Cameraderie: Becho, Svaneti


The best camera is the one you have with you, they say. Sometimes you just have to make do.

Having lived in Georgia since late 1999, focused mostly on Svaneti, and with almost a decade of living up here, it’s high time to get to know some of the local sights which have eluded one thus far. Life should not become too busy for such pleasures; they should become an essential part of life, indeed.

To the Becho waterfalls, then. My school pupils and colleagues of two years had promised to take us there, and the time had come to make good on that. My former co-teacher’s daughter and her husband were the guides this time.

Two friends/guests joined us, and I drove us all to the Grand Hotel Ushba, where we parked the car and began hiking at 9AM. In the end, I could have driven us 3 km closer, but this mistake only emerged later.

Most of the hike is through forest, so you at least have the benefit of shade on a hot, cloudless day. But I soon found a worse mistake than the car-park one. As my first camera battery died and asked to be replaced with a fresh one, I discovered that the fresh one, too, was completely empty; useless. This after having charged it less than two weeks ago! I ended up abandoning my gear in rage at a nearby café for a few hours’ safekeeping, tripod included; no point in lugging its weight all that way to no purpose. We walked on. I still had my eyes, and my words.

Our car-wide road gradually narrowed to a path two-people wide, and well peopled it was; a popular route. Much of the way, we could see our destination- several glacier-fed falls streaming through the air to a drop far below. Ushba disappeared behind Mt. Mazeri; at least I’d managed several shots of the former before losing it and further photographic possibilities. Now I could concentrate on the trail, the views and my companions. Photography does tend to be a rather antisocial activity, at least my version, but it would not hinder me much today.

From our gradually narrowing distance to the falls, I already began formulating a “dream trip”: an overnight tent camp at their base on a sufficiently moonless, cloudless night, to shoot both the water and the stars in the same very wide-angle frame. More on this later.

We crossed the raging Dolra River on a bridge wide enough for a horse, and then found the horses, at a permanent log-cabin camp for Georgian border guards, as we were then very close to the border with Russia. Apparently, an overnight stay would require a pass from a similar station a bit further back; this is free, needing only one’s passport.

The way began to climb, and to get more and more rocky, too. We could now hear as well as see the falls. Suddenly, as we rounded a corner, the wind and water spray whipped up, and the temperature plummeted sufficiently that some of our group put on light jackets.

There are three sets of falls; the middle one, mid-weight as well, still produces a large enough river that you cannot easily, if at all cross, to reach the largest one. And at this point the ground is so strewn with rocks from half a person to half a house in size that there seems to be no obvious place to pitch even a one-person tent in any comfort. This, plus the spray, made me rethink my “dream trip”, though it might still be possible. In any case, the only camera I had to use was my wife’s cell-phone which, although far from my own camera’s quality, would end up being a lot better than nothing! I took advantage.

My wife then asked me and the guide to speed back ahead of us, get the car, and bring it closer to where they would end up at their slower pace. We did this, saved the others three km, burned up various muscles in the process, and ended our first look at Becho’s set of waterfalls. I now feel that I can add them to my own slowly growing repertoire as a guide, and I will see if that starry night idea emerges, too, if there is a secret flat location for my tent nearby.

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 1500 members, at

Tony Hanmer

24 August 2017 21:06