Friday 17 April 2009

An introduction to Tusheti - Georgia

The following blog is my personal account of Tusheti , what I've learned about this remote region in Georgia, plus a number of personal observations I would have liked to have known when I was trying to uncover the fundimentals about the region . All essential when attempting to travel on horseback with my family in the summer of 2007.
I must confess some of the information detailed in this account could be inaccurate but I've made every attempt to try and gather as accurate a picture as I can of this Alpine heaven.
This small and unique part of Georgia is tucked up in the northeast of Georgia, on the Dagestan and Chechen boarders. Cradled in the Caucasus ,Tusheti is an untamed region, cut off from the world and until recently only populated by Shepperd's and Cowmen who make a meagre living by crafting a variety of cherished salty cheeses, supplemented by the farming of potatoes and vegetables grown in their cottage gardens. This remote and remarkable area is one of the most fascinating and pristine high-mountain regions in Georgia and most likely Europe.

In recent years the indigenous population has diminished significantly, with many Tush now working in the lowlands and only visiting the region during festival times. This leaves a minority of Tush to continue living a tough transhumant life in the mountains. A life made harder by the fact that most Tushetiens take three days to move their stock up from the lowlands in May for the summer pastures and bringing them down again in October to over winter in a more gentle climate. .

Life has changed in recent years for the Tush. Tourism is beginning to take a hold as the world wakes up to a people and lifestyle forgotten about by those in the grip of ambition and wealth creation. As we make a dash for prosperity and comfort, the western world appears to have lost touch with the land of our forefathers and for some, Tusheti is one of the last links with life as it was.

This account is an assortment of general information, facts and insight I've learned while travelling in this region. It is not a sentimental view but a pragmatic window on a part of the world that no man can ever tame. This is a noble land that even the Georgians find hard to understand but by reading this account you may gain a taste and understanding for Tushetians shear exuberance, vitality and energy, born from another era and a tribal culture that must be nearly extinct in other parts of Europe.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Getting to Tusheti and what to expect

Tusheti can be reached with a 4WD vehicle and only a 4WD.Well some take a helicopter but I have no idea how. The journey starts from Pshaveli (Kakheti) with the road taking you over the Abano pass (2926 mts asl) and onto Omalo, the main village of Tusheti. The pass, built in 1978, is only open during the summer months from around May until to October –Note for travellers: some homestays are often only open from July but a bit a preplanning will always ensure you have somewhere to stay.

The following pictures are just a taste of the tough and exciting journey to Tusheti.

The road up to the pass , if you can call it that, is a white knuckle drive of the first order with waterfalls cascading onto the road creating what the Tush refer to as ‘their own natural car wash’. Well it gets the car clean.

On the way up to the pass you will see by the roadside a sign pointing out a local Spa . Although basic ,this Spa is known by Tushetiens as a giver of life with the potential for revitalising the body and sorting out all manner of ailments. I've never been there but I am told it is worth a visit .You can't miss it if you ask any local. The sign to the spa is at a bend in road which I appreciate is rubbish information since the road bends all the time.
Once over the magnificent Abano pass (don’t miss the wild flowers and keep an eye out for the cloud cover) the journey gets more exciting, depending on the previous winter that is. In the summer of 2008 the road cut through the previous winter’s snow approx 4 meters deep, and that was in July. In the summer of 2009 there was a period in late July when the rain fall made part of the road impassable for a while but this is not uncommon. The road will always dry out you might just be held up for a couple of days.

Following the river, deep into Tusheti the road is often subject to land slides after heavy weather. The landscape is made up from a mixture of shale and rock knitted together by centuries of alpine woods.

The debris of ice and rock covering over the torrent of the mountain river illustrates just how violent the previous winter must have been.

This is a picture of me and my wife Melissa standing by some of the snow left from the previous winter in 2007/8 and yes it is July.

This view from within our 4WD illustrates how deep the snow can get as we make our way to Tusheti. On other occasions our trusty Lada drove over the snow and debris crablike, slowly inching our way across the compacted snow in what felt like a challenge from the elements to test our determination to travel to Tusheti .

