From Omalo to Shatili

Popular 5-day trek connecting historical centers of regions Tusheti and Khevsureti.


Overview

This marvelous 5-day trek connects villages Omalo and Shatili, historical centers of regions Tusheti and Khevsureti - both are still quite unspoiled due to poor roads. It's intriguing not only by natural sights but also by traditional middle-age villages dominated by stone towers. Trek follows old shepherds path connecting both regions. The first two days are spent mostly on jeep road connecting villages of Tusheti and if you are not that much into medieval villages and prefer views instead, I recommend to try alternative route traversing Pirikita range. Then you leave villages behind and spend 2 days in the "wilderness". Trek is quite popular and therefore suitable also for people who would like to try camping trip, but don't want anything too remote.

Duration: 4-5 days

I describe a 5-day version of the trek, to finish it in 4 days you have to hike from Omalo to Parsma on day 1 and from Parsma to Kvakhidi on day 2.

Difficulty: Hard

You will gain elevation quite slowly and the path is well-trodden, but the trek is 75 km long, takes 5 days and you will need to cross 3400m high pass. So it's somewhere on the edge between moderate and hard.

Accomodation:

Some nights can be spent in villages, but you will have to carry your own tent.

When to go:

Best time to go is July-August. For people looking for a shoulder season - Atsunta pass usually becomes passable in second half of June and shepherds leave the area with their herds in the first half of October.

You should know that this trek is different from the others which are permitted all year long. Here, you need to pass several border outposts - and the guards don´t want to risk the hassle if some hikers get hurt. So they send people back if they think the crossing is too dangerous. Unfortunately, there is no fixed date when the trek becomes "open", it´s up to their decision. But, generally, in the first half of June there is a solid chance that you will be turned back. If you are coming in the early summer, it recommended to call the National Park Administration to confirm whether is this trail already open to hikers or not --> (+955) 577 101 892.

Which way to hike:

I recommend direction from Omalo to Shatili. It's more pleasant as you will gain elevation slowly for several days instead of steep ascent from the other side. Shatili is the amazing “reward” at the end of the trip and initial jeep trip into Tusheti is also a great way to get into the mood.

How to get to Omalo:

There is no public transport to Tusheti. To get to Omalo, you will need to hire a driver with 4WD. First get to Kvemo Alvani village - you can take marshrutka from Tbilisi, it departs from Ortachala bus station at 9.am and around 11.am arrives at Alvani. There you will need to ask around for a driver offering a ride to Omalo.
The trip usually takes 5 hours and costs 200-250 GEL. It's also better to ask the driver to take you to the upper part of the village with the fortified hill - in lower Omalo there is not that much to see (except for the Visitor's center) and you will be spared of 20 minutes of uphill walking.

How to leave Shatili:

Marshrutka to Tbilisi leaves every Thursday and Sunday at 12:00 am and costs 20 GEL. During the season, it's often full so I strongly recommend to buy tickets in advance on the day before. Ask around the village where to find the driver.
If you missed the marshrutka, you will have to hitchhike or take a taxi. Taxi to Tbilisi costs about 300 GEL, to Barisakho village it's 150-200 GEL.


Description of the route

Day 1: Omalo - Dartlo 4 hours

This undemanding walk can be finished the same day you arrive in Tusheti providing you leave Telavi early in the morning. You follow the dirt road to Dartlo, just on one spot, approximately 1,5 km behind the village it's better to take a shortcut - follow the serpentine climbing the meadow to the right of the road, over the hill (see map).

Shortly afterwards, you will reach dirt road again. Climb a bit further to the small pass - the meadow there is called Ghele and in the past served as meeting point of elders of local communities. From there, follow the slowly descending road all the way to Dartlo.

Village is pretty nice - there is also a guesthouse, two restaurants, and small grocery shop. For even better sights, I recommend climbing to the Kvavlo tower, standing some 200m above the village.

A good place to camp is by the river, beneath the village.

Day 2: Dartlo - Girevi 5,5 hours

In the morning, you can pick of two roads. One follows the Alazani river all the way to Parsma, the other one goes a bit uphill, passes Dano village and descends to the river again. Parsma is a great spot for a lunch break - it's a really nice village with several impressive towers.

