Omalohhhhh – Tusheti, Part 1


What?! You’ve never been to Tusheti in all your two Georgian decades?! Unforgivable, Tony, simply unforgivable! We must correct this error immediately! - said my wife’s and my friend of many years. She then began organizing our trip. The two ladies came up with a list of invitees; one possible driver and guide was called and rejected. The second one proved to be exactly whom we needed.

Dato Urushadze (contact details below*) drives tours all over Georgia, but concentrates on Tusheti, Khevsureti, Svaneti (including winter) and Racha. He has a Delica van which can take 6 or 7 passengers, and can summon more such and their drivers for larger groups. His mother tongue is Georgian, but he can also manage groups who converse in English or Russian. His tours can be personalized. Ours came with tents, sleeping bags, mattresses, a gas stove, and all his calm expertise on some pretty “exciting” roads. We paid 120 GEL each for the 3 days and 2 nights, and fed ourselves and him too. By the end of it, we were firm friends.

Dato met us at 4 am at the huge bicycle sculpture near Rustaveli Metro station. We would need about 8 hours to reach our first stop, which was the village of Omalo in Tusheti.

Now, Tusheti did prompt some feelings that I had “done this before,” comparisons with certain parts of the Svaneti I know so well, like sections of the Mestia-Ushguli road (before any of it was cemented). But there was much more that was unique than what was similar. The sheer hugeness of the landscapes we drove through, stopping literally wherever I needed another photo, is not something you find so easily on Svan roads; although I have less experience off-road than I would like in Svaneti, I must admit. Tusheti’s 72 km to reach Omalo is, more than anything else, magnificently and gorgeously VAST.

The province is also only open about half the year, like its neighbor to the east, Khevsureti. Snow closes it from October to May sometimes, and both regions are almost completely empty then, their citizens living double lives. Tusheti also has virtually no electricity; what it does get comes from small roof-mounted solar panels, plus a bit from generators (which need fuel, though) and some small hydroelectric projects. Cell phone coverage is also sparse, so, best to take charging stations with you, or if, like me, you also have a fold-out solar charger, that will be most useful.

Snow was still melting from the hundreds of avalanche points along our journey. Roadside markers showed who had died on the road, unfortunately a too frequent occurrence. But Dato has been doing this for eight years, and we really were in good hands.

Omalo, like most of Tusheti, has great wide-open spaces around it, and a new as well as an ancient hilltop part. The latter has a number of watchtowers in the unique local style, of dark brown slate in many layers an inch or three thick, often beautifully colored bright orange by the thin lichen which loves them. The new village is well populated with guest houses and hotels: all running without power except what their rooftop panels can provide! Keep your requests for volts to a minimum; better, to zero.

From Omalo, we drove on to our camping spot, Dato’s favorite place, at Mirgvela, not far away. Some of us helped him set up the tents on grass near some evergreens; others worked on supper and a fire, which is a must when camping, regardless of the weather. (It had tried to rain off and on a bit, more than forecasts suggested, but not enough to dampen even our spirits.) There was a plastic tap nearby for water, and several large bins for rubbish too, as we were in a Protected Area of Georgia. The sky darkened towards 9 pm; mosquitos were very rare; even the frogs were singing much more than croaking, and at a low enough volume not to disturb anyone’s sleep. No dogs, no roosters, just blessed peace and quiet for our three tents and Dato in the van. Good night. Tomorrow, a 6 am start for a full day! More to come.

By Tony Hanmer

* Tel. +995 555 360750 (if you’re not speaking Georgian, best to message him in English or Russian; you can also find him on Viber or WhatsApp at the same number)

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer and photographer 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:


25 June 2020 19:04