This journey, never to be missed, can take as long as six hours to Omalo depending on the conditions and as little as four hours if traveling in a smart 4x4.
As a rule of thumb if you are traveling in a Niva or Lada reckon on five to six hours and a Mitsubishi type 4x4 will be a lot quicker and more comfortable.

On arrival you will see Tusheti has two Alazani rivers that join close to the village of Shenako, near Omalo.The combination of these two rivers flow out of Georgia where it crosses into Dagestan and onto the Caspian Sea. More of this later

To understand the lay of the land ,although it is not important to the traveller Tusheti is divided into four communities:

The villages situated in Pirikiti Alazani river gorge, unsurprisingly ,are known as the Pirikit Community.Villages in the Gomertsi Alazani gorge are referred to as the Gomertsi Community. And villages in the valley of the Tsuata Tskali river are known as the Tsova Community. The last community are the Chagmis who are located in the valley of the two Alazani rivers and the administrative center of Tusheti – Omalo
Omalo is the largest village in Tusheti and regarded by some as the center of administration and a good starting point when embarking on a trip around Tusheti.

On arrival you will be stunned by the exceptional scenery whereever you look.

A spectacular mix of, snow-covered, rocky peaks, deep gorges, and soft, grassy hillsides peppered with flocks of the indigenous sheep. Sadly the Tusheti vernacular architecture is not evident in Omalo ,which is still suffering from the brutalism of Soviet Russia.

The image above offers an idea of Omalo and the image below illustrates the approaching meadow which must be one of the finest wildflower meadows I've ever encountered and one of Tusheti's great untold secrets .

If you have the energy make your way to Upper Omalo , the old village.

This is me looking down on Upper Omalo with a tower restored by the 'Keslo foundation' to my left. Keslo meaning strong or tough.

In Upper Omalo you will be able to see the recently restored Keslo towers and some great examples of local traditional construction. There are also excellent Guest Houses to be found, as there are in Omalo.
Note: I understand Upper Omalo has now been developed (2013)  and some say has lost it's character.

An important point to grasp is as a rule there is no running water and electricity in Tusheti is scarce. If is does exist it is generally generated localy via Solar . This isn’t a problem but if you are a western city slicker treat the experience as a novelty and think of the romantic side to such an experience. Eating by candlelight and showering with a bucket of warm water is something we can all get use too and remember, you will begin to connect with the wild after a short while .

This Khatis(shrine) is from Gogurlta
Once you make your way by what ever route into Tusheti you will find evidence of its old animist religion. You will come upon stone shrines known as khatis, sometimes decked with the horns of sacrificed goats or sheep and possibly a bell. Women are not permitted to approach these shrines and please please don’t think how silly. This is a very important aspect of the Tushetian culture and insulting to the Tush if, as a women, you choose to disregard their custom.
More of this later .

This is the ' Kamaz' 6x6 super truck or Soviet monster of the highways . In my day this took passengers and general provisions on a daily basis to Omalo. This great beast winds its way up over the pass to Tusheti at a snails pace. Each bend in the road must be taken with precision and nerve by its driver. The road to this wilderness was not built for monsters like the Kamaz. I prefer the nimble 4WD Lada's/Niva's who seem to take the road in their stride.

Sadly I understand this truck no longer tales passengers. If does   have been warned, this truck is not for the faint hearted unless you are looking for a story to share with your friends and remember you might need wet weather gear and something warm when you go over the pass.This is no joke.

Getting there
The following information might be useful when making plans to travel to Tusheti, however my advice is: Never presume anything will run on time. And work on the assumption something may need to be fixed along the way . This is not the rule but it’s best to set expectations and you won’t be disappointed. What can be guaranteed when traveling to Tusheti is some genuine excitement with life pitching up with some exceptional experiences along the way. One other point to make to the uninitiated is when you hire a 4WD with driver don't presume it is for you alone . Friends may pitch up and take a ride, other drivers will wish to pass the time of day and this can take a while and you might find yourself stopping for an unexpected lunch along the way . Anything can happen.