In the afternoon, leave the jeep road behind and continue walking upstream, toward the Girevi. The path sometimes leads on the rocks very close to the water, but keep going and stay on the left bank. In Girevi you will be approached by border guards and asked to fill in registration forms for trekking in the border area, the whole process could take some 15-20 minutes.

Day 3: Girevi - Kvakhidi meadows 7 hours

Not far behind Girevi village, Alazani valley splits into two. Follow the stream of river Kvakhidisitskali (valley to the right), the path is clearly visible. You will pass ruins of Chontio village and then just keep walking up the valley. During the day you will be checked by border guards twice, first time halfway of the valley, second time towards the evening.

At the end of the day, you should come to shepherds shelter and a small bridge over the river. Since 2016, the shepherd turned it into a little food stall so you can buy here also some basic food. Cross it and soon you will come to flat meadows ideal for camping (as on the photo, you can see them long before). We got water from one of the smaller streams in the area.

Since 2017, some enterprising shepherds with horses are waiting at the meadows for the hikers and offering them to take their backpacks. They may even persuade them that a horse is necessary to cross the river upstream. However, most usually, it isn´t.

Day 4: Kvakhidi meadows - Khidotani ridge 7 hours

Continue by Kvakhidisitskali river. You will have to cross it twice, the first time by a footbridge, the second time just to ford it. After you ford the river (there is a stone with Exit Shatili mark), you will see three valleys in front of you. Take the one to the right and start the ascent - path in the lower section is not too obvious, but soon becomes much more visible.

You will see a saddle which looks like Atsunta pass. When you think you are almost there, the path turns right and climbs heap of shale - Atsunta is to the right of the lowest part of the ridge. But you can't miss it, just follow the path and the map. Climb the pass. Here starts red touristic marking.

Descent from Atsunta pass is my favorite part of the trek. You may be tempted to descend all way down to the river, but don't do it. Stay on the left side of the valley and the road will eventually bring you to Khidotanis range. It is an amazing place with great view of the Tebulo mountain. If you walk far enough, you will find several small campsites not far above the treeline level. Carefully find a place to camp - just don't pick a too exposed place as storms in Caucasus can be pretty severe.

Day 5: Khidotani ridge - Shatili 8 hours (Mutso visit included)

The day begins with a steep and muddy descent into the valley of Khonistskali river. Here the path turns into dirt track again. Follow the road, it will lead you through Khonischala village to the confluence with Andaki river, where lies the ancient fortress Mutso (there is one more checkpoint not far before the fortress).

Mutso fortress is definitely worth a climb. There is a major reconstruction project going on (works should be finished in 2018), so some areas turned into a building site. I must admit I liked it more when Mutso was empty and quiet, but looking forward to the time when the whole reconstruction is finished. Not to forget, there is also a small restaurant by the road, another place to get food on the trek.

Continue down the road (or hitchhike, this section is not that interesting). Another interesting sight on the road is Anatori - House of the Dead in a place where the road bends back south. From there it's only 30 minutes to Shatili fortress.

Many great photos used in this article were taken by Mario Sklenar. More of his photos can be found here.
One photo (Omalo village) was also taken by Nela Wurmová.




Tebulo mountain viewed from Khidotanis ridge View from Keselo hill in Zemo Omalo Omalo village with Keselo hill Looking back at Omalo Dartlo Dartlo with Kvavlo tower in the background Valley of Pirikiti Alazani behind Dartlo Tower in Parsma village View from Parsma Alazani valley Girevi Towers over Girevi Ruins of Chontio Walking up the valley Walking up the valley 15 km to Atsunta pass (feels like more) Valley of Kvakhidisitskali Kvakhidi meadows Surrounding mountains Below Atsunta pass View from Atsunta pass The last view of Tusheti Towards Khidotani ridge Andaki valley from Khidotani ridge Detail of the Andaki valley On the Khidotani ridge On the Khidotani ridge On the Khidotani ridge On the Khidotani ridge Mutso fortress in the distance Mutso fortress Mutso fortress View from Mutso fortress In the Andaki valley Anatori - houses of the dead Shatili fortress Shatili fortress Shatili fortress Shatili fortress

Copyright © 2016 Jozef Antala. All rights reserved

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