Difficulty

Moderate-Difficult

Duration

8 Days

Highest Altitude

11,581 ft

Age

13 to 55 years

Duration

8 Days

Age

13 to 55 years

Difficulty

Moderate-Difficult

Highest Altitude

11,581 ft

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Trek fee

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Atsunta Pass Trek

Trek in the Picturesque Meadows of Georgia

The Atsunta Pass trek, we believe, is the greatest in Georgia. We don’t say this without reason. The trek passes through the most breathtaking mountainscape of the Caucasus mountains. 

The grasslands, for which the trek is famous, are perfectly landscaped. Wildflowers grow almost on every inch of these grasslands. 

Charming villages and ruins of ancient fortresses decorate the entire remote trail. These are just not heritage, but history many centuries old.

The thrill of climbing the high Atsunta pass is pure adventure. Not many treks in Europe give you the high of a pass crossing as much as the Atsunta Pass. The changes in the landscape during the pass crossing are stunning. 

Most people have not heard of Georgia, but when we get there we are taken aback by our ignorance. Georgia in itself is worth visiting. The history, tradition and culture are extremely rich. Tbilisi, the capital is modern and yet holds on to its roots. Theater, music and the arts are thriving. There is a lot of heritage to see and discover. The food is delicious and wonderful. Georgians are extremely warm and friendly. And as a bonus, everything is pocket friendly.

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Quick Itinerary

Day 1

Getting to Omalo

Today is the start of your big trek to Atsunta pass. It starts with first getting to Omalo, the base of your trek. 

Omalo is in the heart of the Tusheti National Park — which means you are getting to the most picturesque region of Georgia on the first day of your trek.  

In Georgia, there are several mountain regions. But out of the many, three of them bowl people over for their beauty. Tusheti, Khevsureti and Svaneti. On this trek, you are going to start in Tusheti and end up in Khevsureti, which means you cover two of the three most beautiful regions of Georgia. 

Getting to Omalo is a whole day’s drive (about 7-8 hours), a good part of it over a non-existent 72 km dirt track between Alvani and Omalo — but the jaw-dropping sceneries make up for every discomfort you face.  You also cross the famous Abano Pass on the way, the highest motorable pass in Georgia. 

Tbilisi to Alvani (110 km)

Your first task is to get to Central Bus Station in Tbilisi. From Freedom Square, take the metro to Isani Metro Station (GEL 0.50), get off, cross the road, get to the intersection on the other side (facing the hill) and take a bus from there. Use Google Maps to see which bus goes to the Central Bus Station. We used No 71. It is hardly 7-8 mins to the Central Bus Station. 

From Central Bus Station, take the minibus to Alvani. It leaves at 9.10 am. Get there an hour earlier because that’s the only bus that plies to Alvani. It gets crowded with trekkers to Omalo and even local folk. The bus has only 18 seats. Among the 18, 3 members will have to sit on the aisle in a makeshift chair attached to the main seat (no backrest).  You could be one of them if you don’t get there early enough. 

Note (if you’re trekking on your own):

  • From Freedom Square it takes about 45 minutes to reach Central Bus Stand, all stops and changes included. The Central Bus Station is also called the Ortachala Central Bus Station.
  • For the further journey from Alvani to Omalo, it makes sense to hook up with other trekkers on the minibus. After reaching Alvani you are unlikely to get any travel partners. 

Alvani to Omalo (72 km)

The road to Alvani heads out in the direction of the airport, crossing it, before turning right roughly about 12.5 km after the airport.

In about 45 minutes the road touches the foothills of the Caucasian mountains. The road gently meanders through the beautiful folds of the foothills before getting to Alvani in about 3 hours.  

Numerous SUVs are waiting for passengers of the Alvani bus. Your bus driver usually helps you by hooking you up with drivers of the SUVs. It costs GEL 200 per SUV to Omalo. SUVs usually accommodate between 4 and 6 passengers, so the cost can be shared. 

It is a 72 km dirt track to Omalo. The initial stretch navigates through forests. Two hours of a roller coaster ride later, the road suddenly bursts out into meadows. 

The sight leaves your senses stunned. Rolling lush green meadows with snow patches sweep the landscape. It is an endless gaze of green until the horizon where hills in the distance meet.   

The SUVs continue to climb through the meadows in a series of switchbacks, crossing the Abano Pass at 2,850 meters in the next half hour. The road stays a dirt track but is no longer the bone-jarring ride. 

Across the pass, the road descends quickly, entering a cluster of silver birch trees before finally descending towards the Akhieti River. About 15 minutes from the river look out for your first sight of an old Georgian village, Khiso, on your right. 

From Khiso, it is another 40-minute climb to Omalo, entering the meadows again. 

Omalo, from a distance is stunning with its pretty houses stretched out over the meadows. It gets prettier as you get closer.

Note:

  • Omalo is split into two parts. Lower and Upper Omalo. Lower Omalo is cheaper and frankly offers better views. The guesthouses may not be as fancy as Upper Omalo but make up for it with their views.
  • A room at lower Omalo costs about GEL 50 with a meal at GEL 20. Breakfast costs GEL 15. You can also opt for a smaller lunch or dinner at GEL 15. Georgian meals are usually very filling so you could opt for a smaller meal.
  • If you need guides or horses, Omalo is a good place to find them. Here, the rates for horses are GEL 50 per day. Guides charge GEL 100 per day.
  • From Omalo to Shatili the charges include the total number of trekking days plus two days for their return. You don’t have to pay extra charges for their food, stay or tents.
  • Horses always need to travel with a guide (A guide manages the horse, as well as takes you on the trek — so it is a dual function). One guide can easily manage a team of horses. For larger groups, it makes sense to take horses from Omalo in case you wish to offload your backpacks or ride a horse when you feel tired.

Day 2

Omalo to Dartlo

Trek Distance: 12.5 km | Duration: 4½ hours

  • What to expect: Initial climb of 4.5 km to Ghele, followed by a gentle 7 km descent on a motorable road. 
  • GPS Coordinates of Omalo: 42°22’14.50″N, 45°38’0.71″E
  • GPS Coordinates of Dartlo: 42°26’18.91″N, 45°34’57.33″E

Dartlo is a world heritage village. So getting it is exciting. On the way, look out for the clearing of Kue just a few hundred meters below Upper Omalo. Ghele, the highest point of the day's trek is another spectacular open clearing with wildflowers growing everywhere. The stretch between Kue and Ghele runs through very old Caucasian Pines.

Omalo to Ghele (4.5 km)

Take the trail to the left of Tishe Hostel. It quickly climbs past the last houses of lower Omalo. 

Hug the big wooden fenced building to the left until you get to the motorable road to Dartlo. Cut across the road and trudge along the foot trail that runs past the signpost. 

The trail climbs steeply towards Upper Omalo while the motorable road to Dartlo climbs through a series of switchbacks on your right. The foot trail approaches the first guest houses of Upper Omalo from behind. 

In Upper Omalo you’ll find a big square in the centre of the village. Look for a water tap on the left of the square to fill drinking water. Fill up here because the next water source is only after the big climb to Ghele. 

From the square continue on the motorable road to Dartlo. The road climbs out of the last houses of Upper Omalo within minutes. 

In five minutes the motorable road tops up and begins to descend. Look for a foot trail that veers off the road to your left just after the signpost. Take the trail and continue along as it cuts through the motorable road a few times before bottoming out in the exquisite clearing of Kue. 

Kue is a clearing that stuns you even before you get there. From higher up on the trail, the big clearing is lined with pine trees on all sides, and in the middle, a lush green patch invites horses and cows. Take a breather here. You’ll need to catch your breath for the next one hour is a big climb to Ghele, 3 km away. 

Take the trail that cuts through the clearing directly ahead of you with the pine trees to your right. A signboard at the bottom of Kue points you in the right direction. The trail climbs out of the clearing, enters a cluster of pine trees, veers left and regains the altitude of Upper Omalo in about half an hour. 

As you climb, look out for the scenery on your left. You’ll soon see the impressive towers of Omalo standing tall on the ridges. They stand out against the emptiness of the valley behind them.   

After a last glimpse of the towers, the trail turns right and enters another cluster of Caucasian pines. The fresh scent of these pines keeps you company through the climb! The trail veers left and then forges straight ahead before popping out on the motorable road to Dartlo. 

This leaves the big climb behind you. The rest of the trail, around one kilometre long, ascends gently along the motorable road, until it turns right and opens up at the clearing of Ghele. 

