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Tusheti – mind your driver

By Mzia Kupunia
Friday, February 25
The first advice you get from experienced travelers about Tusheti, - probably one of the most picturesque places of Georgia, is to find a local driver to take you there. On your way from the Kakhetian village of Alvani to the Tushetian municipal center of Omalo, you realise that the advice is indeed very useful.

Finding a local Tushetian driver seems to be quite easy in Alvani, however finding a sober one might be an issue. Tusheti is a place where drunk driving is the norm. Fortunately, road accidents are not so rampant due to the skills of the local drivers. However, almost every story about a road accident in Tusheti says that the driver was “under the influence of alcohol.” So, on the way to Tusheti, keep an eye on your driver and insist that he does not accept the offers of other drivers to drink a toast for a “road angel”.

As soon as the first obstacle is overcome, another comes your way – the driver will probably meet from 25 to 50 cousins on the road. And, every time he meets a cousin he stops the car even on the most dangerous narrow path to say hello. So, keep this fact in mind and be ready to be at the destination place at least 3 hours later than promised by the driver. If you are unlucky enough, the driver will also stop at one of his cousins’ place to drink a couple of toasts with his uncle. And again, insist that he does not drink all of the toasts proposed by his relatives. The hospitality and friendly character of the driver usually neutralizes the discomfort caused by his numerous cousins and friends on the way to the destination.

Staying the night is another issue in Tusheti. Guest houses and hotels offer rooms for 50 GEL per night on average. But the word hotel in Tusheti does not mean exactly what it means in any other place. A Tushetian hotel is a room with a shared shower and WC about 50 metres away in the yard, with electricity available only for a few hours at night, with bad food and even worse service. Eventually you start envying trekkers, spending the night in tents for free in almost the same living conditions as the “hotel” offers. Georgia’s tourism prospects seem utopia after spending a couple of days in a typical Tushetian hotel.

Despite all this, Tusheti is one of the most visited places in Georgia, probably because nowhere else in the country can you see better views, more beautiful villages and hospitable people than in this tiny region of Georgia. You keep getting amazed at seeing the villages of Omalo, Shenako, Diklo and Parsma – all of them similar but unique at the same time – with huge mountains around and ancient tall towers in every settlement, with people driving Jeeps but riding horses on the rocky paths as well. No matter how much patience it will take to spend several days in Tusheti, it’s really worth it... And you will definitely write down the phone number of your annoying driver before you leave.