I’ve been really torn this week between continuing to write about the 3-day Tusheti tour or starting on my next adventure, which was in Khevsureti. The latter trip has won, however, as it includes one of my best landscape photos ever, despite my only taking less than 1/3 of the number of frames that I took in Tusheti. Sometimes you just get lucky, and are also ready to see it.

A great friend of mine suggested the camping trip to Shatili and its surroundings on the phone to me while I was still in Tusheti. It was simply a matter of checking that the weather there wouldn’t be outrageously bad, adding a few more guys to the list, and making some basic preparations during the day between these back to pack voyages. With cross-border travel so difficult at the moment, the many varied corners of Georgia fully reward one’s complete attention, whether one is a Georgian or a foreigner here!

I had been to Shatili several times before this, but not for some years, and never overnight. The 2-person tent I bought near Tbilisi’s Dynamo Stadium for 180 GEL got a good workout and came through a thunderstorm and downpour totally dry inside, which bodes well for the 3-week ordeal I’ll soon be putting it through in the Great Svaneti circle. It is such a cinch to put together that the instructions are basically superfluous, and it only weighs 2 kg, which is also greatly in its favor. My companions had similar ones; there were 5 of us in all, though one (who will soon be joining me hiking around Svaneti) set up a hammock instead, his much preferred shelter method. We found a spot on the river which flows past Shatili but still gives views of the layered slate fortress village, and adds some nice white noise in its flow, a great aid to sleep.

But the shot of a lifetime revealed itself to me much before we arrived there. We had climbed the zigzag route to the top of the pass in Khevsureti, and descending the other side’s similar switchbacks, the first watchtower guarding the province appeared on its steep mountainside. The weather had featured clouds and sun chasing each other all day. This was midday in midsummer, when the high overhead sun is supposed to flatten landscapes and render them far less interesting. But when you are surrounded by near-verticals, this angle of sunlight actually doesn’t have to spell disaster for outdoor scene lighting!

The view shouted out to be captured, partly sunny and partly cloudy, gorgeously textured hillsides and twisty alpine river picked out by light. The tower was almost totally backlit, but that didn’t matter at all. Then, to finish the thing by adding scale, two horsemen came galloping down the hill opposite the tower. I waited for them to move to just where I wanted them, tiny but so important in the distance, then took my shot.

It would be a couple more days of climbing through the slate rock maze villages of Shatili and Mutso, peering into half-buried necropolises in which lay the bones and skulls of voluntarily self-interred plague victims, before I would have the chance to see my precious photo in greater detail and edit it to its best degree on my computer. I didn’t let the anticipation of that spoil where I was, though, or distract me from the wonders of the scenes and architecture I was privileged to see for the first time. My friends and I had some really good time relaxing, exploring, cooking all our food on a campfire. I now have more than 1400 more photos to edit from these 2 trips in a week, all this while the Svaneti tour of some 3 more weeks looms closer, due to start after this article is published. So the editing will have to wait, as will the backlog of more articles from those two places, preempted by the 400 km circle coming up. But I’ll get to all that eventually.

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:

By Tony Hanmer

02 July 2020 19:12