Try these numbers for local drivers : Vaja idoidze-599 74 87 62 Dato Idoidze- 593 76 91 35 , Bagater Zviadauri- 599 31 03 66

As I mentioned earlier my preferred choice of travel to Tusheti is the Lada or Niva 4WD or a Mitsubishi if you can find one. 4x4with drivers  can be found in the small towns of Kvemo- and Zemo-Alvani in Kakheti. That's about 22km from Telavi ; I'm told by my daughter, who traveled in the summer of 2009, one should expect to pay around 200 to 220 Georgian Lari for a Niva/Lada for a one-way trip. These small white 4WD's can take three passengers but only two rucksacks possible three at a push . To find a car arrive in Alvani by 9am – the cars mostly leave from the central crossroads which is impossible to miss. If traveling by Marshrutnoye you can ask to be dropped off at the beginning of the road to Tusheti . I have found the drive from Kakheti to Omalo takes around 6 to 7 hours to cover 80 km and not 4 hours as some of the guides might tell you. If you speak Georgian ask your driver to travel very slowly on the roads running up to the mountain trail. Any chance for the drivers to put their foot down, they will and you don't want to frighten the chickens do you?

For the cheaper and far less comfortable but even more exciting ride, try the Kamaz truck . It carries a mix of freight and passengers and cost a mere 20 GEL, that's standing in the back out in the open. Remember it can get very cold when going over the pass and there might even be cloud cover at 3,000 m. On the other hand it is easy to get sunburned so be prepared- take food, there are no fancy cafes on the way .This giant truck lurches its way precariously from Alvani up to Tusheti, taking around 8 to 9 hours to Omalo but that's an optimistic guess. I understand the Kamaz leaves any time between 6am and noon, once they have a fullish load.

You might like to consider a Marshrutnoye taksi ,otherwise known as a marshrutka to take you to Alvani from Tbilisi .The role of the modern marshrutka is similar to minicabs in other countries except there are sometimes some changes to the marshrutka which do allow for standing capacity.If it helps I'm told Marshrutkas run to Alvani from Telavi for 8 lari, 45 minutes, once or twice an hour, 9am to 5pm from the Ortachala bus station.

The following distances might help when planning a trip

Tbilisi – Telavi 160 km.·

Telavi – Pshaveli village 32 km.·

Tbilisi – Akhmeta 170 km.·

Pshaveli village – Omalo 72 km - a short distance but very slow trip

Tbilisi – Kvemo Alvani 190 km.·

Telavi – Kvemo Alvani 22 km.·

Akhmeta – Kvemo Alvani 16 km.·

Kvemo Alvani – Omalo 90 km.

When I wrote this entry in 2009 'You Tube' had just started showing Tusheti videos. In 2013 there are now plenty of examples . To get a true idea of the journey have a look at a couple of journey videos illustrating  the nature of the drive and how difficult it is. If you are considering hiring a 4x4 my advice is think again, you need a local who takes the trip all the time. This road is generaly regarded as one of the worst in the world.   

For those of you who are lucky to have the spare cash you can take the helicopter to Tusheti from Tiblisi. My daughter caught the helicopter on her return in the  summerof 2009 from Shenako kindly provided by one of the village elders . The following image is of the helicopter delivering provisions to the army but I know the helicopter will make bespoke trips.

Once you have arrived in Tusheti the true mode of transport is the horse and we are not talking pack horses. These versatile, fleet of foot ponies have remarkable stamina. If you have the chance and can ride make the most of it and throw the rule book away. Tushetians will ride without stirrups and with any tack they can lay their hands on. Given the chance they will race at break neck speed just because they can.
This picture was contributed by giorgi bakuridze. Thanks Gio

Wednesday 15 April 2009

A bit of History and background to Tusheti

Map of Georgia

In 1975, the Georgian State Museum sponsored an archaeological expedition headed by Rusudan Dolaberidze. She carried out excavations on 'Nishtako' hill. This is located at the border of the village of Shenako, close to Omalo . The excavations revealed a terrace type of settlement characteristic to this mountainous area. She discovered 3 layers of different cultural ages: the 1-3.century B.C., the 3-4 century A.D. and the 6-8 century A.D.
Materials from the late Bronze & Early Iron Ages were found on 'Kurekhi' hill. This included everyday items. If you are interested the relics from this discovery are now kept at the National Museum of Georgia.