Ghele is another visual delight. Ghele is pass and a junction of sorts. It is from here that you see mountains from another side of the range for the first time. The Pirikita range climbs sharply from Ghele, with the early hills forming undulating meadows on your left. Below and to your right, lovely wildflowers grow in gay abandon! Trails to the village of Dikolo start straight ahead, cutting across the wildflowers. 

Ghele to Dartlo (7 km)

Resume your trek on the motorable road to your left. The road gradually descends to the river and Dartlo. 

About a kilometre down the road from Ghele is a water spot on the left — the only one after Upper Omalo. The water is clear, cool and refreshing. Fill your bottles because you still have about an hour and a half’s descent to Dartlo. 

An hour from the water source, a big stream cuts across the road, which you can easily cross over. The stream signals your first views of the ancient Dartlo village. You catch your first glimpse of Dartlo, perched atop a large pasture, just at the bend before the stream. 

Half an hour later, spot a bridge over the Alazani river. This is your entrance to Dartlo.  

To enter Dartlo, do not continue on the road. Take the foot trail just past the board that lays out the Tushetian visitor's rules and regulations. Then cross the second wooden bridge just below the outer tower of Dartlo. 

Dartlo is an ancient Tushetian village more than 6 centuries old. The houses of Dartlo are from that period. Walking through Dartlo, you not only get a glimpse of true Georgian culture, but you step back in time — a history unknown to modern mankind. 

For campers, there are flat grounds just next to the river. For food, you could head to the many guest houses at Dartlo. They double up as eateries. There is also a public water tap at the foot of Dartlo not too far away from the towers. 

In the evening, climb up to Kavavlo, the impressive towers and ruins that watch over Dartlo. Kavavlo is a good 200 m (700 ft) above Dartlo, nearly an hour’s climb. The climb is heady as it initially meanders through wild thickets, and later over impressive views of the entire Dartlo region. There’s a cafe and a water spot at Kavavlo. 

The route to Kavavlo starts at the foot of Dartlo, just opposite the public tap. Climb up to the top of the village, and gain access to the main shepherds’ trail as it traverses above Dartlo. You’ll find the familiar white and red markings signalling the trail. Follow the markings until Kavavlo. 

Day 3

Dartlo to Girevi

Trek Distance: 15 km | Duration: 5-6 hours

  • What to expect: Flattish walk on a motorable road, except for a slight climb outside Girevi.
  • GPS Coordinates of Girevi: 42°29’55.36″N, 45°28’53.47″E

Today’s trek is almost totally on the road until the last stretch to Girevi. It is the easiest day on the trek with no ascents or descents. You gain barely 200 m (700 ft) the entire day. Spend the day soaking in the scenery and the culture of Georgia.

Dartlo to Cheso

Start by walking past the campsites of Dartlo onto the motorable road to Girevi. Outside Dartlo, the road takes a turn to give you a superb view of the Alazani river gently swerving over grassy banks. 

Further ahead, the road passes small shepherds’ settlements on the other bank. The shepherds usually go about their work nonchalantly as you pass by. The absence of women in such settlements is interesting. 

As you trek further, the impressive Pirikita range towers to your left, giving you grand views of its green folds. 

An hour and fifteen minutes later the road turns right exposing a long beautiful curve. Nestled over a small flattish mound is a solitary shepherds’ hut. The setting is beautifully picturesque! 

As the road completes the “C”, it turns sharply to the right. You reach a big stream gushing over the road. You have no option but to ford the stream on foot. Take off your boots and feel the cool waters run through your toes. The stream is just about shin-deep. 

Half an hour after you’ve crossed the stream, the road again curves to the right, giving you the first views of Cheso village. Like other ancient villages on the trail, Cheso is a marvel to look at from a distance. 

As you approach Cheso, there is another gushing stream over the road that needs fording. You could avoid it by climbing up to the village and crossing over a wooden bridge. This way, you get to visit the village too, a welcome break with enough cafes to take a quick bite.

Cheso to Pharsma 

Multiple paths lead out of the village back to the road. After a quick break, take any of them and continue trekking. 

Impressive towers rise from the ridge above Cheso. The road from Cheso curves left getting to the bottom of the ridge on which the towers stand.  

As the road circumvents the end of the ridge above Cheso, the scenery takes on a new form. The valley opens up. The steep flanks of the Pirikita range give way to gentler drops. You see more snow patches on the other bank, which soon turns meadowy. 

It is no surprise that there are more shepherds’ huts and flocks of sheep on the other side of the river. It is another hour to Pharsma, and the picture-perfect scenery stays with you all along. 

Fifteen minutes before Pharsma, look out for another set of magnificent towers on the other side of the river.  

The Pharsma you see close to the trail is just two cafes spread out over meadows — a good spot to rest and refill your water bottle. A third Cafe Beso is high up on the hillside next to an ancient building. 

The real Pharsma village is much above the road, nestled among the ancient ruins. You can’t see the village from the road. However, as the road continues towards Girevi, look back to catch a sight of the Pharsma village. Some trekkers do take a detour and climb up the village, but it is mostly unnecessary. The villages of Dartlo and Girevi give trekkers a similar experience. 

Pharsma to Girevi 

A kilometre outside Pharsma, the motorable road abruptly ends just as you catch your first glimpse of Girevi. From afar, Girevi looks warm and inviting, snuggled in the lap of a vast meadow. 

From the end of the road, the foot trail traverses the very edge of the river. While the stony path weaves in and out just above the river, it doesn’t pose any risk. The section doesn’t last more than 200 meters. 

After this, the trail climbs quickly into the meadows of Girevi. There are flat camping grounds between the two culverts that run parallel to the Girevi village. If you are not camping, continue to the village until you find a familiar yellow signpost that signals the start of the village. 

There are a bunch of guesthouses on either side of the culvert. The real Girevi village is behind the guest houses. 

Girevi is a shepherds’ settlement, so expect to see cows and sheep grazing about. The villagers also grow their greens in their backyards. 

We must warn you, Girevi is notorious for its dogs that often bark and growl at visitors. Be careful around the dogs. Always carry a hiking pole with you. Shoo away any dog that gets uncomfortably close with a gesture of picking up a stone. 

In the evening, climb to the top of Girevi and get on the trail to Atsunta Pass. Walk towards the towers and then look back towards Girevi. This gives you a perfect picture of Girevi and how wonderfully it is landscaped. 

Note 1:

  • It is important to register yourself with the border security post that is behind and below Girevi. It is a big white fabricated structure with the Georgian flag and the Border Security flag fluttering over it.
  • At this post, you will be asked for your passport. They will issue a slip of paper that allows you to continue on the trek. You will have to show this pass at all checkpoints on the trek.
  • Get this paperwork done the evening you arrive at Girevi. It takes about 20-30 minutes for all formalities to be completed. Usually, no questions are asked of you — even though the guards appear formal. 

Note 2:

  • At Girevi, a bed costs GEL 20-25 with each meal at GEL 15. At some guest houses, a bed may cost GEL 40-50.
  • No pack horses are available at Girevi, even though you see plenty of them grazing about. 

Day 4

Girevi to Atsunta Base Camp

Trek Distance: 21 km | Duration: 10-11 hours

  • What to expect: Gradually ascending trail, with some short sharp climbs in between. A long climb towards the end.
  • GPS Coordinates of Atsunta Base Camp: 42°30’55.70″N, 45°17’34.64″E

You cover a long distance today, almost 21 km. The distance is worth it though because it puts you in a good position for the pass climb the next day. 

In Girevi, climb up to the last guest house, Kerigo. The trail to Atsunta Base Camp starts to the left of the guest house and heads towards the ridge just above the towers of Girevi. 

Across the bridge, you can see the valley split into two. Your trail follows the valley to the right. 

Twenty minutes later, as you round the corner of another ridge, the valley to the right opens up. In the far distance, you can see the ruins of Chontio. 

The trail stays about 200 m (800 ft) above the river, maintaining a steady height as it rounds a big curve. 

The scenery that opens up when you see the ruins of Chontio is magnificent. The high altitude Georgian meadows are in full view. Added to this, the trail is lined with wildflowers.

It takes slightly more than an hour to get to the ruins of Chontio. About ten minutes before the ruins, the trail banks a sharp left crosses a stream and takes a steep path across a landslide section. 

The landslide section is small but navigate it carefully. Find firm footmarks on the trail to cross safely. 

