example Lashari Khati which is a big complex. Saprindao and Sabcheo are are some important places on the village borders where the patriarchs used to sit on huge stones and settle down disputes among people.
Tusheti has a strong history which is worth reading however the highlands of Tusheti are difficult to access and it is less studied scientifically and archeologicaly. The first scientific expedition to Tusheti happened took place only in 1931. The first archeological expedition that took place in 1975 by the Georgian State Museum carried out excavations in Nishtako hill which is located in the village of Shenako. There were findings that belong to late bronze and iron ages. The archeological studies shows that the region of Tusheti was inhabited by humans in the 21st century BC. There were also some ritual materials that were used in the ancient times excavated from this area. All of the findings are found in the National Museum Of Georgia. The earliest hiostorical data that is availabe states that Tusheti was under the rule of the king of Georgia Parnavaz who is considered to be the enlightener of the nation.
It was during the 9th century when the Tushs migrated to the mountains and adopted christianity at their religion. From then on the Tusheti people had some close contact with Kaheti. Kahetian King Levan II opened up a way for the Tushs to reach Alazani valley. In the 17th and 18th century Tushs supported the Kings of Kartli and Kaheti during war. King Erekle II had several Tushetian soldiers in his army as he considered the Tushs to be brave. There is a famous Tushetian Hero who is linked with the Bakhtrioni Battle who is called as Zezva Gaprindauli. Even the famous Georgian Poet has mentioned his name in his poem called Bakhtrioni. As a reward for the victory the Tush leader asked the King for a place that he could be a master of. The king agreed to grant his reward under one condition. The king asked the leader to ride in a horse non stop from Bakhtrioni and he would grant him howmuchever distance he covers non stop. Zezva rode his horse till the horse died and fell on the ground. Amazed by his talent the king granted him the reward that Zezva wished.
The nomad lifestyle of Tbilisi started from this time when people began visitng their old living places during summer. Currently the present population in Tbilisi is separated into two, one is called Tsova Tusha and the other is Chaghma Tushs. The only major difference between the two groups of Tushs is their langaugae and nothing else. They both have the same traditions, ethnicity and culture. The chagma Tushs speak a language that is a direct dialect of Georgian language which belongs to the Pkhovian group of Georgian dialects. The Tsova Tushs speak two different languages. They commonly speak Tsova Tushetian language in their home and outside their home they speak a language which resembles kahetian dialect but it is not exactly the same as Kahetian language.
The Tusheti people do a variety of relegious rituals and other traditional activities which they follow from their ancestor periods some of which I will mention below.
Atnigenoba is an important festival that takes place on the 100th day from Easter and it continues for two weeks. A person is elected to host the festival and he is called as Shulta. This person is elected by the villagers anually. A few days before Atnigenoba hangs a pot outside his home which is used to boil Aludi. All the villagers will take part in the festival except for the women who are in the mensturation age. The festival of Antigenoba is led by a person called Khelosani who has the right to bring out a cross banner ringing a bell to inform the village about the start of Atnigenoba. After bringing out the banner the people who are three will shout out three times "Be you Blessed" which is followed by a health delicious feast. Both men and women sit seperatly during the feast and the Atnigenoba doesn't take place without an entertainment and feast. Horse racing and Khorbeghela is held during Antigenoba. Five men with their hands stand in a circle with their hands on each others shoulders. Another five persons stand on their shoulders turning around taking the Khorbeghela from the place of gathering to the place where the icon is situated. It is considered as a magical ritual. After a delicious feast ritual games of entertaining characters are held. Chataroba is a frequently held one such event. It actually is a kind of fight between the men and women taking prisoners and asking for a ransom to let them free. The Antigenoba is followed by the autumn work which is a busy season of mowing, harvest, gathering and storing. Apart from all these Tushetian rituals the festival also includes a beautiful folk art.
Visitors to Tusheti at this time are invited to join the feast irrespective of their cast, religion or colour. However the Tusheti people also allow visitors to join their relegious activities if they know them well like if you have visited Tusheti more than once.
Mariamoba which is the day of Saint Mary in English is another important festival celebrated by the people of Tusheti. This is actually a day offered to their ancestors who have passed away. It is celebrated on August 28 in accordance with the Georgian calander. During this day the people in the villages will lay a table and celebrate the days of "Elia Tsiteltisa" who is considerd to be the God of sky clouds praying for a good weather.
Saint George's Day or Giorgoba is a festival that is celebrated throughout Georgia. It is celebrated on Novemebr 10th every year. This day is mainly for glorifying the name of Siant George. This day also marks the completion of an economic cycle and by this day the harvest from the fields is usually stored. People leave their winter settlements and tie their cattles in appropriate places. Twenty days after the festival winter season usually starts.
Mzebudoba is a festival celebrated during the 9th of December which marks the turn of sun and the beginning of summer. This concept revolves around ancient concepts and beliefs. The local population believed that when sun sets in December 6 and finds a lamb there then the sun will stay there for three days and will rise only on December 9. If the sun meets a snake then the sun Jumps and there will be long days. On December 9 a feast table is laid in all families in the village and Kadas or biscuits of the sun called machkati, Khavitsi with curch wine called Zedashe and a single candle are kept on a tray. Then the women who prepares the dish lights the candle and places it near the window through which sun's rays enters the house. The women also offer the cakes and biscuits made to the sun.