The earliest historical reference to Tusheti refers to the 3rd century B.C. this was during the reign of the first King of Georgia Parnavaz. This early written account belongs to a Greek geographer of the 2nd century A.D. called Ptolemaus who wrote about the geographical settlement of the Tushs . He went on to describe the Caucasian tribes - 'There are the Tusks ('Tuskoi' means 'Tushs') and the Diduri (the 'Didoels') between Caucasus and Kervani Mountains.'

Tusheti can be found in region 5 tucked up between Dagestan and Chechen
From what I can understand the Tush population is divided into two parts – Tsova Tushs and Chaghma Tushs. There is little difference between these two groups apart from their language. The Chaghma Tushs speak one common language, a Georgian language dialect, which together with Pshav, Khevsurian and Mokhevian dialects is linguistically close to the Pkhovian group of the Georgian dialects. Are you still with me? The Tsova Tushs speak two languages. In informal surroundings, they commonly speak Tsova Tushetian or Batsbian. They speak the dialect somewhat similar to the Kahetian dialect of the Georgian language outside their homes. Please please contact me if this is incorrect since as an Englishman I can only note down what I’ve read and learned from my good friends.

So there you have it. Tusheti has been inhabited for a considerable time .There is some dispute over which tribes dominated this region due to the language of scholars confusing the names of different tribes but I think it is fair to say the Tush were named 'Tushs' by the Lezghins referring to the word 'Dusht' meaning 'Enemy'. Interstingly the Kists referred to the bravest warriors as 'Enemies'. The Kist being a tribe in Pankisi. I’ll stop here before I confuse myself. What is clear is the Tush were revered by all their neighbors and have inhabited the region since 1-3.century B.C.

It was not until the 9th century that the Tushs adopted Christianity. Since then they have had close contacts with the population of the plain, particularly that of Kaheti. The King of Kahetians Levan II (1520-1574) was among the first kings to open the way for the Tushs to the Alazani Valley, the home of some excellent wine.

The story goes in the XVII-XVIII centuries; the Tushs greatly supported the kings of Kartli and Kaheti in the wars at that time with the kingdom of Persia. As testament to the Tush’s bravery King Erekle II had several Tush warriors attending his court known as’ the bravest ones’. Zezva Gaprindauli was seen at that time as one of those ‘brave ones’ perhaps the greatest hero of Tusheti. His name is linked with the historical battle of Bakhtrioni. After freeing Bakhtrioni from the Persians in a very bloody battle the elders of the Tushs asked the King for a fertile homeland as a reward. The King agreed, but under one condition – he would grant the elders the homeland up to the point an elder rode his horse non-stop from Bakhtrioni. Our man Zezva rode his horse until it fell down dead. A good day for the Tush but a bad day for the horse. The King gratefully gave this small region to the Tushs where the towns of Kvemo Alvani and Zemo Alvani have been built along with many villages such as Laslisquir, a village close to my heart and where many people from Shenako live.

Many Tushetians live to this day in this area, especially in the winter months when those who make a living in the mountains come down to the plains to over winter their livestock.
If you have ever visited this area your will have noticed the abundance of fresh produce. The fertile plains are fed by an unrelenting supply of water from the Caucuses. This warm Mediterranean style climate is a perfect combination for farming and a magnificent place to eat, drink and live life to the full.

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Traditions and culture in Tusheti

Please click on this map to enlarge. The place name spellings are on occasion incorrect but close enough and who's to say how the village names should be spelt.

This map is kindly donated from the Tusheti national reserve web site


The first and most important festival of the year for the Tush is “Atnigenoba”. Scholars will tell you it starts on the hundredth day after Easter and continues for two weeks. Well if you know the Tush you will smile and disagree - slightly. In principle Atnigenoba does start one hundred days after Easter but again this is an animist festival and therefore any festival days must work around the Christian calendar and in Georgia this is a complex issue. The Georgian Church is, one if not the oldest Christian faiths in the western world and as such the Christian calendar can influence festival dates if there is any conflict of interest. What is clear is the first festival kicks off around one hundred days after Easter and villages in the region will choose their own dates based on an element of tradition and what the elders can agree amongst themselves. A sort of well organised muddle, nothing fixed but at the same time there is a structure to these things. Now at this point I ask you to consider the idea of a bunch of well meaning enthusiastic Christian festival gowers attending an animist (pagan) festival. Well it works and what’s more, it makes sense. So read on.