The ruins make a good spot to take a breather as you soak in the aura of the ancient structures.

Past the ruins, about 5.5 km out of Girevi, look out for a shepherd’s hut standing on a flattish mound. Spot a few trails that go down to the river from the hut. At the river bed is a small flat camping ground. It is a good spot to get to if in case you want to reduce the distance of the day. So instead of staying earlier at Girevi, you could camp at this spot. You can also consider camping beside the shepherds’ hut: it has terrific views, has a source of water and the reassuring presence of the shepherds. Just keep watchful of the dogs. 

About forty minutes from here, all the while trekking through beautiful grasslands, the trail reaches a big stream tumbling across the trail. There isn’t any option but to ford the stream here. 

Fifteen minutes past this point, the valley narrows, and the view changes almost suddenly to a closed valley. Another half-hour later the trail drops down to the river bed for the first time on the trek. 

Soon after this descent, you have a long switchback climb to the top of the ridge, gaining the 500-600 feet that you’ve lost. As you climb, you reach the end of a ridge.  Rounding the ridge gives you the first views of the Kvakhidistkali meadows and also the split valley in front. 

From your high point, it is a longish descent right to the meadows. From above you’ll see two shepherds’ huts and a few toilet tents on the meadows. 

From the ridge, get down to the river again, cross a small wooden bridge and step into the Kvakhidistkali meadows. It is a lovely flattish meadow with gently sloping ledges rising from the far end of the meadows. 

The shepherds have set up a shop where you can buy food, soft drinks and a few knick-knacks. There is also a good water source in the middle of the meadows where shepherds have set up a pipe. The shepherd’s hut also doubles up as a border check post where staff from the security forces will ask to see your passport and your trekking pass. 

The Kvakhidistkali meadows make for a good camping spot. You can set up your tent on the many ledges around the meadows or camp right in the meadows. Most trekkers end their day here. 

However, our advice would be to camp 6 km further ahead on a ridge close to the base of the Atsunta pass. This gives you a big distance advantage. You put in significantly less effort to cross the pass the next day. The shortened distance also allows you to enjoy the next day’s trail more.

If you are making your way to the Atsunta Base Camp, trace back your steps to the wooden bridge, cross over and rejoin the main trail that goes towards Atsunta pass. 

The trail runs along the river bed parallel to the Kvakhidistkali meadows before climbing onto the grasslands above the river.  

Once on the grasslands, it is a delight to walk through the undulating landscape. The lovely grasslands stretch long towards the end of the valley with wildflowers growing everywhere. 

In an hour, at the end of the grasslands, the valley begins to narrow. The trail drops down to the river bed and continues on the river bed for some time. You’ll find sub-trails heading off from the river into the grasslands, but stay on the river bed until you spot a small shepherd’s hut on your right. 

Two minutes further, there is a mark on a rock which shows an arrow towards Shatili. You will have to cross a stream here. 

Expect waist-deep water in the stream around July, fording it may not be easy. Later in the season, you’ll find calf-deep water. 

Most trekkers ford the stream on their own, but you can also arrange for a horse from the Kvakhidistkali meadows. It helps if you are in a group and a horse is accompanying you. On the other hand, you can team up with a bigger team crossing the stream.

Note:

  • You can negotiate a horse for the stream crossing from the Kvakhidistkali meadows for about GEL 50 to 80. You can team up with 4-6 people and share the cost in between.
  • Across the stream, the trail runs along the main Kvakhidistkali river (though the river looks smaller than the stream you had to ford). Continue upstream, in about ten minutes the trail turns to the right and climbs through a narrow culvert amidst thick undergrowth. 

In a while, you have to cross the stream in the culvert too. Across the culvert, there is a smallish campsite. Avoid this and continue your climb on the meadows. 

A twenty-minute steep climb through the meadows will bring you to another campsite on top of a ridge. This is your camp spot of the day. It is a terrific spot with lovely views of the valley behind you. Up ahead stares at you the trail to Atsunta pass. You are nestled in a large amphitheatre setting. 

Day 5

Atsunta Base Camp to Khidotani via Atsunta Pass

Trek Distance: 11.1 km | Duration: 7 hours

  • What to expect: Stiff climb to the pass. A sharp descent to the grasslands followed by a gently undulating walk over the meadows.
  • GPS Coordinates of Atsunta Pass: 42°31’43.43″N, 45°16’26.26″E
  • GPS Coordinates of Khidotani: 42°32’51.80″N, 45°13’5.09″E

This is the day of the big pass day. There is a lot of height to gain and an impressive altitude to lose as well. 

This is why your Atsunta Base Camp makes sense. The head start is great for the pass rush. 

Starting at the Atsunta Base Camp, the trail leads you to the base of the Atsunta passing through a series of ledges. The ledges make a good rest point for the trail is no longer gentle walks through the grasslands but gain altitude rapidly with every step. 

Aim for the first ledge which is 20 minutes out of the Atsunta Base Camp. A clear stream runs close by — which also makes a good spot to fill your bottles. 

From the first ledge aim for the second ledge from where you’ll get your first views of the Atsunta Pass. The pass is perched high up on the mountainside to your right — the trail to the pass is visible. Looking back the views are spectacular, as are the views in front. 

From the second ledge, a swift switchback climb tops up at your third ledge which also serves as the base of your big climb to the pass.

There is a tiny stream at the foot of the big climb to the pass, where, if you are patient enough you can fill your bottles. There isn’t any other water source until you descend off the pass on the other side. 

At the spot, you are already at 10,200 feet. There are another 1,300 feet of climb left to the pass.  You have climbed approximately 1,000 feet from your Atsunta Base Camp. 

The climb to the pass starts with a traverse to the right, losing sight of the pass, climbs rapidly over many small switchbacks, followed by another long traverse to the left that brings back the view of the pass.  From here it is another 500 feet to the pass. 

In between the traverses, you lose all green cover and the climb is entirely over brown earth and shale. 

The final push to the pass is hard on the lungs but mentally easier as the pass is visible all the time. 

The pass at 3,530 m (11,575 feet) is a cold windy place, with the wind blowing a blizzard. It is a tiny pass barely 10 meters in length and a few meters wide — which also forms the wind tunnel. The view of the Khidotani range on the other side is stunning. 

A huge wide canvas of green opens up on the other side. The contrast between the brown of the pass and the greens on the other side is startling. 

The trail that descends from the pass is visible as it rapidly loses altitude in very short switchbacks, bottoms out as it touches the grasslands, and makes a long traverse across the bottom of the pass and heads towards the Khidotani meadows before disappearing into it. 

The moment you step off the pass, the wind dies out. It is almost like a button has been switched off — through the wind is back sometimes when you get to the exposed parts of the climb down from the pass.

It takes less than an hour to descend to the greens and also to your first water source. Filling up, continue your traverse along the flanks of the Khidotani range heading towards the top of the Khidotani meadows. The traverses pass through some lovely sections of Rhododendrons and wildflowers. 

The traverse initially descends and gently climbs again before popping out on the Khidotani meadows. 

The meadows sprawl out over the top of the Khidotani range — which makes it a sight for the eyes. It is involuntary but most trekkers will spend a lot of time trekking this section, easily one of the best moments of the trek. 

Cutting diagonally across the meadows, the trail heads towards the behind of the last hilltop of the Khidotani range. On the other side, you see another side of yet another splendid valley. Deep down the valley spot the village of Ardoti which is also the last road head from Mutso, where your trek ends. 

 The traverse on the other side again brings you round to the side facing the Atsunta pass. Forty minutes and a short descent later the trails stop short at the border check post of the Khidotani meadows. At the border check post, you need to show your passport and your trek pass again. 

The border check post is also a lovely spot to end the day's trek, on top of the meadows. You can camp anywhere around the checkpost — there are plenty of camping spots everywhere. Around the camping area, the views are terrific. 

A water spot is available not too far from the check post towards the hillside. You can also get water from a pipe inside the checkpost. 

Day 6

Khidotani to Mutso/Shatili onward to Tbilisi

Drive distance: 7.5 km/19.5 km

  • What to expect: Steep descent to the river followed by a gentle walk to Mutso/Shatili on a motorable road
  • GPS Coordinates of Shatili: 42°39’28.37″N, 45° 9’28.24″E

The last day of the trek is a big descent to Mutso followed by a long walk to Shatili. 

Past the bench outside the Khidotani check post, the trail quickly gets into the treeline. Once inside the treeline, the trail dives right into the undergrowth and thick tree cover.  