Tseltsdoba which is popularly known as New year is celebrated by the Tushetians in a different time. On December 25 Tseltsdoba starts with a two week holiday for the new year. It is led by a host and a person who is the head of the new year ceremonies. In the evening of that day the head women in the family will bake images of human beings and domestic animals with some round dumplings with holes in it which represents the exact number of sons in the family. She hangs them at the hearth. then the women prepares a small round bread and keeps one beneath the pillow of each member in the family. Then she keeps the dumplings over the house and animal stall doors. On the new year's morning the women takes a dumpling called Tskaros kveri to a water spring with cheese, wool and water vessel without speaking a word to anyone. Once they reach the water spring they will throw the dumpling and say "I have brought you a dumpling give me my fate to take to the family". After this they throw all those things they carried with them into the water and ask for abundance of everything in the family. returning back home with some water from the spring they sprinkle the water around their home and cattle stables and use this water for cooking.
Small children are asked to wash their faces with this water. Then a man arrives at his home wishing a happy new year. Later the women takes few dumplings to the cattles breaks open them and offers it to the cattle. In the evening all people in the village together gather wearing a grand dress they have.
Didmarkhvae is the seven week fast that one follows during Easter. This is one of the important relegious ceremonies in Tusheti. This is perceded by three week celebration of markhvashemoi, Kidni, Khortsieli and Kvelieri. Kidni is the third week of January which is week of devils. It is believed that during this period devils crawl into your homes to prevent you from worshipping God and will make you mad. To know about their future people go out of their village in night and listen to the sounds that they can hear which is called as Sminaoba. The ritual performed during this Kidni week they try to know what their future is. the people believe that the dead souls can be met and therefore they lay a table take a fire source in their hand walk around the table for threew times. Then they light a candle using the fire they have and drink in memory of the dead. During this Kidni week people think that dead souls come back to the world and stay till the Khortsieli week. Khortsieli week is the period during which the dead souls leave the world. This week is followed by Kvelieri week. On the saturday od Kvelieri week a ritual is arranged which is called Kaltgoroba. During this time both boys and girls fight with each other and those who win will be lucky for the whole year. After this the people perform a ritual by throwing mud at each other. No one should be left without a mud stain in the village during this ritual. After Kvelieri week will start a seven day fast that will end in Easter. This is called as Akhvseba by the Tusheti people.
Khargav which is celebrated on March 25 according to Julian calendar comes after twenty weeks from Giorgoba. This is called as Otsoba in Tusheti which symbolzies the beginning of spring works. It is the day when the season changes from winter to summer and it will show the following year will be lucky for them or not. There are a number of rituals performed during this festival. People will not leave their homes without eating a piece of bread. They will take their cattles to graze with something called Tursa which is bought from the forest tied to their tail. It is tied to protect the cattles from evil. During this day the people conduct a ritual called Ugheldebis. Here the people take a ritual bread, candles and church wine. The people will make a furrow light a candle on the horns of the cattles and will start a prayer with a glass of booze. Then the ritual bread is broken into pieces and given to the cattles. Finally the rituals come to an end by making toasts for victory and they eat the remainder of the ritual bread.
The Tusheti region is famous for its needlework. The shepherd economy of Tusheti has supplied the region with an abundant amount of wool. The women in this region are well talented in knitting and pressing felt. The needles used for knitting are called Chiti and socks they made were adorned with beautiful ornaments. They even made hand woven loom, fabrics for cloth and Tushetian carpets. Some wool fabric called nabadi is knitted purely such that it could be pulled through a thumb ring. After the Industrial revolution factory made good dominated over the hand woven fabrics made by the local people. Still the art of knittin sticks around with the women in this region preventing the art from extinction. The materials used by the women in this region are fully natural and pure. Men made furnitures and utensils needed for the family. The decorations made in the furnitures will depict the Goddess, beast grazer, dail, symbol of a dawn star Tsikniskura., leafed cross etc.
Due to various problems faced by the Tusheti people lead to the low levels of Tusheti songs found today.
Salamuri which is a Georgian traditional musical instrument of shepherds, panduri which is another traditional music instrument were used by the Tusheti women who were masters in playing them. Panduri was replaced in the late 20th century by the accordion but the Tusheti women who were masters were able to use acordion and they merged the two instruments to create a single one which they call as "Tushetian Accordion".
On a whole I would say that Tusheti is an amazing part of Georgia that still preserves all the customs and traditions that their ancestors followed. Travelling to Tusheti will give you a real exposure to the ancestoral world which is still unexploited by the developing modern world. The climate of Tusheti will make you love even more and the hospitality that the people of Tusheti offer you is a thing that you have to experience yourself. Its historical fortresses and the culture followed by the people will catch your eyes. It gives you an opportunity to live in a world without any technology and will make you feel how much technology has spoiled us. The people. their customs, the beautiful nature all makes Tusheti a magnificient place in Georgia. Never miss an opportunity to travel to Tusheti when you visit Georgia.
Thank you for reading it patiently and feel free to mention if you have any comments or suggestions. Till I publish my next article keep smiling and cheers!