Ushguli: you will be astonished, you will be covered in mud

My hands tingled in Ushguli.  Technically, this was due to the altitude: Ushguli is said to be the highest permanently inhabited location in Europe.  Though these tingly fingers and my shortness of breath seemed more like symptoms of astonishment than of altitude sickness.

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Austere.  Astonishing!

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Ushguli is made up of four villages strung together in the mountains of the Svaneti region of Georgia.  These are not cutesy villages suitable for a afternoon of fairy tale ambiance.   These villages are a sort of living time-space continuum, where grandma has a cell phone and simultaneously lives the lifestyle of her medieval ancestors, or even her pre-historic ancestors.  The people who live here are Svan, an ethnic subgroup with their own unwritten language (and gorgeous haunting music).  Ushguli’s is quite isolated, made inaccessible by heavy snow much of the year.  The weather is harsh and moody.  Also, there’s mud.

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Okay so “mud” is a euphemism.  Ushguli is full of manure.  If you want to visit (and I encourage you to do so) you’ll need to accept that you’ll be ankle deep in a mélange of livestock excrement.  As a small-town bred former tomboy, I reverted to my upbringing and was just fine with it.  HOB on the other hand, minced around on his tip toes moaning and groaning.

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The first wheel came to Ushguli in 1935.  Until then, these sleds were well suited to move through snow and mud.

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Even The Infamous Blue Traveling Poncho can’t stand up to mud of Ushguli.

 

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These thousand year old towers were used as defense against invader and blood feuds.

 

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I especially enjoyed walking about and looking at the varieties of towers.  This one had six “eyes” in the tower’s cap.

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Animals also lived inside the towers, on the first floor.

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These days the residents of Ushguli seem to mostly be living in stacked shale and stone houses with wooden or tin roofs.

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coldroom

We stayed in a guest house at the top of the upper most village with a German couple who came up with us in a jeep.  The room was clean but freezing cold.  Svan people apparently don’t heat their houses much—they must be tough as nails.  We saw elderly residents walking about without coats not seeming to notice the sleet pelting their heads.

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Ushguli is a great place to remember how, until recently, most humans lived closely with animals.

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Majestic!

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Oh hi there!

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Whatcha doing?

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I like your beard!

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This knock-kneed newborn charmed our muddy socks off.

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Making friends in Ushguli.

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Did I mention the geography in Ushguli is astonishing?  You can actually walk to a glacier in Ushguli.  We didn’t, mostly because I wanted to spend more time looking at the architecture, but also because I was afraid of the mountain dogs, which are bred to be fierce protectors of sheep.

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Ushguli is one of those culturally unique places whose specialness is maintained by it’s inaccessibility.  Several people told us that the residents of these villages relish their isolation.  They don’t want the road to their region improved because they like to discourage mass tourism.  It’s not that they don’t want tourists, but they need to be in control of the situation.  If you visit, bear in mind you won’t have access to many tourist amenities.  Pack food and layered clothing you can adjust along with the weather.  Naturally, you should have waterproof shoes for the mud.

And altitude medicine for the tingling hands and the inevitable astonishment.

 

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How we got to Ushguli: shared a jeep from Mestia with some other travelers.

Where we slept: Guesthouse Kachari.  Price: €24 for a double.  Recommended: well, bring warm pajamas.

 

 

 

 

27 comments

  1. What an absolutely interesting place. love it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks—I am in love with Georgia too, esp. Svaneti. Also, cute ponies, am I right?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating. Love the goat on the doorstep. Not sure if I would have enjoyed the muck. 🙂

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    1. Thank you! I was wearing my Ushguli shoes today and traces of the muck are still on them. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am all admiration. I need to see this place vicariously because I don’t do mud. Thanks for going there and posting, especially the great photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Claudia. I felt quite self-conscious with the camera, but now I’m glad to have the pictures.

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      1. I guess for me it’s not the mud so much as the remoteness. But the remoteness is what makes the place so appealing. You have really gone back in time: the health of the family goat must be more important than anything going on in the outside world. Life goes on as it has for generations. No wonder there is treasured culture like the unique music.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow another amazing place, you have a nose for them, and I’m not meaning the mud. I’m not bother about the mud, when you have architecture to look at like that, it would make my fingers tingle, well my whole body really. Thank you for being so adventurous 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading blosslyn. I think I get more credit for being adventurous than I really am—like your husband, I’m terribly afraid of flying!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well that makes you even more so 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow. Where do you find these places? It looks downright depressing – so is not going on my list of places to visit but I love looking at your photos and wonder, (because I’m always thinking about food) what did you eat? Thanks for sharing your sometimes weird jaunts! I love them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you triciatierney. When we left our guest house in Kashveti, our hostess packed us a lot of food (boiled eggs, apples, etc) without us asking. So we had that food and then the woman at our guest house in Ushguli made us dinner and breakfast. The real question was water—I assumed it was probably okay to drink the water there, but we usually drink bottled water wherever we go to be on the safe side. I ended up drinking water from something a guy told me was a spring, but HOB refused to do it. It tasted fine anyway and I didn’t get sick.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. What amazing towers, they seem so incongruous in the rural setting, like a village scape from Starwars!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes—I was totally thinking I had walked into a sci fi novel!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. An amazing place. I came here about 10 years ago when there was still snow on the ground.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my, the road must have been really difficult ten years ago, and in the snow! Did you spend the night? I am curious if tourists have been coming to Svaneti for a while or if that is more of a recent phenomenon.

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      1. Yes – spent a couple of nights in Ushguli before returning to Mestia. Road was pretty bad as I remember. A few years earlier Svaneti was a bit more ‘no go’ due to crime and hold-ups but this became much better after around 2005.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. What a place! Just found it on the map, and it says planned national park! Thanks for the new entry on my list.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh dear, my list keeps getting longer too!

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  9. Altitude is a bitch – we moved from DC to Denver two years ago and it was months before I was able to walk up a flight of stairs without panting. The highest inhabited location in Europe? I can’t even imagine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What’s it like to do aerobic exercise at high elevation? I did a quick job up a small hill and my lungs made barking sounds!

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  10. Idyllic,muddy rural charms.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I always say the best things in life are messy!

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  11. Did you leave a suggestion that they could make a fortune renting out rubber boots/wellies?
    I’m amazed that you found out about Ushguli and a place to stay when there. Does one need a visa to visit Georgia?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As soon as we jumped out of the jeep in Ushguli a young boy in cute tiny wellie came up and tried to sell us Svan Salt (the special spice mix they use there).

      I heard about Ushguli from a boyfriend of one of my colleagues who used to teach English in Georgia.

      We didn’t need a visa, but I’m not sure about Canadians.

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  12. Oh my, what an interesting place! Thanks so much for sharing.
    Would have never thought to visit.
    Much love,
    T.
    https://tbymallano.wordpress.com/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you tbymallano! I don’t know about you, but I get all my best travel advice from other blogs! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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