The Atsunta Pass trek, we believe, is the greatest trek 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 at our own 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.
What to watch out for
The remote villages on the trek
The villages on this trek are not just villages. They are living, breathing archeological sites. They are centuries old — many of them nestled within the ruins of old fortresses and towers. With the astounding grasslands around them, the villages themselves are a sight on the trek.
Don’t miss staying at Dartlo and Girevi for anything. And especially visit the towering ruins over Dartlo, Kavavlo.
The villages of Mutso and Shatili on the other side of the Atsunta Pass are startling too. The ancient village of Mutso is a heritage site. Millions have been spent on its restoration. On the other hand, the fortress of Shatili is a landmark in all of Georgia — such is its history and beauty. Don’t miss out on these two villages either.
The grasslands of Georgia
This trek is known for its grasslands. And it does not disappoint. It is hard to find such perfectly landscaped grasslands. They stretch out far and wide and on a good day, sun rays light up the grasslands in a grand way. This is when you see the grasslands in all their splendour, with wildflowers and glowing beds of grass!
Look out especially for the trek from Girevi to Atsunta Base Camp. It is a very long day and thank heavens it is. It is a perfect showcase of the grasslands.
After you cross the Atsunta pass, the Khidotani meadows can make anyone weak in the knees. It is laid out over a ridge top, something rare to see.
The Atsunta Pass crossing
This pass crossing is as thrilling as any Himalayan pass crossing. Right from the base of the climb, where you see the pass as a tiny speck, to finally reaching and crossing over the pass is exhilarating! Not many treks in Europe have such a spectacular pass crossing. The landscape changes dramatically with every meter. Within a few hundred feet you leave the grasslands behind and enter the stone and shale. It is almost too dramatic.
For more details about the trail, check the detailed 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 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 mini bus 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 back rest). You could be one of them if you don’t get there early enough.
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.
There are numerous SUVs 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.
Day 2: Omalo to Dartlo
- 12.5 km. 4½ hrs
- 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 there is exciting. On the way, look out for the clearing of Kue just few hundred meters below Upper Omalo. Ghele the highest point of the days 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 sign post.
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.
At 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 sign post. 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 sign board 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 other 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 all the way to the river and Dartlo.
About a kilometer 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. In fact 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 visitors 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, 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
- 15 km. Approx 5-6 hrs.
- 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
There are multiple paths that 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 kilometer 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 sign post that signals the start of the village.
There are a bunch of guest houses 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.
Day 4: Girevi to Atsunta Base Camp
- 21 km. Appx 10-11 hrs
- 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 ridge you can clearly 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 shepherds’ 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 a watchful on 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, 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 clearly 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 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 a 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 in 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 sometime. 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.
In a while you have to cross the stream in the culvert too. Across the culvert there is a smallish camp site. Avoid this and continue your climb on the meadows.
A twenty minute steep climb through the meadows will you 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 amphitheater setting.
Day 5: Atsunta Base Camp to Khidotani via Atsunta Pass
- 11.1 km. Appx 7 hrs
- What to expect: Stiff climb to the pass. A sharp descent to the grasslands followed by a gentle 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.
Which is why your Atsunta Base Camp makes sense. The head start is great for the pass push.
Starting out of the Atsunta Base Camp, the trail leads you to the base of the Atsunta pass through a series of ledges. The ledges make 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 closeby — 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 to the Atsunta Pass. The pass is perched high up on the mountain side to your right — the trail to the pass clearly visible. Looking back the views are spectacular, as much 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 is another 1,300 feet of climb left to the pass. You have climbed approximately a 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 clearly visible as it rapidly loses altitude in very short switchbacks, bottoms out as it touches the grasslands, makes a long traverse across the bottom of the pass 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 — though 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 down to the greens and to 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 passes 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 hill top 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 a 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 stops short at 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 days 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 hill side. You can also get water from a pipe from inside the checkpost.
