In the Caucasus Region stretching from Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, lays a dreamy stretch from Tusheti to Khevsureti with ancient fortresses, green grasslands, mountains and an expanse of water gushing in between. This slice of nature is called the Atsunta Pass which is deemed to be the best trek in all of Georgia!
How to reach: Fly in to Tbilsi and from there travel by road for about 7-8 hours to reach Omalo.
Duration: 8 days
Best time to visit/trek: July to September
Altitude: 11,582 ft
For the ones that are always keen on lending their ears to hear about other cultures, the ones who find the missing pages of history suggest to be a chance to explore and also the ones who find themselves most at ease when they wake up to see hills and grass all kissed by the morning dew, for all such people who are champions of both history and nature alike, here is a trek sure to prove to be a delight. The Atsunta Pass trek is known for a number of things. To begin with, its vast grasslands that stretch for as far as one can see with the lands tumbling into one another in a soft scenery. You’ll find yourself staring at a sight you’ve probably seen in videos of country songs, maybe a lyric or two will play in your head and you’ll walk on as you please. As your pace quickens you will begin to find the scenery in motion before your eyes because it opens up to show snow-clad peaks at one point and medieval villages that seem to quietly cheer you on as you cross through them to make your way.
In the wilderness you will find trees cropping out in every corner, seemingly twisting and turning for you to see them and maybe for them to see you. The grass figuratively and literally gets greener as the vistas before you bloom into something beautiful each day. And you will come across even untamed horses and animals on the loose. Do you wonder if they too are walking through to be a little closer to nature? If they too are on an escape? If they also find the wilderness as exciting and calming at the same time, as me and you?
Your trek will commence in Khevsureti which remains as beautiful as ever because it is one of the most inaccessible regions in the country. It is inhabited by roughly 3,000 people only, a fact that only enhances its untouched beauty. They humbly await onlookers such as us, both, those inhabitants, the towers and the tombs that lay peacefully over there.
What makes this trek a unique experience is how it lets you tread through a medeival era itself. The quaint villages have their humble houses dotted across the land at random, their simplicity giving the place its warm aura even in the chilly breeze. Then there’s the village of Shaitili. Shaitili is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007 on account of being one of the most significant remnants of Georgian vernacular architecture. Seekers of stories it is time to pick a spot and sit down and lend your ear to a local who maybe kind enough to divulge the details of this place that has been deemed so historically valuable. This fortress made of stone has said to have put up a formidable fight against invaders seeking to enter Georgia’s green cocoons. Centuries old and turmoil struck, it is a wonder that these buildings still stand here. Take a moment, hear the history and for all that you don’t her let your conversations paint a whole story for your imaginative mind. For if we don’t let our imaginations run wild then what good do the myths and their many mysteries do?
And if this resonates with you, then you ought to plan your visit around the time of the Shaitiloba! Dedicated to Shaitili, this festival or event witnesses the most authentic experience one could ask for, from horse racing to drinking to the outfits and preparation of khinkali! Khinkali is a stuffed meat dumpling. Yesss, Georgian momo, now do you get my excitement? Okay okay, the excitement isn’t for momos alone but for the overall experience to sit and make merry with the people as they pay homage to their land and culture, to drink some of their wine and bite into their food and maybe help them prepare it too to learn of their lives beyond what the languages permit to be conveyed.
If the scenery is starting to invite you already then here let me share with you the final push too. Lakes also wait for you. Not one but three, Abudelauri Lakes. The glacial lakes are a remarkable sight for each seems to be tinted with a different colour, green, white and blue. They too come draped in a myth of their own as stories tell that son of gods called Lakhsar was fighting the last of the giants upon the grasslands aligned with the lake. Their fight led the giant to collapse into the lake itself which led Lakhsar to plunge deep within the water itself. He killed the giant inside the lake and the lake was bathed in the massive man’s blood which trapped the god’s son to come out. A local man sacrificed a sheep for the animal’s blood to purify the water so that Lakhsar may swim out of it. Pleased with the man, the godly warrior granted him 3 wishes. But wait, it isn’t a happy ending just yet. The man used the first two wishes to cure his family from horrible diseases but the third he sought to use simply because his harvest was getting ruined and he wanted the god to change his weather. Lakhsar was in between a mission but rushed to the man as he heard his prayers. It is however said that seeing the trivial nature of the man’s wish Lakshar actually got infuriated and killed him instead! Ah, I wonder if the phrase “Be careful what you wish for” came from around here!
So, walk through sunlight grasslands, let your fingers toy gently with the flowers in bloom as they brighten up to greet you, hear multiple stories of the legends from around here, gaze deep within the ruins and let yourself into a Georgian book for a few days. A book from another era, magnified by a place so beautiful that you truly will feel as if you have been transported to a dreamy destination penned down in a fictional tale.