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Tusheti - A view from our expert author
The country’s remotest and least spoilt national park is only accessible for a few months of the year.
Just beyond Alaverdi, on the far bank of the Alazani, is Kvemo (Lower) Alvani, a village which in summer is very quiet but in winter acts as home to the bulk of the population of Tusheti, on the far side of the Caucasus watershed. It’s the starting point for travel to this wonderfully remote and scenic area. It’s also the administrative centre for the Tusheti National Park, which comprises a total of 16,297ha in the Tushetis, Batcharis and Babaneuris reserves. In the Batchara Gorge, north of Akhmeta, there’s a unique forest of yew trees, up to 25m high, 1.2m in diameter and 2,000 years old; this is currently inaccessible due to the problems in the Pankisi Gorge, immediately adjacent. The Babaneuris Reserve, just north of Kvemo Alvani, has yews about 1,000 years old, from 950m to 1,350m altitude. The Tushetis Reserve protects possibly unique virgin forests of pine (2,000–2,200m) and birch (2,300–2,600m). Although the national park is still relatively new, it has managed to support a number of guesthouses in Omalo and Dartlo.
The region of Tusheti was effectively autonomous as a tribal democracy until the end of the 17th century, and a road was not built here until 1978–82; power lines were also installed then, but these are now derelict and there is, simply, no electric power in Tusheti, and no telephones either.
The area is similar in many ways to Svaneti, with similar traditions of hospitality coupled with building spectacular defensive towers; but, unlike Svaneti, there have been no reports of robberies here. The scenery is almost as spectacular as in Svaneti, with peaks up to 4,500m, deep gorges and high waterfalls, and well-preserved pine forests of Pinus kochiana. Tusheti delicacies include kotori, a bread with a cheese and potato filling and very salty gudiskweli cheese, made of sheep’s milk in a bag (guda) of sheepskin, with the wool on the inside. There’s also homemade beer and zhipitauri firewater (as in Khevsureti).