The Svaneti area tucked in the northern part of Georgia had always fascinated me- great history, gorgeous Caucasus mountains, and a strong sense of identity. I arrived in Mestia, Svaneti’s capital, with the intention of hiking, horse back riding and getting to know the locals.
I got lucky when I heard about a local festival high up in a local church near Latali. The locals from the Latali village climb to the Mkheri mountain every summer to celebrate and feast – there is food, and alcohol, accompanied by a lot of singing and dancing. The villagers start climbing early morning as there is a lot of elevation gain, through what is a very muddy and rudimentary trail. I had a late start to the day, and on top of it took me a while to figure out the trailhead, but I had every intention to make up for time and photograph the festivities.
A mile or so into my hike, a horseman offered his horse for the trail for a nominal charge. I am always down for a nice trot, and it would get me to the festival a little sooner. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that it’s not the strongest of the horses. Guilty of pushing the horse beyond its limits, it gave up on a wet and steep rocky slope – my right foot got caught under its full weight. Ouch! That surely hurt both of us. The horseman briefly apologized and carried on his hike up to the church. I wasn’t sure if I could still hike – the pain was so intense that I sat immobilized for the next 30 minutes. I eventually managed to start taking a few baby steps. My swollen foot hurt like hell, but I knew that I had to make it to the top. I limped and struggled my way to the top of Mkheri in a few hours, all the while in agonizing pain.
“My swollen foot hurt like hell, but I knew that I had to make it to the top”
By the time I got to the festival, a few happy villagers were already descending down. But all was not lost. The feast was still in full swing: wine from the sweetest grapes was flowing freely, and there was merriment all around. Some of them were horseback riding through the vast expanse of the Caucasian meadows with utmost abandon – salt on my wounds. I was repeatedly invited to savor the freshly boiled meat – an offer which I had to keep declining, and instead decided to take in a few sips of their home-made vodka – just to be respectful of the warm welcome. My injury had restricted my mobility, but I was more than happy to relax by the wild flowers, gazing at the glacier-capped peaks, the plummeting waterfalls, and the grazing horses.
The descent down to Latali was extremely painful, with ankle-deep mud being a common feature. A local Georgian family extended their hospitality and saw me through the hike back. Offers of meat and vodka were just as frequent. A thunderstorm had started rolling by late evening, but we managed to hit the trailhead before it started pouring down.
“Sitting in the trunk of their car, I reflected on how this injury had helped me see the hospitality of the Georgians”
Look out for more stories from Georgia on the blog. Meanwhile, here is a collection of footage from various places in Georgia:
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- Navigating through Alaska’s glacier filled fjords - January 22, 2018
- Hatsumōde: an auspicious beginning in Japan - January 21, 2018
- Háifoss – away from the busy waterfalls of Iceland - December 26, 2017