Khevsureti is a region inhabited by highlanders who have their own distinctive culture. Khevsuretians traditionally live in fortress-like shale houses, are keen equestrians and wear woollen clothes embroidered with crosses, the sun and lightning streaks. Horses are still more common than cars in northern Khevsureti, not least because they are better suited to the terrain. Tourist coming to a Georgia tour less often visit this region bur it’s absolutely worth spending a few days here.
What to see
The enduring memory of Khevsureti is the mountainous countryside. When I went we enjoyed a good walk up a side-valley above the village of Barisakho, which is about 50km up the road from Zhinvali reservoir.
A few km up the Black Aragvi valley from Barisakho is a bridge over the gushing river where you can clamber over rocks if you’re brave. Some 70km from Zhinvali is the 2670m-high Bear Cross pass between the Aragvi and Argun valleys.
The highlight of Khevsureti, if you can get that far, is the ancient fortress-village of Shatili. Even further down the Argun River are the Walls of Antioch, two tombs where people from a plague village went to die. Although not particularly impressive, the Walls of Antioch overlook a deep fork in the river which marks the border with Chechnya. A winding mountain path on the other side of the river is a 3-hour hike to the nearest Chechen settlement.
Where to stay
There are no hotels. When I went we stayed the first night at a farmhouse in Barisakho. The standard there was basic (with a squat toilet in an out-house past the farmyard) but the service was friendly. We spent the second night in Shatili, where there are late-Soviet houses with bathrooms and sit-down toilets.
Where to eat
There are no restaurants as far as I could see, but no shortage of nice places for picnicking. Our group collected firewood and cooked by the roadside – there is very little road traffic.
There’s a village store at Barisakho that stocks basic groceries (not camera film though!). Many local people are keen to sell their home-made arts and crafts at fair prices – 3 Laris for a pair of traditional woollen socks.
Getting to Khevsureti
The minor road to the right of Zhinvali reservoir on the Georgian Military Highway runs 100km through Khevsureti to Shatili. There’s also a helicopter that flies about 3 times a month between Tbilisi and Shatili. If you’re content going to Barisakho, there’s a bus from Tbilisi – my guess is that it runs only once a day from Didube station, and would take about four hours.
Safety in Khevsureti
The road to Shatili becomes very rough about 60km from Zhinvali, and is sometimes washed away by rainstorms or buried by avalanches – it’s considered completely impassable for about 6 months of the year. Even at the height of summer it’s best not attempting the journey beyond the Bear Cross pass without experienced guides.