The descent to the river is sharp, steep and over multiple switchbacks. It is a long descent of almost 840 meters (2,760 feet), which can be quite gruelling on the knees and toes. 

All along the descent, the forest cover changes rapidly, first through silver birch and then through a mixed forest, finally ending at a sparse forest just above the river. 

It takes about an hour and a half to descend the river. Once down, follow the trail until it gets into the river bed ten minutes later. 

On the river bed, the trail continues for a bit until you have to ford the river in two places. Villagers have kept loose logs of silver birch to cross over, but they can be precarious. It is better to get down n all fours on the logs to cross the river. The river below gushes. 

Once on the other side continue on the trail getting to Khonischala village in another ten minutes. Just before the village, there is a foot wooden bridge to cross the river. You are back on the left bank of the river. 

At the Khonischala village, the trail merges with a motorable dirt road that starts from the village. There is a guest house and some shops to buy food in the village. 

Follow the road as it climbs steeply out of the village. Over the climb, the road descends rapidly in the next few minutes to another foot over the bridge across the river. The river here tumbles over a gorge in a furious roar. 

Across the bridge, carry on the road as you catch your first sight of the Mutso towers. They are impressive against the skyline. 

It takes another half hour to the final checkpost, which is also a road junction for the road from the Ardoti village. The Andaki river meets the Khoniskhali river at this spot too. 

At the checkpost, you’ll be asked for your passport and the trek pass for one last time. The process will take a bit of time because the guards need to enter your details in their records. So expect to spend around 15 mins or so here. If the group size is more then it could take longer. 

The Mutso village is a ten mins walk further on. Just before the village, a stream cuts across the road. A campsite just before the stream is on the left of the road, just above the river. 

The Mutso village isn’t much, but a collection of 4-5 houses, most of which double up as restaurants. You can talk to the eateries here who can get you a taxi for GEL 100 to Shatili. Usually, no taxis ply here, so they need to be called from Shatili.

The real Mutso village is up in the ruins about 150 meters above the village. There is a clear trail that starts from the road to the ruins. Keep aside an hour or two to visit the ruins of Mutso, now a heritage site restored. 

Continuing on the trek, it is better to continue walking as the road gets into a lovely deep valley lined by tall cliffs all along to Anatori 10 km away. The trail along the Andaki river is a flattish walk with the scenery making very interesting changes now and then. There is rarely a dull moment. 

About 3.5 km into the road, there is a lovely camping ground beside the road. Further on the lookout for an interesting rural Georgian farming settlement roughly one hour into the walk.  

About a kilometre and a half before Anatori the road crosses a flat iron bridge to again get to the left of the river. As soon as you cross the river warm winds from the valley catch you head-on. 

Anatori is not a village or a settlement. It is just a sharp curve on the road. At the turn, there is a signpost and a tourist information board about the history of the tombs of Anatori.

The tombs are just behind the signpost, so spend about ten minutes reading up and looking at a very historical sight. You can still see the bones inside the tombs. This is also the closest you’ll get to the Russian border on the trek which is less than a kilometre away, down the river. 

Keep your eyes peeled, you’ll spot several border security guards manning the hills higher up on the other side of the river. 

Continue on the road to Shatili which takes another half hour to forty minutes to get there. After a long while, you are going to be walking upstream along the Arghuni river. 

The fortress of Shatili is impressive from a distance. As you draw closer, the guest houses of Shatili get into view. 

At Shatili there are plenty of guesthouses to choose from. For more guest houses, cross the foot overbridge and continue along the road, past the fortress. These guest houses are usually not visible when you first view Shatili giving you the impression that your choices are few. 

The Shatili fortress is a heritage site and the reason for people coming far and wide to visit. This ancient archaeological heritage needs time for exploration, so again, keep an hour for this. Shatili is breathtaking in its beauty — which is why it is in photographs of Georgia everywhere.  

Note:

  • Getting out of Shatili: Every Thursday and Sunday there is a bus at 9.00 am that leaves for Tbilisi. It costs GEL 25. Otherwise, there is an SUV that can accommodate 6 that leaves at 10 every morning. The SUV costs GEL 300. Usually, most trekkers pool up with others for this transport.
  • You can also request some of the guest house owners to help you get a taxi for Tbilisi for around GEL 350-400. If you can round up a few other fellow travellers from other guest houses the cost can be shared.
  • It is a long 4½ hour journey over bad roads most of the way. The good part is the superb scenery all along, especially the stunning Datvisjvari pass. It is one last time you’ll see the green Georgian grassland. 

IMPORTANT POINTS

PRO-TIPS

Day 1

Getting to Omalo

Today is the start of your big trek to Atsunta pass. It starts with first getting to Omalo, the base of your trek. 

Omalo is in the heart of the Tusheti National Park — which means you are getting to the most picturesque region of Georgia on the first day of your trek.  

In Georgia, there are several mountain regions. But out of the many, three of them bowl people over for their beauty. Tusheti, Khevsureti and Svaneti. On this trek, you are going to start in Tusheti and end up in Khevsureti, which means you cover two of the three most beautiful regions of Georgia. 

Getting to Omalo is a whole day’s drive (about 7-8 hours), a good part of it over a non-existent 72 km dirt track between Alvani and Omalo — but the jaw-dropping sceneries make up for every discomfort you face.  You also cross the famous Abano Pass on the way, the highest motorable pass in Georgia. 

Tbilisi to Alvani (110 km)

Your first task is to get to Central Bus Station in Tbilisi. From Freedom Square, take the metro to Isani Metro Station (GEL 0.50), get off, cross the road, get to the intersection on the other side (facing the hill) and take a bus from there. Use Google Maps to see which bus goes to the Central Bus Station. We used No 71. It is hardly 7-8 mins to the Central Bus Station. 

From Central Bus Station, take the minibus to Alvani. It leaves at 9.10 am. Get there an hour earlier because that’s the only bus that plies to Alvani. It gets crowded with trekkers to Omalo and even local folk. The bus has only 18 seats. Among the 18, 3 members will have to sit on the aisle in a makeshift chair attached to the main seat (no backrest).  You could be one of them if you don’t get there early enough. 

Note (if you’re trekking on your own):

  • From Freedom Square it takes about 45 minutes to reach Central Bus Stand, all stops and changes included. The Central Bus Station is also called the Ortachala Central Bus Station.
  • For the further journey from Alvani to Omalo, it makes sense to hook up with other trekkers on the minibus. After reaching Alvani you are unlikely to get any travel partners. 

Alvani to Omalo (72 km)

The road to Alvani heads out in the direction of the airport, crossing it, before turning right roughly about 12.5 km after the airport.

In about 45 minutes the road touches the foothills of the Caucasian mountains. The road gently meanders through the beautiful folds of the foothills before getting to Alvani in about 3 hours.  

Numerous SUVs are waiting for passengers of the Alvani bus. Your bus driver usually helps you by hooking you up with drivers of the SUVs. It costs GEL 200 per SUV to Omalo. SUVs usually accommodate between 4 and 6 passengers, so the cost can be shared. 

It is a 72 km dirt track to Omalo. The initial stretch navigates through forests. Two hours of a roller coaster ride later, the road suddenly bursts out into meadows. 

The sight leaves your senses stunned. Rolling lush green meadows with snow patches sweep the landscape. It is an endless gaze of green until the horizon where hills in the distance meet.   

The SUVs continue to climb through the meadows in a series of switchbacks, crossing the Abano Pass at 2,850 meters in the next half hour. The road stays a dirt track but is no longer the bone-jarring ride. 

Across the pass, the road descends quickly, entering a cluster of silver birch trees before finally descending towards the Akhieti River. About 15 minutes from the river look out for your first sight of an old Georgian village, Khiso, on your right. 

From Khiso, it is another 40-minute climb to Omalo, entering the meadows again. 

Omalo, from a distance is stunning with its pretty houses stretched out over the meadows. It gets prettier as you get closer.

