We Need to Talk about Ushba


Have you heard of anyone who has a photographic obsession with Mt. Fuji in Japan, that marvelously symmetrical slightly curved cone? That’s me with Mt. Ushba in Svaneti, I must admit.

Partly, I suppose, because it’s visible from so many different locations in the province. It also presents such a number of different profiles as you circle, approach, ascend towards or descend away from it. In this way it’s very unlike its Japanese counterpart, although that mountain will certainly also offer infinite moods and surroundings as its position in relation to you and its environment changes, and as the weather and lighting do too.

You can’t even see Ushba from my house or yard; just part of Mt. Mazeri, which is to the right of it from our position, and lower in altitude as well. You have to climb a bit in Etseri (though not far) to start seeing the south peak, but even the incomplete view dominates the landscape. Such is Ushba.

Becho has the best part: coming into the village either from Etseri or from Mestia, you see the south peak, as you do from the entire length of the main village road from bottom to top. Finally, as the road (if you’re driving) swings towards Becho’s waterfall, Mt. Mazeri does obscure Ushba, but by then you’re almost full of the sight, and can let it go for a while, assuming that it’s been cooperating and not playing peek-a-boo with clouds, or even simply disappearing altogether.

My very first visit to Svaneti, in the summer of 1999, took me to Mestia, but I didn’t know enough to realize that my photos of the town were missing the fabled mountain’s two peaks side by side, as clouds entirely obscured them. Ignorance was bliss! Now, knowing that it’s THERE or at least supposed to be there, I will give up on photos from any angle if it’s hiding, because I KNOW.

The two teeth that stick up, Babua and Bebia (Grandpa and Grandma) as they’re called, also move in relation to the main mass, as they’re actually a bit away from it, and so as you move, so do they. There’s a nice symmetry to this pair copying the twin peaks of the mountain itself, though they are much thinner, more like the people they are named after.

You get a ¾ view from near Latali… the south peak view from above Etseri, even reflected in Lake Mazeri…a tiny glimpse of just the peaks themselves on the last curve of Lenjeri before Mestia… the domination as you take the Hatsvali ski-lift above Mestia…long views gradually showing more and more as you zigzag up from Mulakhi towards Ipari, and the best of these from the top of the Tetnuldi ski resort…a short appearance from part of K’ala near Ushguli… and another huge look if you’ve got the time and energy to walk above Ushguli and past King Tamar’s summer tower. A new possibility is a paraglide as close as you dare, which must be one of the ultimate tours, cheaper and quieter though less able to hover than a helicopter. Above Nakra will give you both Ushba and the highest peak in the whole Caucasus, Elbrus in Russia, in the same panorama. More places, I’m sure, than only these, including from the Russian side of the Caucasus. I can only say I’m captivated and will likely photograph this mountain as long as I live and remain so close to it. It deserves the attention.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1900 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:


By Tony Hanmer

30 August 2018 17:17