Svan Trick or Treat (Svaneti-Racha Hike)

Two years ago, when I first went to “the horrible” Svaneti, I still had a notion about this region as a crime’s nest. Though things were getting better then (before 2005 or something hardly any tourist or mountaineer wasn’t robbed there), the word “Svaneti” itself would make you feel strained. However the first “cultural shock” about modern-days Svaneti was when on the first morning in Mestia, the major town in the region, I saw some European-looking guy in the short-pants doing his morning jogging. Remembering the half-legendary story about a young Polish couple, who travelled in Svaneti in mid-90s and who were robbed and then BOTH raped, at that moment I thought that eventually this once law-free region surrendered to temptation of tourists’ money.

IMG_0298 Svaneti mountains, 2010

This year, when I went to hike through Svaneti and Racha with my friends, I saw the results of this “lost battle.” All over Svaneti Svans have developed the taste to the tourists’ money. In Ushguli, reportedly the highest village in Europe, the guesthouse prices are as high as up to $35-40. For the comparison, in many other Svan villages the prices are $20-25. That’s understandable, because Ushguli is on the main tourist route. And that’s normal too – better tourism flourish in the region than crime.

Ushguli, Svaneti. 2010

But on the other hand such intensive introduction of civilization, especially not the best part of it (sorry, I personally dislike conventional tourists, since I treat them as I-pay-hence-where-is-my-service-and-heck-with-you people) may affect the identity of Svans with all their customs and traditions. Of course I understand that without tourism this identity can vanish anyways, and the people of the region need to make their living, but the way we change any society needs special consideration, including some anthropological studies. Myself I don’t know now how it should be, I just have a feeling that some important things might get lost forever, and mainly because of our ignorance.

Sunset over Ushba, Svaneti. 2010

Moon over Tetnuldi, Svaneti. This place was one of the most beautiful camps in my life. 2010

As for the hiking trip it was just awesome. A dry description of the route thread would be Mestia-Adishi-Ushguli-Zeskho-Ghebi, which roughly is Upper Svaneti-Lower Svaneti-Racha. The route turned out to be one of the most diverse by beautiful places and intensive hiking. Don’t want spend too much time describing places, will just post pictures of them. Just will mention that Svaneti is strikingly beautiful by its mountains on the first/second day, but then it becomes rather boring, at least from the conventional tourist path we took. It just looks as a cute post card.

IMG_0261The glacier in Svaneti, 2010

On the other hand Lower Svaneti (Zeskho) and Racha are much more diverse, and therefore more interesting, by the beautiful ridges and mountain lakes. However Racha is more desolated region. In the Soviet time there were a lot of geologists, mountaineers and farmers beat a paths there. Now many old horse paths have been overgrown with man-tall grass and flowers.

IMG_0371Stalin drawn on the wall of abandoned house in the village of Khalde, Svaneti. 2010

IMG_0375A penny to my Soviet symbols project. Khalde, Svaneti. 2010

IMG_0441Khalde, Svaneti. 2010

In short Svaneti vs. Racha list (my version) would look like this:


  • Beautiful high peaks (though not accessible without special equipment)
  • Tasty water in springs
  • A couple of glaciers accessible for not-so-tough hikers

  • More interesting and beautiful middle-height ridges.
  • Mountain lakes
  • In most cases complete solitude

IMG_0630 Racha, 2010

Sometimes, even as a journalist, it’s good to visit a region not for human stories, but just to hike there for some time to get an aesthetic perception of the place.

IMG_0219Svaneti, 2010

IMG_0718Yet another beautiful camp place. 🙂 Racha, 2010

IMG_0971Racha, 2010


5 thoughts on “Svan Trick or Treat (Svaneti-Racha Hike)

  1. Pingback: 2010 in photos « Temo Bardzimashvili's photo blog

  2. Amazing pictures. We´re also planning a Svaneti-Racha track. How did you find your way around? Did you have maps? Thanks

    • Thank you very much, Karel! Well, for that trip, just like for many others, we used old Soviet military maps (1:100000 and 1:50000). They’re quite detailed for many purposes not outdated at all. I think you still can find them online on many sites, but, unfortunately, the ones I knew removed them.

  3. Hello Temo,

    sorry to bother you but we are planning Svaneti – Racha trek in summer and yours blog in one of few sources of info we found online. So I would to ask you few questions…

    – how demanding is this trek? You had to cross 2 mountain passes, right?
    – how hard is to find the way (with a map and compass)? Is there some path you can follow or you had to find yours way? Did you have a guide?
    – I am also interested in anything else you can tell us (transportation from Ghebi), etc

    Thank a lot, Jozef

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