At each summer village festival (Atnigenoba) there is a host. The “Shulta”, an exceptionally important person who is elected by the village for a year. Elected ,it’s more a question of ‘it’s your turn since your family haven’t done it for years’ or 'your brilliant at this type of thing and the family who should put forward a Shulta can’t do it this year'.In my home village we have the same situation when trying to find someone to chair a committee to run a local fete (a rural English festival). In short the Shulta is the fixer, party maker and catalyst to make it happen. An essential ingredient to a good party and we all know who they are. My accountant isn’t one but my wife thinks I should take the role up as a profession.

Two great men and me in the middle, in the Shenako beer hut. And yes you noticed we are not sober, perhaps that's why we are hanging onto each other.

At an indeterminate time before the great day a posse of men will take to the beer hut, a small house in the village built to brew beer and prepare food. If the Shulta is a man he will take control and manage the proceedings. If it’s a women ,well that can’t happen since the beer hut is a men only affair. This is Georgia and only girls before menstruation age can attend the beer hut. The beer is brewed, a very weak cloudy mixture. Often there will be good stuff for the women and another batch for the men. This elixir is brewed in vast copper caldron's and I think this experience is more about the collective spirit of men working together than the straight forward process of preparing food and drink .It’s all about sharing a few stories and generally having fun. In short this experience is hard wired into all men who want to control the barbecue, except the Tush know how to get drunk with greater style and enthusiasm and they also make all their own beer and ram stew for the festival.

This brew house or beer hut in Upper Omalo has been recently rebuilt. Notice the copper Cauldron in the top right .

This shot was taken just minutes before our Ram met his maker.

From my limited experience each village have their own approach to the proceedings. The sacrificial rams for the festival ( didn’t I mention the rams) are taken to the khatis (shrine) and slaughtered very swiftly by the person who has donated the said ram. You can imagine the situation ‘A village family finds themselves naturally selected since it is generally agreed by the village that this year is their turn to provide a Ram for the festival and they have to find the cash and make the donation’.A tough call if money is short. The ram’s blood is then splashed onto the khakis, a prayer is said and the slaughterer eats some bread ,drinks some Chacha (vodka) ,salty cheese and all the attendees do much the same but in a very relaxed manner while sharing some good stories.

Now for the good bit. The rams are strung up, skinned and generally prepared for the pot. If you find this squeamish turn the other way. A small fire is prepared and the ram’s testicles are barbecued. Great food and not for the girls since this is a boys only event.

The first time around I was slightly shocked. The second, well it all makes sense,especially if you are following the animist tradition and Rams are deeply symbolic in Georgia.

As the mornings celebrations continued some of the lads did a bit of sit down dancing to the penny whistle . Well sitdown dancing is much easier after a few Chacha's

The next bit of the festival proceedings I don’t get but I understand there is another person called a “Khelosani”, He is the appointed person who has the right “to bring out” a banner and ring the bells to inform the beginning of the “Atnigenoba”.Banners are not seen everywhere in Tusheti although Parsma have a pretty magnificent affair. Once the banner (a flag) is brought out, the “Khelosani” blesses it with a cry “aludi. Well that’s the scholar version.

The following three images were taken at a festival in Verkovani. This was a festival where horse riders throughout the valley participated and it's the only record I have of Banners or Flags but it gives one an idea of how they are used.

This example of a banner/flag on the khakis in Verkovani was to play an important part in the festival horse race. I arrived on my own and was promptly invited to drink some Chacha at the khakis which must have been the strongest spirit I've ever drunk, close to aircraft fuel ,so be warned .

I can only presume the gentleman holding the flag is the Khelosani.At the time I thought they were simply village elders.

After the race the winner here was presented with the flag. He then rode up onto the hills looking down on the festival to display his trophy. A brilliant race and make no mistake this lad took his life into his own hands to win a race of magnificent horsemanship and bravery .

Kakha Khimshiashvili provided this picture

This photo was taken in the summer of 2009 in the village Dano and the following day the village festival was held.
One of the important aspects of the festival preparation is the flag.In this instance the flag was taken from the village depository and a young man from Shulta family took the flag to a shrine somewhere high in the mountains. The tradition is the flag should spend a night in the shrine and next morning is taken back to the village and festival begins. Kakha took this picture from a great distance hence the scale of the image. The boy is running as swiftly as he can in the belief that the flag should reach the shrine as soon as possible, if he managed to reach the shrine without stopping his village will have good luck for the following year.