Note:

  • Omalo is split into two parts. Lower and Upper Omalo. Lower Omalo is cheaper and frankly offers better views. The guesthouses may not be as fancy as Upper Omalo but make up for it with their views.
  • A room at lower Omalo costs about GEL 50 with a meal at GEL 20. Breakfast costs GEL 15. You can also opt for a smaller lunch or dinner at GEL 15. Georgian meals are usually very filling so you could opt for a smaller meal.
  • If you need guides or horses, Omalo is a good place to find them. Here, the rates for horses are GEL 50 per day. Guides charge GEL 100 per day.
  • From Omalo to Shatili the charges include the total number of trekking days plus two days for their return. You don’t have to pay extra charges for their food, stay or tents.
  • Horses always need to travel with a guide (A guide manages the horse, as well as takes you on the trek — so it is a dual function). One guide can easily manage a team of horses. For larger groups, it makes sense to take horses from Omalo in case you wish to offload your backpacks or ride a horse when you feel tired.

Day 2

Omalo to Dartlo

Trek Distance: 12.5 km | Duration: 4½ hours

  • What to expect: Initial climb of 4.5 km to Ghele, followed by a gentle 7 km descent on a motorable road. 
  • GPS Coordinates of Omalo: 42°22’14.50″N, 45°38’0.71″E
  • GPS Coordinates of Dartlo: 42°26’18.91″N, 45°34’57.33″E

Dartlo is a world heritage village. So getting it is exciting. On the way, look out for the clearing of Kue just a few hundred meters below Upper Omalo. Ghele, the highest point of the day's trek is another spectacular open clearing with wildflowers growing everywhere. The stretch between Kue and Ghele runs through very old Caucasian Pines.

Omalo to Ghele (4.5 km)

Take the trail to the left of Tishe Hostel. It quickly climbs past the last houses of lower Omalo. 

Hug the big wooden fenced building to the left until you get to the motorable road to Dartlo. Cut across the road and trudge along the foot trail that runs past the signpost. 

The trail climbs steeply towards Upper Omalo while the motorable road to Dartlo climbs through a series of switchbacks on your right. The foot trail approaches the first guest houses of Upper Omalo from behind. 

In Upper Omalo you’ll find a big square in the centre of the village. Look for a water tap on the left of the square to fill drinking water. Fill up here because the next water source is only after the big climb to Ghele. 

From the square continue on the motorable road to Dartlo. The road climbs out of the last houses of Upper Omalo within minutes. 

In five minutes the motorable road tops up and begins to descend. Look for a foot trail that veers off the road to your left just after the signpost. Take the trail and continue along as it cuts through the motorable road a few times before bottoming out in the exquisite clearing of Kue. 

Kue is a clearing that stuns you even before you get there. From higher up on the trail, the big clearing is lined with pine trees on all sides, and in the middle, a lush green patch invites horses and cows. Take a breather here. You’ll need to catch your breath for the next one hour is a big climb to Ghele, 3 km away. 

Take the trail that cuts through the clearing directly ahead of you with the pine trees to your right. A signboard at the bottom of Kue points you in the right direction. The trail climbs out of the clearing, enters a cluster of pine trees, veers left and regains the altitude of Upper Omalo in about half an hour. 

As you climb, look out for the scenery on your left. You’ll soon see the impressive towers of Omalo standing tall on the ridges. They stand out against the emptiness of the valley behind them.   

After a last glimpse of the towers, the trail turns right and enters another cluster of Caucasian pines. The fresh scent of these pines keeps you company through the climb! The trail veers left and then forges straight ahead before popping out on the motorable road to Dartlo. 

This leaves the big climb behind you. The rest of the trail, around one kilometre long, ascends gently along the motorable road, until it turns right and opens up at the clearing of Ghele. 

Ghele is another visual delight. Ghele is pass and a junction of sorts. It is from here that you see mountains from another side of the range for the first time. The Pirikita range climbs sharply from Ghele, with the early hills forming undulating meadows on your left. Below and to your right, lovely wildflowers grow in gay abandon! Trails to the village of Dikolo start straight ahead, cutting across the wildflowers. 

Ghele to Dartlo (7 km)

Resume your trek on the motorable road to your left. The road gradually descends to the river and Dartlo. 

About a kilometre down the road from Ghele is a water spot on the left — the only one after Upper Omalo. The water is clear, cool and refreshing. Fill your bottles because you still have about an hour and a half’s descent to Dartlo. 

An hour from the water source, a big stream cuts across the road, which you can easily cross over. The stream signals your first views of the ancient Dartlo village. You catch your first glimpse of Dartlo, perched atop a large pasture, just at the bend before the stream. 

Half an hour later, spot a bridge over the Alazani river. This is your entrance to Dartlo.  

To enter Dartlo, do not continue on the road. Take the foot trail just past the board that lays out the Tushetian visitor's rules and regulations. Then cross the second wooden bridge just below the outer tower of Dartlo. 

Dartlo is an ancient Tushetian village more than 6 centuries old. The houses of Dartlo are from that period. Walking through Dartlo, you not only get a glimpse of true Georgian culture, but you step back in time — a history unknown to modern mankind. 

For campers, there are flat grounds just next to the river. For food, you could head to the many guest houses at Dartlo. They double up as eateries. There is also a public water tap at the foot of Dartlo not too far away from the towers. 

In the evening, climb up to Kavavlo, the impressive towers and ruins that watch over Dartlo. Kavavlo is a good 200 m (700 ft) above Dartlo, nearly an hour’s climb. The climb is heady as it initially meanders through wild thickets, and later over impressive views of the entire Dartlo region. There’s a cafe and a water spot at Kavavlo. 

The route to Kavavlo starts at the foot of Dartlo, just opposite the public tap. Climb up to the top of the village, and gain access to the main shepherds’ trail as it traverses above Dartlo. You’ll find the familiar white and red markings signalling the trail. Follow the markings until Kavavlo. 

Day 3

Dartlo to Girevi

Trek Distance: 15 km | Duration: 5-6 hours

  • What to expect: Flattish walk on a motorable road, except for a slight climb outside Girevi.
  • GPS Coordinates of Girevi: 42°29’55.36″N, 45°28’53.47″E

Today’s trek is almost totally on the road until the last stretch to Girevi. It is the easiest day on the trek with no ascents or descents. You gain barely 200 m (700 ft) the entire day. Spend the day soaking in the scenery and the culture of Georgia.

Dartlo to Cheso

Start by walking past the campsites of Dartlo onto the motorable road to Girevi. Outside Dartlo, the road takes a turn to give you a superb view of the Alazani river gently swerving over grassy banks. 

Further ahead, the road passes small shepherds’ settlements on the other bank. The shepherds usually go about their work nonchalantly as you pass by. The absence of women in such settlements is interesting. 

As you trek further, the impressive Pirikita range towers to your left, giving you grand views of its green folds. 

An hour and fifteen minutes later the road turns right exposing a long beautiful curve. Nestled over a small flattish mound is a solitary shepherds’ hut. The setting is beautifully picturesque! 

As the road completes the “C”, it turns sharply to the right. You reach a big stream gushing over the road. You have no option but to ford the stream on foot. Take off your boots and feel the cool waters run through your toes. The stream is just about shin-deep. 

Half an hour after you’ve crossed the stream, the road again curves to the right, giving you the first views of Cheso village. Like other ancient villages on the trail, Cheso is a marvel to look at from a distance. 

As you approach Cheso, there is another gushing stream over the road that needs fording. You could avoid it by climbing up to the village and crossing over a wooden bridge. This way, you get to visit the village too, a welcome break with enough cafes to take a quick bite.

Cheso to Pharsma 

Multiple paths lead out of the village back to the road. After a quick break, take any of them and continue trekking. 

Impressive towers rise from the ridge above Cheso. The road from Cheso curves left getting to the bottom of the ridge on which the towers stand.  

As the road circumvents the end of the ridge above Cheso, the scenery takes on a new form. The valley opens up. The steep flanks of the Pirikita range give way to gentler drops. You see more snow patches on the other bank, which soon turns meadowy. 

It is no surprise that there are more shepherds’ huts and flocks of sheep on the other side of the river. It is another hour to Pharsma, and the picture-perfect scenery stays with you all along. 

Fifteen minutes before Pharsma, look out for another set of magnificent towers on the other side of the river.  

The Pharsma you see close to the trail is just two cafes spread out over meadows — a good spot to rest and refill your water bottle. A third Cafe Beso is high up on the hillside next to an ancient building. 

The real Pharsma village is much above the road, nestled among the ancient ruins. You can’t see the village from the road. However, as the road continues towards Girevi, look back to catch a sight of the Pharsma village. Some trekkers do take a detour and climb up the village, but it is mostly unnecessary. The villages of Dartlo and Girevi give trekkers a similar experience. 

