Friday, 20 April 2007
As on the first trip to this village, Nodar gave me only the morning hours of our next day to run around and take what photographs I could. I did that and resigned myself to being thankful. Armed with a big stick in hand against the fierce local guard dogs, I had set off soon after dawn so as to see as much as I could of the green season. Soon after midday we packed up, said our thankyous to Dato and Nanuli, and were away towards Mestia.
Just around the first bend, however, a huge rockfall changed everything. It must have happened soon before we departed, as no one had reported it yet. How many tons of rock? A hundred, a thousand? I'm no expert. It was enough to keep us firmly in place in Ushguli until heavy machinery could arrive from Mestia; that was the main thing. Was I sorry? Unconsolable. What on earth would I do with myself for... days, possibly?! Heh heh heh. How many rolls of film did I have? SEVENTEEN.
Tomorrow - extra time in Ushguli.
Nodar is sitting in the very spot where one of his ancestors was killed more than a century ago. The man, of the Dadeshkelianis who ruled Svaneti at the time, had come to put Ushguli under his authority, so I'm told. The village didn't want him, though, so they decided that he must die. But who would perform the deed? It would set off a chain of tit-for-tat revenge killings between the families of victim and murderer. This was avoided in a most ingenious way. A rifle was set up on a post poking through a hole in a wall, a long string tied to its trigger. The man was invited to the preordained location... and the entire village, men, women, children, were lined up along the string on the other side of the wall. They all pulled together, and all took blame for his death.
Welcome to pre-Soviet governance in the Caucasus.
The village looks very different free of snow and clad in green. It has burst into life, taking advantage of the relatively short summer, soaking up sunlight made fiercer by the thinner local atmosphere.
This Orthodox church looks down over the entire village and the six other churches from its lofty position, guarded by the second-highest watchtower in Europe. (More on the highest tower shortly.)
We survived the Lentekhi road, including an ice-and-snow bridge crossing - in August! And here, making hay for the family cows, was our host in Ushguli.
Sorry I'm on the other side of the world today, but thinking of you.
All my love,
(Posted while it was still your birthday in your time zone...)
Ps Nodar & his family send fond greetings, congratulations and best wishes also.
Thursday, 19 April 2007
Just what I needed: something to make the usual, occasionally white-knuckle road up via Zugdidi seem TAME.
Tomorrow: continuation of this trip, above and into Ushguli...
Yes, it can be overdone - especially if, like me, one is not very overweight to begin with. These "before and after" shots nicely illustrate the dangers of unsupervised fad dieting. Be warned!
This is my primary memory of my only visit so far to Lentekhi, which has no watchtowers. The weather was quite rainy during the few days of our stay, and it made for some dramatic if chill scenery.
There IS another way to drive to Ushguli instead of through Zugdidi and Mestia. A shorter but more risky way, the road in worse shape and open for less of the year. Lentekhi, above Kutaisi, was our first long stop on this route. The fellow on the right, an old friend of Nodar's, was our host in the village for several days. The sawmill machinery is certainly somewhat older than he is.
This is exactly where and how it almost always begins. My 4-wheel drive 1991 Niva is readied for its arduous mountain trek at a garage, complete with several essential spare parts. We collect empty plastic bottles to refill at the destination with Svan mineral water, good healthy stuff. Luggage is packed into and onto the car - I always manage to take too much, and also we rarely travel with more than one empty seat. We also take food items which are unavailable up in the mountains: I'm sometimes asked to cook Asian food, for example. Gifts for our hosts, especially useful items and any photographs from the previous trip. Then, off on a wing and a prayer.
Wednesday, 18 April 2007
Visible in the background, the church is locked, high on a hill with a steep path winding up to it. In 2005 some friends and I paid for the privelege of having it opened for us, with a guide to take us up and in. Kvirike is guarded 24/7 in shifts by villagers. Because...