From my very limited experience the cry ‘aludi’ ,which sounds more like aluday, is also sung as chorus by all the men attending the ritual slaughter of the ram. This cry is sung out three times by the assembled men with deep resonance, ringing out across the valley. The men continue to make their cry of ‘aludi’ while toasting the day’s celebrations with Chacha and preparing the rams for the pot. I’ve included a picture earlier in this section illustrating a musician ,who when I last attended such a festival played the sweetest melody as we all took part in this ancient ritual

This ritual in Shenako of throwing men over a wall ,if they don't have sons, might sound amusing but in the summer of 2008 one chap broke an arm ,another was concussed and a third had a very swollen ankle after his flying activities . I was sleeping off the Chacha and luckily missed this event. My advice is if you are a man, stay well away or make sure you have a son at hand to prove your position.

With all this speak of rituals I'm missing out on the main and possibly the most important aspect of the festival . The feasts!

I'm sure there is a rhyme and even a reason to the order of these things but it's very difficult to work out when you are in the thick of the festival . In short on festival days men and women eat separately .After the mornings Ram slaughter the meat is prepared and lunch is layed out in a long line with revelers squatting on a trunk. Subsequent feasts might feature a special breakfast for men only. Women might have their own fun during spontaneous affairs and Khinkali is made by all the village later in the festival .

In Shenako the festivities can last between 3 to 4 days or was I so drunk I lost or gained a few days. Who can tell ,each day blends into another as the celebration gets a full head of steam.
Festival feasts

The following pictures are an illustration of some of the magnificent feasts I've attended and some of the personalities who attended .

Gaumarjos ( the Tusheti toast)

This is a typical selection of food provided at the festival but without the meat. If you are a vegetarian, have no worries. You will eat like a king - or queen for that matter .

I found this picture from a file of discarded images but thought it might help illustrate Chacha drinking during festivals . Most families will have their own Chacha horn for drinking local vodka in fact I have two.The drinking horn has tremendous significance throughout Georgia but at the village level ,during festivals time, the horn is used for toasting and helps endorse the connection with the all important Ram.

I came across my wife and daughters having a fantastic time at this spontaneous women's party.later the accordion came out and the women used their bread making bowls as makeshift drums.
This lad dancing in the center of the picture is not local ( he's from Chechnya) and the night before he got into a scrap after making a pass at local girl. All is now forgiven as our hot headed Chechayan gets on down but in another time he might have lost his life to flirt with a local girl.

Here are the men getting down to business eating and drinking and if drinking is not your bag- think of an exit strategy .

Another feast on yet another day and as always the men stick with the men.

In this picture the Tamada ( toast master) is telling us men folk why life is so wonderful and we all drink to that. Most of the toasts seemed to lack imagination but boy are they from the heart.

This is our Chechnya lad on festival day strutting his stuff on a local Tush horse. The sight to see was him as he took off like a bullet after asking me if he could talk with my daughters. And just talk he promised .

Here are the ladies of Shenako getting down to the the festivities. The cheese, pickle , bread, salad veg and Rams meat was wonderful and all washed down by either Chacha or beer. I never saw a jug of water on offer .

The women have all the fun at another grand picnic. You can see our Shulta pouring more drinks in the background.

More spontaneous partying by the women, keeping cool in the midday shade.

After our Chechnya lad had finished riding the girls took over racing around the village.
During the main festival day lads will race around the festivities getting ready for the afternoons racing event.

At the end of the festivities it's time to make Khinkali. This is a type of meat dumpling made from the ram slaughterd at the beginning of festival. Khinkali is the national dish for Georgians and some of the finest Khinkali can be found in Tusheti. This picture was taken in Gogrulta with Socrat and his grandson, Lily is in the background making the Khinkali. Not a festival occasion but excellent Khinkali demonstration. Note the wooden tray.

This is Lily demonstrating the art of Khinkali making. A shot not taken at a festival but it helps illustrate how the dumplings are made.