Pharsma to Girevi 

A kilometre outside Pharsma, the motorable road abruptly ends just as you catch your first glimpse of Girevi. From afar, Girevi looks warm and inviting, snuggled in the lap of a vast meadow. 

From the end of the road, the foot trail traverses the very edge of the river. While the stony path weaves in and out just above the river, it doesn’t pose any risk. The section doesn’t last more than 200 meters. 

After this, the trail climbs quickly into the meadows of Girevi. There are flat camping grounds between the two culverts that run parallel to the Girevi village. If you are not camping, continue to the village until you find a familiar yellow signpost that signals the start of the village. 

There are a bunch of guesthouses on either side of the culvert. The real Girevi village is behind the guest houses. 

Girevi is a shepherds’ settlement, so expect to see cows and sheep grazing about. The villagers also grow their greens in their backyards. 

We must warn you, Girevi is notorious for its dogs that often bark and growl at visitors. Be careful around the dogs. Always carry a hiking pole with you. Shoo away any dog that gets uncomfortably close with a gesture of picking up a stone. 

In the evening, climb to the top of Girevi and get on the trail to Atsunta Pass. Walk towards the towers and then look back towards Girevi. This gives you a perfect picture of Girevi and how wonderfully it is landscaped. 

Note 1:

  • It is important to register yourself with the border security post that is behind and below Girevi. It is a big white fabricated structure with the Georgian flag and the Border Security flag fluttering over it.
  • At this post, you will be asked for your passport. They will issue a slip of paper that allows you to continue on the trek. You will have to show this pass at all checkpoints on the trek.
  • Get this paperwork done the evening you arrive at Girevi. It takes about 20-30 minutes for all formalities to be completed. Usually, no questions are asked of you — even though the guards appear formal. 

Note 2:

  • At Girevi, a bed costs GEL 20-25 with each meal at GEL 15. At some guest houses, a bed may cost GEL 40-50.
  • No pack horses are available at Girevi, even though you see plenty of them grazing about. 

Day 4

Girevi to Atsunta Base Camp

Trek Distance: 21 km | Duration: 10-11 hours

  • What to expect: Gradually ascending trail, with some short sharp climbs in between. A long climb towards the end.
  • GPS Coordinates of Atsunta Base Camp: 42°30’55.70″N, 45°17’34.64″E

You cover a long distance today, almost 21 km. The distance is worth it though because it puts you in a good position for the pass climb the next day. 

In Girevi, climb up to the last guest house, Kerigo. The trail to Atsunta Base Camp starts to the left of the guest house and heads towards the ridge just above the towers of Girevi. 

Across the bridge, you can see the valley split into two. Your trail follows the valley to the right. 

Twenty minutes later, as you round the corner of another ridge, the valley to the right opens up. In the far distance, you can see the ruins of Chontio. 

The trail stays about 200 m (800 ft) above the river, maintaining a steady height as it rounds a big curve. 

The scenery that opens up when you see the ruins of Chontio is magnificent. The high altitude Georgian meadows are in full view. Added to this, the trail is lined with wildflowers.

It takes slightly more than an hour to get to the ruins of Chontio. About ten minutes before the ruins, the trail banks a sharp left crosses a stream and takes a steep path across a landslide section. 

The landslide section is small but navigate it carefully. Find firm footmarks on the trail to cross safely. 

The ruins make a good spot to take a breather as you soak in the aura of the ancient structures.

Past the ruins, about 5.5 km out of Girevi, look out for a shepherd’s hut standing on a flattish mound. Spot a few trails that go down to the river from the hut. At the river bed is a small flat camping ground. It is a good spot to get to if in case you want to reduce the distance of the day. So instead of staying earlier at Girevi, you could camp at this spot. You can also consider camping beside the shepherds’ hut: it has terrific views, has a source of water and the reassuring presence of the shepherds. Just keep watchful of the dogs. 

About forty minutes from here, all the while trekking through beautiful grasslands, the trail reaches a big stream tumbling across the trail. There isn’t any option but to ford the stream here. 

Fifteen minutes past this point, the valley narrows, and the view changes almost suddenly to a closed valley. Another half-hour later the trail drops down to the river bed for the first time on the trek. 

Soon after this descent, you have a long switchback climb to the top of the ridge, gaining the 500-600 feet that you’ve lost. As you climb, you reach the end of a ridge.  Rounding the ridge gives you the first views of the Kvakhidistkali meadows and also the split valley in front. 

From your high point, it is a longish descent right to the meadows. From above you’ll see two shepherds’ huts and a few toilet tents on the meadows. 

From the ridge, get down to the river again, cross a small wooden bridge and step into the Kvakhidistkali meadows. It is a lovely flattish meadow with gently sloping ledges rising from the far end of the meadows. 

The shepherds have set up a shop where you can buy food, soft drinks and a few knick-knacks. There is also a good water source in the middle of the meadows where shepherds have set up a pipe. The shepherd’s hut also doubles up as a border check post where staff from the security forces will ask to see your passport and your trekking pass. 

The Kvakhidistkali meadows make for a good camping spot. You can set up your tent on the many ledges around the meadows or camp right in the meadows. Most trekkers end their day here. 

However, our advice would be to camp 6 km further ahead on a ridge close to the base of the Atsunta pass. This gives you a big distance advantage. You put in significantly less effort to cross the pass the next day. The shortened distance also allows you to enjoy the next day’s trail more.

If you are making your way to the Atsunta Base Camp, trace back your steps to the wooden bridge, cross over and rejoin the main trail that goes towards Atsunta pass. 

The trail runs along the river bed parallel to the Kvakhidistkali meadows before climbing onto the grasslands above the river.  

Once on the grasslands, it is a delight to walk through the undulating landscape. The lovely grasslands stretch long towards the end of the valley with wildflowers growing everywhere. 

In an hour, at the end of the grasslands, the valley begins to narrow. The trail drops down to the river bed and continues on the river bed for some time. You’ll find sub-trails heading off from the river into the grasslands, but stay on the river bed until you spot a small shepherd’s hut on your right. 

Two minutes further, there is a mark on a rock which shows an arrow towards Shatili. You will have to cross a stream here. 

Expect waist-deep water in the stream around July, fording it may not be easy. Later in the season, you’ll find calf-deep water. 

Most trekkers ford the stream on their own, but you can also arrange for a horse from the Kvakhidistkali meadows. It helps if you are in a group and a horse is accompanying you. On the other hand, you can team up with a bigger team crossing the stream.

Note:

  • You can negotiate a horse for the stream crossing from the Kvakhidistkali meadows for about GEL 50 to 80. You can team up with 4-6 people and share the cost in between.
  • Across the stream, the trail runs along the main Kvakhidistkali river (though the river looks smaller than the stream you had to ford). Continue upstream, in about ten minutes the trail turns to the right and climbs through a narrow culvert amidst thick undergrowth. 

In a while, you have to cross the stream in the culvert too. Across the culvert, there is a smallish campsite. Avoid this and continue your climb on the meadows. 

A twenty-minute steep climb through the meadows will bring you to another campsite on top of a ridge. This is your camp spot of the day. It is a terrific spot with lovely views of the valley behind you. Up ahead stares at you the trail to Atsunta pass. You are nestled in a large amphitheatre setting. 

Day 5

Atsunta Base Camp to Khidotani via Atsunta Pass

Trek Distance: 11.1 km | Duration: 7 hours

  • What to expect: Stiff climb to the pass. A sharp descent to the grasslands followed by a gently undulating walk over the meadows.
  • GPS Coordinates of Atsunta Pass: 42°31’43.43″N, 45°16’26.26″E
  • GPS Coordinates of Khidotani: 42°32’51.80″N, 45°13’5.09″E

This is the day of the big pass day. There is a lot of height to gain and an impressive altitude to lose as well. 

This is why your Atsunta Base Camp makes sense. The head start is great for the pass rush. 

Starting at the Atsunta Base Camp, the trail leads you to the base of the Atsunta passing through a series of ledges. The ledges make a good rest point for the trail is no longer gentle walks through the grasslands but gain altitude rapidly with every step. 

Aim for the first ledge which is 20 minutes out of the Atsunta Base Camp. A clear stream runs close by — which also makes a good spot to fill your bottles. 

From the first ledge aim for the second ledge from where you’ll get your first views of the Atsunta Pass. The pass is perched high up on the mountainside to your right — the trail to the pass is visible. Looking back the views are spectacular, as are the views in front. 