Among its icons is one in chased gold, one of the most important icons in the entire Orthodox world, which was stolen years ago, before such heavy guarding began. The thieves ran away with their prize across the mountains... and were pursued by the locals who, catching up to them, stoned them to death and recovered the treasure. Although we saw other beautiful Orthodox icons in the church, the main item remained locked away in its own strongbox; it is displayed only once a year, for Kvirikoba, the famous festival of this church.
In the foreground are a metal cross and some bottles. One is supposed to drink a toast to the local saint; but not, presumably, to then litter the ground with empty bottles? (One step back would reveal what I'm describing.) The fact is that there's no organised garbage collection service at ALL in this part of the country, so it's not just a matter of shaming people into not polluting in this manner. Complicated. But garbage strewn in Svaneti is still an easy sell to locals as a sin against nature and God.
Nodar's home orchard looks out over the Caucasus. No wonder his pears and apples are the best with such strong sunlight, good soil, air and water all going into the mix.
The hydroelectric dam's lake was nearly full after a summer of low electric usage in Georgia and good precipitation and melt to fill it up.
Nodar's brother-in-law drove off a mountainside in his logging truck at night after 3 enforced feasts and far too much to drink; who let him go in that condition?
A bull was sacrificed as part of the 40-day memorial; here its meat and organs are being cooked.
Georgia is blessed with great water resources, many of them enriched with various minerals, some bottled and sold across the former USSR. Tbilisi was founded some 1500 years ago on a hot spring which is still in use today, the basis for a public baths complex. This mountain spring in the photograph, like many of the more than 2000 around the country, is protected from pollution and much revered for the quality of its water. This is Nodar's teenage son Lasha several years back, filling bottles.
Tuesday, 17 April 2007
Svan caps are made of sheep wool felt, mostly grey in colour, hemispherical, waterproof enough to drink from. This one is nearly finished, needing a trim of its base and a cross and tassel to be sewn onto it. New, they are reminiscent of an equestrian helmet in hardness, but they soften up in use.
Nodar and I at his home. Camera on tripod for both positions (we swapped places); slightly slow shutter speed to blur our motion while keeping the rest of the scene sharp. Without wood there's no heat or cooking.
This photograph dates from before my "hate affair" with araqi, the favoured drink of Svaneti. At the time I despised only its taste (though I've never been drunk). Later I realised how many lives - including those of people I knew - have been cut short through this poison.
There is a place on the main highway across Georgia where pottery seems to be the main occupation. Shrosha is in the mountains separating east from west, unmissable with its roadside stalls of wares. In the foreground of this shot are wine jugs and casseroles for lobio (bean stew). Background - smaller wine storage containers, called kvevrebi. Much larger versions of these are sunk into the ground in a special room or building of one's house, the marani; hundreds of litres of wine may be called for during a supra, or feast. A fullsize kvevri may be large enough for a man to enter in order to clean it...
The road home (public transport), central Svaneti, March 2007
Not for the faint of heart, these roads. But this is already past the worst of it, with relatively smooth sailing from here on down to Zugdidi.
Monday, 16 April 2007
I love and miss these trees, and will forever associate them with Zimbabwe, although I recently learned that they are actually an import from South America from the beginning of the 20th century.
Our visit to the Falls was at their low season, which perhaps was a good thing, as it meant that the wet "smoke that thunders" wasn't enough to drown my camera in spray! It was still awesome enough to leave us speechless. A further cause for jaws hitting the ground was the small group of tourists (see below) on the far side of the falls, bathing in a tiny pool RIGHT on the edge of... how many tens of meters' drop straight down into destruction? They were calm enough about it to make this seem a common occurrence.
Sunday, 15 April 2007
The elephants are being rehabilitated as well. More great opportunities to get close and personal.
For those who are interested in knowing more, the park's webpage is
These teenage lions are being rehabilitated to return to the wild. So they are "temporarily captive", and "half-tame"... enough so for small groups of people to walk with them. Which my sister and I did, and which led to some delightful portraits. Especially of the young lioness, still light enough to put herself up a tree and seemingly young enough not to know what to do with herself once she was there. I was laughing all the way through the film, thrilled.