Khinkali is normally made by all the women folk in the village. Because of a clash of Christain calenders in the summer of 2008 this Khinkali was made at home as a family affair and with only one candle.

The village women from Shenako collectively making Khinkali for the festival .Notice the bottles for rolling pins and the cups to cut out the dough disks.

Crafts in Tusheti

Tusheti is not simply a place for festivals, although they are appreciated when the occasion rises. The region has a rich tradition of craft and a culture synomonus with the mountains. Sadly this is where our story lacks the lustre and brilliance one would have hoped for.
In the race to adopt a modern way of life many of the crafts have now slipped away with the passage of time.Partially due to economic considerations but also because of pressure from Russia when it yeilded power.

Although a significant number of Tushetians make a living from the moutains as sheperds, weaving and especialy carpet weaving has almost died out.

Tusheti carpet and Kilm making is hard to find. My wife found this Kilm in Pasma being aired out in the sun.

I'm told that there is a carpet maker in the Alvani at a place called the "Carpet House" and Marani (wine cellar) . The Marani in Alvani is apprently a good example of traditional winemaking, where almost all traditional household winemaking implements and vessels are still preserved. Visitors can taste the wines aged according to traditional practices and in addition, visitors have an opportunity to taste honey and locally made honey vodka - Santlis araki. Santlis means honey wax and araki is vodka in general .The same family operates a carpet house on the second floor of their building. Tushetian sheep wool is processed, dyed with natural dyes and used for the manufacture of carpets, tapestry and other handicrafts.
The Alvani Marani /"Carpet House" is located about 3-4 km distance from Alaverdi cathedral, so you can take a trip and kill two birds with one stone.

Contact Lili Murtazashvili Phone: +995 55 91 21 45

What is more common are the carpets thrown over the horse and often sported by the young lads hurtling around the mountains on their magnificent steeds.

The PomPoms are a common decoration to the horse carpet.

This working saddle made by Socrat illustrating Tusheti craftmanship in leather.You can just make out a felt in grey used with most saddles but sadly the felts arer no longer made in Tusheti.

The two preceeding images of felts were found by my wife in Parsma as villages hung their bed linen out to air on arrival for the summer festival.

This out of focus image pictures an elderly lady selling her Tushetian slippers (Chitti) in Pasma 2007. Perhaps one of the last vestages of traditional dress in Tusheti. On occasions people will sew PVC soles to thier slippers. I can vouch they are extreamly comfortable and great for the winter .I've sewn leather soles to mine and they are wonderful
In modern Georgia it is difficult to find examples of traditional Tushetian dress. There is a small museum in Upper Omalo where impliments are displayed but to my knowleged Tusheti does not have an ethnographic museum of its own,which is a shame. There is a folk museum in Tibilisi but it's always been closed when I've attempted to visit .However I'm told by my daughter it is well worth the visit.

The following pictures illustrate some of the costumes my wife and I have been lucky enough to find on our travels in Tushti. I've noticed young Georgians are starting to wear traditional dress at weddings so there is hope that Georgia can hang on to its traditional dress and not loose a thousand years of tradition abd rich culture.

If I remember correctly the coins on this jacket are dated from around the 40's and 50's and judging from much of the other marterial I think this jacket is about 50 years old.

The embroidery panels are woven on a similar loom to a Kilm.

My wife is quite tall but I think she does a fair job as a cloths horse although she is very self consious in this picture . In it's day this garment must have looked wonderful with the mixture of madder , weild and indigo dyed material.

I thought this shot might be interesting since it illustrates a combination of the kilm in natural wool and the traditional jerkin.

Kakha Khimshiashvili has been good enough to help me clarify a number of points and has also provided a couple of very interesting pictures.

This is a picture by one of Georgia's most renowed painters from XX century,Tengiz Mirzashvili. He had a passion for Tusheti and painted a number of paintings of the region.

Tengiz Mirzashvili died in 2008

This image of a mourning family in Shenako was kindly donated by Irma Chvritidze. Sadly I don’t know the date of the picture but it illustrates the dress of the Tush ,possibly in the early 20th century, and the ritual of laying out the cloths of the deceased for close family to mourn.
In the top right hand corner there appeares to be a funeral pyre but I may be wrong.