Gamarjoba from The Caucasus Mountains,
This is what Russian writer, Vissarion Belinsky wrote about the Caucasus Mountains about 150 years ago.
“You will never look for anything quiet, funny or fun in a story; it usually begins with loud phrases and ends with massacre, betrayal and patricide.”
This is definitely the sort of travelogue which entices us to visit a place. To get here, we had to traverse the high mountain road which had collapsed in half a dozen places – lots of remedial work going on and lots of single lanes where doubles had been.
When we arrived at the Ushba Valley high in the Caucasus Mountains (that’s Mt. Ushba in the photo, view from the window), sure enough there’s a permanent police station with one surly cop, presumably kept busy dealing with all the violence. There wouldn’t be more than 300 residents so there must be a disproportionate crime rate here in the mountains. The police station is the only official building of any sort – apart from a shop the size of an average bathroom (shop owner is the cop’s wife).
There’s also a tent in the mountains which acts as Border Control. The four rugged men there are wearing army fatigues and shirts with Border Police marked on the bosom. They explain that this is the border with Russia and the implication is that they don’t want any Russians crossing. There is also a rifle on the reception table of the guest house where we are staying (?!).
Belinsky went on: “. . . but this is only one side of highlanders’ life . . . It is of course spectacular.” He was right about that.
The Caucasus Mountains
I don’t know from whence I gained my preconception of the Caucasus Mountains but they are nothing like what I pictured. I had a vague, ill-informed impression that they were some brown, featureless, low dome-like hills with no inhabitants and no vegetation.
They are, in fact, nothing of the sort. These mountains are very big, with lots of snow on them, even at this time of the year. The highest peaks are well above 5000 metres above sea level. Below the snow line, the vegetation is thick and lush, and not just pine forest. The waterfalls are spectacular and the raging torrent carving out this particular valley is too much for even the most foolhardy whitewater exponent.
So, this is where immigrants from Africa went 110 000 years ago? Lucky that someone had invented the needle by then because winter here would have been otherwise unbearable.
Manana is our host here (more home stay than guest house, really) and she says they receive between two and three metres of snow where they are in the bottom of the hanging valley and it persists for six months. Ushguli, a little farther up and in a different valley, is the highest permanent settlement in Europe. Today, this is a peaceful valley where the main form of sustenance is accommodation for hikers. Every third dwelling has a sign out beckoning hikers to stay. There’s also potential for snow skiing (one short tow rope already built). No danger here, really . . . although I just noticed that the rifle is being put to some kind of use out on the road.
Naxvamdis from The Caucasus Mountains, Georgia