In Your Face, Part I: Becho, Svaneti


Enough of guest house and shop for a few hours. I shut it up a few mornings ago, put a sign on the door saying I’d be back at noon, and drove off to friends in Mazeri, one of the upper villages of Becho.

Marta and Gigla run their own guest house,, which faces stiff competition from the high number of places to stay all along the length of Becho. They also have a good shop, like us.

Gigla was free to accompany me to one of the relatively rare features of Svaneti: a small lake he’d told me about, not far from famous Mt. Ushba. We took my Toyota 4x4 up, on a road apparently financed by a village project fund. About halfway through, I asked him to take the wheel as a large, deep rut, mostly but not exclusively in the middle of this road, was making life interesting for me. On we drove, higher and higher.

The road is about 5 km from Marta’s Guest House, and above the rutted section there begins another with quite sharp slate rocks everywhere. But we got through unscathed, tires intact, driving nice and slowly in four-wheel drive. This road would be quite slippery when wet, but it’s been quite a while since rains, so the grip at least was good. Ushba came into and went from view as we twisted and turned, but beckoned us on.

And there it was. Too small to call a lake, really a pond, only 5 or 6 m across. It must be spring-fed, as there is no stream running into or out of it. Apparently, there are fish in it, although how it doesn’t freeze solid in the winter I don’t know.

For me, the photographer, there was enough water to get reflections of Ushba in, complete with a bit of cloud to one side for drama and the threat of worse weather to come, at least more cloud, which occurs often as the day wears on. Morning seems to be the best time to expect Ushba to be revealed, the earlier the better, in fact. It can also be weeks between appearances, but this time we were lucky.

Becho offers views of the mountain for its entire length, something you can only get glimpses of in Etseri from certain vantage points, so this really is one of the village’s best draws for tourists. Although far from the highest in the Caucasus, it retains the infamy of being the hardest to climb, not too rarely killing those who try, its weather changing fast, making planning quite a challenge.

I prefer not to dangle from ropes anchored with pitons, though, and am free from the obsession which I think must drive true mountaineers. Whatever I can tackle with feet and occasionally hands is enough for me, although I must admit that Ushba is one of my muses and I look for opportunities to photograph it from all angles. Google Earth would likely show me what area I need to be in to get it along with the highest peak in the Caucasus, Elbrus in Russia, together in the same shot. Local people tell me this is doable above Nakra, and it remains a thing to try for on my list.

Above me, I could see a far but not too challenging set of hills in the direction of Ushba, so I told Gigla I had to walk higher.

Next week: the conclusion.

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 nearly 2000 members, at

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

By Tony Hanmer

19 September 2019 17:00