On the Roof of the World
(The view to inner Tusheti - the high Caucasus - from the Abano Pass.
Our single-track road snakes through the foreground)
I've never traveled a more dangerous road - and, having not yet journeyed the Andes, I've never enjoyed such a wondrous mountainscape as the one we experienced this week in Georgia's high northeast region of Tusheti, bordering Chechnya and the Russian Federation.
(The Georgian flag flying at the top of the Tushetian village of Omalo, at nearly 6,000 feet altitude)
The Tush culture is integral to Georgia's, yet, thanks to the remote and rugged terrain, it has preserved a fierce independence, and a vital connection to a deep, pre-Christian past. We traveled here to gain an intimate view of that past's survival into the present.
We began our tour in the village of Artana, at the home of family winegrower Kakha Berishvili. A former symphony violinist, he crafts unique and outstanding Saperavi - detailed and fine - from a small plot of land in the northern reaches of Kakheti.
(Kakha in his qvevri ageing room [marani])
We set up a tent in his yard/garden/home, near the well that supplies him with fresh water, and, over the course of an evening and a day, in a commune-esque setting, discussed the differences between recent vintages, the relationship between wine and music, and the gradual yet real rediscovery of Kakheti's diverse terroirs.
(Kakha's yard and well)
From the nearby base village of Pshaveli, it's 72 kilometers to the central Tush village of Omalo. Thanks to the roads and the altitude changes, it took us 4+ hours to travel there. We arrived at the perfect time to visit with local cheesemakers, witness an annual horserace with ancient historical roots, and enjoy their freshly made beer, still made in the same methods as that of the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians.
(Nino Khelaidze, artisan guda cheesemaker in the Tushetian village of Shenako)
(Annual horserace in the Tushetian village of Jvarboseli.
The finish line is the ancient pagan shrine capped by flags, on the left)
(Qvevri-shaped copper beer cauldrons in the Tushetian village of Omalo.
Beer, not wine, is the fermented beverage of necessity here,
due to the high altitude and the transhumance-style society)
We were also extremely fortunate to spend a few hours, spread over two days, with the highly respected local historian Nugzar Idoidze. He has discovered and interpreted an amazing collection of ancient Tush artifacts and hieroglyphs; together, they define a cosmology as complete, but far less recorded, as those of ancient Greece and China. He walked us through the museum/tower which houses his findings, and described the Tush mythologies to us in detail. They involve the origins of the world, our species, and the rational mind.
(Nugzar explaining his drawings of ancient Tush cosmology)
(The entrance to the stone tower that houses Nugzar's historical collection.
It felt like we were at an omphalos on the roof of the world)
(The same tower, seen from a further distance, and at dawn)
We are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to visit this important region, and for all the friends along the way. Gaumarjos. The week to come is shaping up to be equally extraordinary, as we travel to south Georgia, on the Turkish border, to explore wine projects old and new.