From the second ledge, a swift switchback climb tops up at your third ledge which also serves as the base of your big climb to the pass.

There is a tiny stream at the foot of the big climb to the pass, where, if you are patient enough you can fill your bottles. There isn’t any other water source until you descend off the pass on the other side. 

At the spot, you are already at 10,200 feet. There are another 1,300 feet of climb left to the pass.  You have climbed approximately 1,000 feet from your Atsunta Base Camp. 

The climb to the pass starts with a traverse to the right, losing sight of the pass, climbs rapidly over many small switchbacks, followed by another long traverse to the left that brings back the view of the pass.  From here it is another 500 feet to the pass. 

In between the traverses, you lose all green cover and the climb is entirely over brown earth and shale. 

The final push to the pass is hard on the lungs but mentally easier as the pass is visible all the time. 

The pass at 3,530 m (11,575 feet) is a cold windy place, with the wind blowing a blizzard. It is a tiny pass barely 10 meters in length and a few meters wide — which also forms the wind tunnel. The view of the Khidotani range on the other side is stunning. 

A huge wide canvas of green opens up on the other side. The contrast between the brown of the pass and the greens on the other side is startling. 

The trail that descends from the pass is visible as it rapidly loses altitude in very short switchbacks, bottoms out as it touches the grasslands, and makes a long traverse across the bottom of the pass and heads towards the Khidotani meadows before disappearing into it. 

The moment you step off the pass, the wind dies out. It is almost like a button has been switched off — through the wind is back sometimes when you get to the exposed parts of the climb down from the pass.

It takes less than an hour to descend to the greens and also to your first water source. Filling up, continue your traverse along the flanks of the Khidotani range heading towards the top of the Khidotani meadows. The traverses pass through some lovely sections of Rhododendrons and wildflowers. 

The traverse initially descends and gently climbs again before popping out on the Khidotani meadows. 

The meadows sprawl out over the top of the Khidotani range — which makes it a sight for the eyes. It is involuntary but most trekkers will spend a lot of time trekking this section, easily one of the best moments of the trek. 

Cutting diagonally across the meadows, the trail heads towards the behind of the last hilltop of the Khidotani range. On the other side, you see another side of yet another splendid valley. Deep down the valley spot the village of Ardoti which is also the last road head from Mutso, where your trek ends. 

 The traverse on the other side again brings you round to the side facing the Atsunta pass. Forty minutes and a short descent later the trails stop short at the border check post of the Khidotani meadows. At the border check post, you need to show your passport and your trek pass again. 

The border check post is also a lovely spot to end the day's trek, on top of the meadows. You can camp anywhere around the checkpost — there are plenty of camping spots everywhere. Around the camping area, the views are terrific. 

A water spot is available not too far from the check post towards the hillside. You can also get water from a pipe inside the checkpost. 

Day 6

Khidotani to Mutso/Shatili onward to Tbilisi

Drive distance: 7.5 km/19.5 km

  • What to expect: Steep descent to the river followed by a gentle walk to Mutso/Shatili on a motorable road
  • GPS Coordinates of Shatili: 42°39’28.37″N, 45° 9’28.24″E

The last day of the trek is a big descent to Mutso followed by a long walk to Shatili. 

Past the bench outside the Khidotani check post, the trail quickly gets into the treeline. Once inside the treeline, the trail dives right into the undergrowth and thick tree cover.  

The descent to the river is sharp, steep and over multiple switchbacks. It is a long descent of almost 840 meters (2,760 feet), which can be quite gruelling on the knees and toes. 

All along the descent, the forest cover changes rapidly, first through silver birch and then through a mixed forest, finally ending at a sparse forest just above the river. 

It takes about an hour and a half to descend the river. Once down, follow the trail until it gets into the river bed ten minutes later. 

On the river bed, the trail continues for a bit until you have to ford the river in two places. Villagers have kept loose logs of silver birch to cross over, but they can be precarious. It is better to get down n all fours on the logs to cross the river. The river below gushes. 

Once on the other side continue on the trail getting to Khonischala village in another ten minutes. Just before the village, there is a foot wooden bridge to cross the river. You are back on the left bank of the river. 

At the Khonischala village, the trail merges with a motorable dirt road that starts from the village. There is a guest house and some shops to buy food in the village. 

Follow the road as it climbs steeply out of the village. Over the climb, the road descends rapidly in the next few minutes to another foot over the bridge across the river. The river here tumbles over a gorge in a furious roar. 

Across the bridge, carry on the road as you catch your first sight of the Mutso towers. They are impressive against the skyline. 

It takes another half hour to the final checkpost, which is also a road junction for the road from the Ardoti village. The Andaki river meets the Khoniskhali river at this spot too. 

At the checkpost, you’ll be asked for your passport and the trek pass for one last time. The process will take a bit of time because the guards need to enter your details in their records. So expect to spend around 15 mins or so here. If the group size is more then it could take longer. 

The Mutso village is a ten mins walk further on. Just before the village, a stream cuts across the road. A campsite just before the stream is on the left of the road, just above the river. 

The Mutso village isn’t much, but a collection of 4-5 houses, most of which double up as restaurants. You can talk to the eateries here who can get you a taxi for GEL 100 to Shatili. Usually, no taxis ply here, so they need to be called from Shatili.

The real Mutso village is up in the ruins about 150 meters above the village. There is a clear trail that starts from the road to the ruins. Keep aside an hour or two to visit the ruins of Mutso, now a heritage site restored. 

Continuing on the trek, it is better to continue walking as the road gets into a lovely deep valley lined by tall cliffs all along to Anatori 10 km away. The trail along the Andaki river is a flattish walk with the scenery making very interesting changes now and then. There is rarely a dull moment. 

About 3.5 km into the road, there is a lovely camping ground beside the road. Further on the lookout for an interesting rural Georgian farming settlement roughly one hour into the walk.  

About a kilometre and a half before Anatori the road crosses a flat iron bridge to again get to the left of the river. As soon as you cross the river warm winds from the valley catch you head-on. 

Anatori is not a village or a settlement. It is just a sharp curve on the road. At the turn, there is a signpost and a tourist information board about the history of the tombs of Anatori.

The tombs are just behind the signpost, so spend about ten minutes reading up and looking at a very historical sight. You can still see the bones inside the tombs. This is also the closest you’ll get to the Russian border on the trek which is less than a kilometre away, down the river. 

Keep your eyes peeled, you’ll spot several border security guards manning the hills higher up on the other side of the river. 

Continue on the road to Shatili which takes another half hour to forty minutes to get there. After a long while, you are going to be walking upstream along the Arghuni river. 

The fortress of Shatili is impressive from a distance. As you draw closer, the guest houses of Shatili get into view. 

At Shatili there are plenty of guesthouses to choose from. For more guest houses, cross the foot overbridge and continue along the road, past the fortress. These guest houses are usually not visible when you first view Shatili giving you the impression that your choices are few. 

The Shatili fortress is a heritage site and the reason for people coming far and wide to visit. This ancient archaeological heritage needs time for exploration, so again, keep an hour for this. Shatili is breathtaking in its beauty — which is why it is in photographs of Georgia everywhere.  

Note:

  • Getting out of Shatili: Every Thursday and Sunday there is a bus at 9.00 am that leaves for Tbilisi. It costs GEL 25. Otherwise, there is an SUV that can accommodate 6 that leaves at 10 every morning. The SUV costs GEL 300. Usually, most trekkers pool up with others for this transport.
  • You can also request some of the guest house owners to help you get a taxi for Tbilisi for around GEL 350-400. If you can round up a few other fellow travellers from other guest houses the cost can be shared.
  • It is a long 4½ hour journey over bad roads most of the way. The good part is the superb scenery all along, especially the stunning Datvisjvari pass. It is one last time you’ll see the green Georgian grassland. 

IMPORTANT POINTS

PRO-TIPS

Campsites at a Glance

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Arjun Majumdar Founder, CEO

What I Like About Atsunta Pass Trek

What I Like About Ali Bedni Bugyal Trek

Arjun Majumdar Founder, CEO

1. Grand Mountain Views From The Most Beautiful Meadows Of Our Country

You see Mt Trishul and Mt Nanda Ghunti in their grandest of views. They are jutting out. By jutting out I mean you see their full face, like the entire 6,000-7,000 feet of Mt Trishul right in front of you. Imagine the grandiosity with the sun setting on it. 

You haven’t seen such grand views on any trek. Forget about any meadow trek. 

