The Caucasus is a magical place, a true bicaj paradise. It cannot be compared with the Tatras or the Alps. Adventure after adventure. Sight and culture shock.
Caucasus, Georgia. 10 days of cycling, on mountains, valleys, passes, water, snow.
We knew what to expect, although I did my first bicycle tour in the Caucasus in early autumn, in blazing sunshine, even on the Latpari pass (3000m) in scorching heat - with a large backpack and sleeping bag - we couldn't wait, so this tour at the beginning of summer was much cooler. It seems that this is the wettest period there as well, and the weather is quite unpredictable, as a good part of the routes are high-altitude. With the packs, we absolutely wanted to be prepared for this time, because what could be a sharper test than a week and a half of riding in snow, mud, and torrential rain.
Getting to Georgia is clearly the cheapest and most comfortable plane. The plane takes off at midnight and is already there around 5 in the morning, the journey is about two and a half hours, the rest is the time difference, which is 3 hours.
Bicycles can be transported by plane with a sports equipment ticket. It's not expensive, but you have to pay attention to the packaging. This is not a problem at home, because you have time and materials to pack. However, on the way back, when you arrive at the airport with a bicycle, taking it apart, tying it together, and wrapping it in foil is not always an easy task. We also had this problem on the way back to Kutaisi airport. By the way, the YAKFLY bicycle carrier bag was born from this, which is also multifunctional.
Quick assembly and adjustment at the airport, and we set off for our first destination, Lentekhi (1100m). This is approx. 110 km for this day, the level is 2400m, the road surface is closed, the traffic is negligible, the landscape is beautiful, the road leads all the way through the valley of the Tshkenistshkali river. Every minute I remember that next time I have to bring the canoe. The biggest challenge at this stage is overcoming insomnia. Of course, we can fit in a twenty-minute drop in the early afternoon, if we're making good progress. The road mostly goes uphill, at the beginning it is more of an elevator, but as we get into the mountains, it descends less and less often. If getting ready in the morning, buying a phone card, changing Lari (the local currency) didn't take much time, we can reach Lentekhi by early evening. We can choose between the accommodations to our liking, and we even agreed on the way with our host, who came and went by car, hunting for guests. The price - which was 50 Lari/person - included a generous dinner and breakfast. In general, it can be said that the Georgian people are very hospitable and excellent hosts. Their dishes are varied, in addition to leavened pasta, there are also many juicy and saucy dishes, although we did not get a real taste of this variety here.
The goal for the next day was to reach Ushguli, which is the most mysterious settlement in Svaneti, actually consisting of not one but five villages. The quality of the road is still good for MTB, it is a continuous climb, but it can be rolled. The landscape is also changing, the trees are increasingly being replaced by mountain pastures and rocky sections, the rivers are getting narrower and faster. Here we can choose between two routes. One is the Latpari pass (3000m), a relatively short road leads to the top, but most of the time it is not possible to ride, in many places you have to carry the bike on your back. We chose the other route and headed towards the Zagar pass (2850m) - although the road is much longer, it is easier to drive on it. We pass through a couple of villages with houses, and we get information from a small pub that the road is impassable under the pass, one half has been washed away by the water, the other half is buried in the snow. In any case, e.g. impossible with a motorcycle. We asked if it was possible to walk, and they said it was. Then there should be no problem with a bike either. Even at noon, we had a very strong thunderstorm, two of them, and we were soaked to the skin. This was YAKPACK's first really wet test, but it passed, the contents remained dry.
In the late afternoon we reached Koruldashi, the last settlement under the pass. The plan was to spend the night here and start the snow-ice pass the next day. As it turned out, Koruldashi is a mining town abandoned for a quarter of a century, with houses with collapsed roofs. We were hungry, tired, it was not good to lose altitude, but we had to turn back to the previous village.
It was a small village of a couple of houses called Tsana, where we got accommodation. Seen from here, we fell into a rather surreal world. The grandfather of our host was once a world champion in wrestling, and it showed on him. The contrast between it and the pink door jambs was relatively sharp. In any case, the food was enough - it was already clear on my previous tour that the higher we go, the less meat there will be. But there was plenty of beer and house wine. You could sleep relatively comfortably when you were dead tired in the beds, they have memory mattresses. They remember the past 60-70 years. In the morning, we were able to set off for the Zagar, rested and mainly in the light.
We had a good time. It wasn't warm, but at least it wasn't snowing. We reached the ruined city again, then headed up to the pass. The road was not smooth. We carried the bike a lot. I don't know how it would have gone with traditional bags. This is where we really started to love YAKPACKs. The beauty of the landscape compensated us for all the fatigue. From here, the four-thousanders are all by our side, and the true wild beauty of the Caucasus is revealed, above 2300 we are already walking in snow everywhere. This slowed the team down a lot, but we still reached Ushguli in the early afternoon, which is magical to see from above. Its most striking feature - in addition to being the highest permanently inhabited settlement in Europe - are the towers rising above the gates. On the one hand, these are residential towers, and on the other hand, according to tradition, those staying at the top of the tower are invulnerable. It is likely that this rule was made so that the Svans would not die out despite the relatively frequent blood feuds.
The accommodation was already arranged for us in Tsana, they were waiting for us on the road above the village to show us the way to the guest house. The food here was sensational. We got a taste of the diversity that characterizes real Georgian cuisine. Everything is served at the same time, the table is overflowing with more and more delicious dishes. Catfish soup, Khinkali (steamed dumplings), Hacsapuri (characteristic, boat-shaped yeast dough), Odzakuli, some curd cookies, lemon and kiwi jam, the list is enough.
We had time to wander around the village on the right bank of the Enguri River, if you don't count the fat new off-road vehicles, everything was probably exactly as it was in the Middle Ages. Houses built of ancient stones, covered with slate tiles. The streets are covered with thousand-year-old cow dung, and the role of the canal is played by small streams running through the village. Incredible time travel. We hope that much more money will go to the preservation of these historic buildings if they become a better-known tourist destination. Now we didn't meet many travelers, not even one with a bicycle. It is worth visiting the thriving local history museum and the museum at the other end of the village, and reading up on Georgian history before leaving, to understand how this incredibly rich culture could survive and to be able to place the multitude of monuments in time.
The next day we had to continue, to Mestia, the center of the Svaneti region, and from there to Zug. This promised to be a long journey, although it will take you down to near sea level again, and it is full of lifts. It would have been worthwhile to spend a day in Mestia and take a good glacier tour at the foot of Ushba, but unfortunately we didn't have time for that.
The road from Mestia is good all the way, it can also be excellent for outis, except for the one or two collapses that take away the asphalt. It leads all the way through the valley of the Enguri and passes by its reservoir. Long and insanely fast slopes make up for the losses of the previous days. The view is still unparalleled, the peak of Ushba to the right will define the panorama for a long time, although we don't pay much attention to it now because of the pace. In the afternoon, we reach Zugdig, where we choose the Marsutkáz to reach the next circuit, the boarding point of the Georgian war route. The next destination is Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.