Svaneti in the Snow: Down the Slippery Road of the Project

A week ago I returned from Svaneti, a highland region of Georgia. I went up to Adishi, one of the most distant villages that during winters is literally cut off from the rest of the world.

The material that I got during this trip, as well as describing all of its aspect, is too much to fit into one post. However there’s a lot to tell: a unique, once populated village of Adishi, where the state’s cultural treasures from all over the country used to be brought to, to keep them in the mountains safe from enemies’ invasions; still active councils of elders that settle local matters; the region’s gradual transformation from crime’s nest to the tourist attraction etc.

But for this post I’d like to touch upon some technical difficulties I came across during the trip.

The road up there appeared to be worse than I expected (I was too optimistic, I guess). I’ve been told, that the main Zugdidi-Mestia-Ushguli road is regularly cleaned from the snow, but in the reality it turned out that after heavy snows some parts of the road could remain uncleaned for up to two days. Surely not much, but in my case it could be a serious obstacle for my mobility. Especially that I planned to arrive to Adishi before the beginning of the Souls’ Week – a traditional holiday when souls of the dead are “invited” into houses to “live” there along with alive for one week.

It was raining in the valley, but as I ascended, the first snow appeared soon. However, the road remained stable and secure for a while.

The road signs were laconic about what there to expect. Where there were no signs, the occasional roadside memorials reminded about past fatalities.

As I approached Mestia the snow became rather heavy. Tractors were already on the road, but they managed to clean only the minor part of it, and my car slipped a couple of times (towards the edge, I must say) before I switched the front axle on. But even after that the driving remained quite tense.

I stayed in Mestia overnight and on the second day found that the snow laid on the road about 30-40 cm high, sometimes reaching half-a-meter. I needed to drive to the village of Ipari on that day, from where I would take a horse to Adishi, my destination point. The car did its job perfectly plowing its way through the snow. The biggest difficulty still was the heavy snow, which made it difficult to see the rut. A couple of times I swerved into the deep snow on the side of the road, but again, the car was at its best pulling out both of us to the rut again. However, I would be much more unworried, if I had a couple wheel-chain in my trunk. I’m definitely going to get one for myself by the next time I go to the mountains in the winter.

The road from Mestia to IpariOn the road between Mestia and Ipari. This picture was taken on my way back to Mestia, few days after my arrival. On my way to Ipari I was too busy struggling through the snow to take pictures.

In Ipari I was met by Mamuka, my host for the next five days. He brought horses with him to surmount the 9 kilometers from Ipari to Adishi. This part of the road is rather poor and snowy, and even if I theoretically made it to Adishi by car, I would have all chances to leave it there till the spring, since this road is almost never cleaned from snow. I left the car in Ipari and loaded a horse with my baggage: a hiking backpack, a pair of snowshoes, and two bags of photo-equipment. From Ipari it took us about 2.5 hours by horses to arrive to Adishi, and it was one of the most exciting parts of my trip. I took photos right from the horseback, and it turned out to be quite difficult, not because I had to control horse at the same time, but mostly because I was too limited in my angles. So I tried my best steering the horse left and right to find the [more or less] artistic angle. It was also rather uncomfortable to mount and dismount the horse while having two heavy cameras hanging from my neck.

When I finally got to Adishi I found out that snow there is not as deep and the weather is not as cold as I expected. Later I was told by a 84-year-old local that this winter was the warmest one he remembers. In the previous years, he said, because of frost it was sometimes impossible to go outside, and the snow was 3-4 meters high. The villagers appeared to be quite familiar with the problem of global warming and attributed the winter’s mildness to it. However, they said it would be only better for them if it gets even milder in the future.

Arriving to AdishiAdishi, Svaneti. 2010

I am going to write several more posts on this trip to Svaneti to share some interesting facts I’ve learned while being up there.

P.S. A small note regarding photographing in the freezing temperature conditions. If you happen to use your camera at –10 and less degrees of Celsius, don’t take your camera inside the warm rooms all of a sudden. Or if you do, put it in the thick-walled bag, or even take your batteries to de-energize the camera. Remember of the condensation and harm it may cause to your equipment. Many still seem to forget about this. Here are some links that may help you keep your electronics safe in the freezing environment:

P.P.S. The trip map.

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