To add to it, you are at around 11,500 feet with the evening rays on Mt Trishul, especially from Bedni Bugyal. It is a powerful sight. I have seen trekkers standing in these meadows with tears in their eyes. 

And I want you to watch this.

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2. Unforgettable sunrises and sunsets while camping at Abin Kharak

You may not know this, but we have an extra camp near Ali Bugyal called Abin Kharak. This is just off the meadows. You can get in and out of the meadows quickly from here. 

Watch out for this campsite. You won’t get a more rewarding experience on a trek. Now you have the opportunity to not just see the sunsets but also the sunrise from these meadows.

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3. A unique experience of trekking through ancient and dense forests

The oak and rhododendron forest on the Ali-Bedni Bugyal trek are the densest I have trekked in. Perhaps, they are also the rarest because most of these trees are easily a thousand years old.

They are so grand and so old. And you are meandering through these trees with their roots all over the ground. It’s not something you will experience on most treks. 

Especially if you do it early in the morning, as we are going to be doing it. 

In many places, you see sunlight falling in spectacular angles. It’s a photographer’s delight to catch these sun rays falling through the leaves at charming angles. It creates a lovely lighting.

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Picture by: Mohit Dev

Near Chika Campsite

Know Your Trek

We have always wanted trekkers to be well-informed before they go on a Himalayan trek. Knowledge is the difference between a safe trek and a dangerous one. It’s also the difference between a wholesome experience and a superficial experience.

Use this section to learn about the Atsunta Pass trek. It has in-depth information about each day of the trek, what to expect, and how you need to prepare for it. Many years of expertise have gone into this content. Trekkers find that extremely useful.

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PRO TIPS

PRO TIPS

How to Reach Ali Bedni Bugyal

It is great to see you going on the Ali Bedni Bugyal Trek, a grand buffet of our greatest treks. While it is a great trek to do, you need to get your travel plan worked out perfectly.

Here is a step-by-step guide on what to do next. Use this guide and nothing else to plan your travel.  

A quick view of your travel plan

Planning your onward air/train booking

Planning your return air/train booking

Planning your hotel booking

How to reach Lohajung on your own

1. Here’s a quick view on how to plan your travel

Day 0: Book your air ticket to Delhi. Take the night train to Kathgodam.  Take the Ranikhet Express from Delhi. It leaves at 10.40 pm from Old Delhi Railway Station and reaches Kathgodam at 5.05 am.

Day 1: Kathgodam to Lohajung drive. It is an 8 hour drive from Kathgodam. Lohajung is the base camp for your trek. 

We organise transport to Lohajung from Kathgodam Railway Station. Our vehicles leave at 6:00 am sharp from Kathgodam. The cab costs Rs.6,000 per vehicle for an SUV and Rs 9,000 for a Tempo Traveler.

Day 2 to Day 5: Trek days

Day 6: Depart from Lohajung. You will reach Kathgodam between 6.00 PM and 7.00 PM. The cab costs Rs.6,000 for an SUV and Rs.9,000 for a Tempo Traveler.

Important points to note:

Buffer Day: Keep a buffer day for emergencies. Your trek is 6 days long, but keep an extra 7th day as your buffer day. This is outside the itinerary. You cannot predict bad rain, landslides or a political situation on a trek. 

Always book your return flight/train tickets after including the buffer day in your itinerary. 

2. Planning your onward flight/train booking  

If you are travelling from Bengaluru, Chennai, Pune, Mumbai or any other city, book your air tickets for Day Zero, which is the day before Day 1 on the itinerary. If your trek start day is 25 August, book your air tickets for 24 August to either Delhi/Dehradun. 

There are two options for your flight booking.

Option 1: Take a train to Kathgodam

Lohajung (7,700 ft), 230 km from Kathgodam. It is a tiny pass, that slips in through the Gwaldam face of the mountain and into the Wan valley. The route to Lohajung is via Almora — Gwaldam — Tharali — Debal — Mundoli — Lohajung

Reaching Kathgodam – Take the Ranikhet Express from Delhi. It leaves at 10.40 pm from Old Delhi Railway Station and reaches Kathgodam at 5.05 am.

What happens if you don’t get tickets on the Ranikhet Express? 

Ranikhet express is a crowded train and often gets booked many days in advance. Firstly, don’t look for an AC ticket. It is an overnight journey and even sleeper berths are comfortable. Book a Tatkal ticket. Your chance of getting a sleeper ticket in Tatkal is very high. If, for some reason, you still don’t get a ticket on the Ranikhet express, there are two options for you. 

Option 1 Take the earlier day’s Sampark Kranti from Old Delhi, which leaves at 4.00 pm. Tickets on the Sampark Kranti are usually easy to get as it is a day seating train. Stay overnight in a hotel at Kathgodam and join the team vehicle the next morning. KMVN Tourist Guest Home at Kathgodam is a good place to halt for the night. KMVN is Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam, a government tourist guest home, 500 metres from the railway station. The place is decent and clean. You can contact them on 05942-231436, +91 7055715251 or book online at http://www.kmvn.gov.in/ 

Option 2 Take an overnight bus from Delhi’s Anand Vihar ISBT to Kathgodam. Volvo buses leave Anand Vihar around 9.00 pm. It is usually an 8 hour journey. There is no online booking, so arrive a couple of hours early at Anand Vihar to book your tickets. No advanced reservation is required. Try to get to Kathgodam early (by 6 am) to catch the Indiahikes pickup at the station.

3. Planning your return flight/train booking

Booking your return tickets require some thought. First, always book your return ticket keeping in mind the buffer day. The buffer day must be included in your itinerary. If your trek ends on day 6, do not book your flight/train tickets for day 7. Instead book for day 8. Day 7 is your buffer day.

Next, if your onward flight departs from Delhi, then book flight tickets for Day 9. 

Sometimes trekkers worry if they can book an early morning flight out of Delhi on Day 9. Yes, you can. But book flights that depart only after 8 am. Do not book any flight between 6.00 and 8 am. You may not reach Delhi in time.

4. Planning your hotel/stay

While booking hotels on your return, always book your rooms assuming the buffer day is not being used. Assume the trek is going to run without any hiccups. So what happens if you use your buffer day on the trek? Unfortunately, then you’ll probably lose your hotel booking. So book hotels where you may not have to transfer money in advance. Even if you do, consider it better than missing out on the trek. 

5. What if you miss the Indiahikes pickup? Getting to Lohajung on your own

If you miss the Indiahikes pick up from Kathgodam. Here is how you can get to Lohajung base camp on your own.

Option 1: Delhi → Lohajung (24 hours) There is a direct bus from Delhi to Mundoli/Lohajung. It leaves Delhi Anand Vihar terminal at 9.15 pm. You will reach Kathgodam at 4.00 am and Lohajung at 5.30 pm.

Note: This is an extremely long and tiring journey.

Option 2: Delhi → Rishikesh → Lohajung (cab) From Delhi, get to Rishikesh/Haridwar and hire a Sumo to Lohajung. The route: Devprayag – Srinagar – Rudraprayag – Karanprayag – turn right to Tharali – Debal – Mundoli – Lohajung

Note: Most taxi operators may not have heard of Lohajung. So, you’ll have to show them the direction as given above.

Option 3: Delhi → Rishikesh → Karanprayag → Lohajung (bus) From Rishikesh Bus Stand., take any bus on the Joshimath/Badrinath route and buy a ticket to Karanprayag. It is a 6-7 hour journey from Rishikesh to Karanprayag. Take a bus that leaves as early in the morning as possible, preferably around 6.00 am. From Karanprayag Bus Stand, take a shared Jeep to Tharali (47 km). The road to Tharali runs along the Pindar river.

From Tharali, take a shared taxi to Debal (14 km). Once you reach Debal, you can arrange onward transport to Lohajung (24 km).

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Trek Trevia

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Leaving Mountains Better

Green Trails is our promise to leave the mountains better. We have removed over 1 lakh kilos of waste left behind by others on trekking trails. Yet this is a small percentage of what we do. Green Trails dives into reducing use of resources, reducing our carbon footprint and bringing about a change in the daily practices of our trekkers too.

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Face no cancellation charges any time before the trek date

We understand the pain of cancelling a trek. As trekkers, we always look forward to treks, and after months of training and planning, if we have to cancel our trek, there’s no greater disappointment than that. 

This is why we have trekker-friendly cancellation policies.

Read the Detailed Cancellation Policy Here