Sunday, November 3, 2013

Svaneti, Georgia

The Caucasus mountain region of Svaneti in Georgia was raved about, both in guidebooks as well as by travelers. It is not difficult to see why. Boasting high mountain peaks, unspoilt trekking opportunities, and villages steeped in ancient traditions, it is an out-of-the-beaten-path destination that time had passed it by.

The town of Mestia is the tourism hub of Svaneti, with transport links to the rest of Georgia. But there are smaller villages in the region that could provide an even more authentic stay. I was referred to a homestay in the village of Becho, where indeed I had the experience of traditional living with a Svan family. Unfortunately, it was so "non-touristy" that no English was spoken, and I could not find out more information about their life. But I was treated to a small little "performance" by the little boy in the family, which I believe is a form of their traditional polyphonic singing in the Svaneti region - an art inscribed into UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists!

Friendly villagers

Baking Khachapuri the traditional way!

However, what is famous in the Svaneti region is their architectural monuments inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site - the defensive watch towers of the Svans. The Svans, a sub-group of Georgians with their own language, are a fiercely independent people, and during the old days, warring between villages and tribes are common. Thus these towers are built and usually connected to a family's house, and integrated for their protection. Now, these towers are found scattered around Mestia, and can be easily visited.

And of course, there is the trekking. Fabulous mountain country to trek in, although in summer, the weather is surprisingly humid hot. Even if you can't do the popular 4-day trek between Mestia and Ushguli, reputed to be the prettiest village in Svaneti, simple day treks around Mestia would easily let you appreciate the natural scenery around. 

Transport in Georgia is basically run by marshrutkas or mini-vans. Direct from Tbilisi, it takes 12-13 hours (usually more) and there is only 1 per day early in the morning. What I did was to stop at Kutaisi, where the town itself has several interesting sights. There are then slightly more marshrutkas from Kutaisi to Mestia. 

Check out Svaneti when in Georgia! 

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