Day 6: Khidotani to Mutso/Shatili onward to Tbilisi
- 7.5 km or 19.5 km
- What to expect: Steep descent to the river followed by 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 undergrowth and thick tree cover.
The descent to the river is sharp, steep and over multiple switchbacks. It is a long descent for 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 to 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 out of the village. There is a guest house and some shops to buy food at 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 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 prior to 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 all the way 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, tt is better to continue walking as the road gets into a lovely deep valley lined by tall cliffs all along to Anatori 10 kms away. The trail along the Andaki river is a flattish walk with the scenery making very interesting changes every 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 look out for an interesting rural Georgian farming settlement roughly one hour into the walk.
About a kilometer 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 turning there is a signpost and a tourist information board about the history of the tombs of Anatori.
The tombs are just behind the sign post, 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 kilometer 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 guest houses 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 to come far and wide to visit. This ancient archeological 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.
Training yourself for the Atsunta Pass trek
Although the trail on the trek is well marked and almost straight forward, do not mistake it for an easy trek. You cover a distance of almost 80 km in 5 days. That, coupled with a highest altitude of 3,530 m makes the trek quite challenging.
You can tell that the trek requires a great amount of cardiovascular endurance as well as functional strength training.
Start by jogging everyday to build your cardiovascular endurance. Download a running app or a set a running plan. Couch to 5k (C25K) is a great app to help guide your daily runs in a planned manner.
Here’s a fitness routine that works:
In case you’re just starting with a regular fitness routine, phase out your distance targets in the following manner –
– Target completing 5 km in 40 minutes when you begin.
– Gradually increase your pace by running 4 times a week and bring it down to 5 km in 35 mins.
– If you are 45 years or above, try to cover 5km in less than 40 minutes.
If you prefer cycling over running, then try to cover 22 km in 60 minutes.
Strength training is equally important to complete this trek comfortably. Work on your glutes, calves and knees. Additionally, work on strengthening your core.
Try these exercises for strength:
– Squats (Mix it up with sumo squats)
– Lunges (Forward, backward and lateral lunges)
What Indiahikes does to ensure your safety
Our philosophy is simple. We ingrain safety aspects in the people we work with, in the processes that we follow, and in the equipment we carry. All our trek leaders are trained repeatedly on safety issues and protocols. Most issues are resolved with their intervention.
Right from the time you decide to register for the trek till the last day of the trek, these safety procedures will be running in the background. We have listed a few of them below:
1. Fitness criteria before registration
Over years of organising high altitude treks, we have found that safety issues thrive amongst those who are unfit and unprepared for the trek. Anyone who wants to register for the Dayara Bugyal trek has to meet the fitness requirements, with the ideal BMI. The BMI and fitness regime will require proof. A high altitude trek is not to be taken casually.
2. Monitoring health on a trek
On the Dayara Bugyal trek, your Trek Leader will be monitoring two aspects thrice a day.
- Oxygen Level
- Pulse Rate
Your Blood Pressure levels will be checked once a day.
This will help us ensure that your body is acclimatising as required.
Every trekker will be given a Health Card at the beginning of the trek. The Health Card is issued to monitor the trekker’s daily health, wherein they will be entering details about their health everyday. It also contains details of what symptoms one should look out for and what action should be taken during emergencies. These Health Cards will be collected back at the end of the trek.
3. High Altitude Medical Kit
Your trek leader will be carrying a full-fledged high altitude medical kit. This will include basic medicines and specific medicines catering to altitude sickness – Diamox, Dexamethasone (tablets and injections) and Nifedipine. Your Trek Leader will also be carrying a portable oxygen cylinder throughout the trek. In addition to that, there are oxygen cylinders installed at all high altitude campsites for any emergency situations.
4. High Altitude Trek Equipment
To ensure safe trekking on snowy terrain, Indiahikes will provide you with micro-spikes to attach to your shoes. This will give you good traction on hard snow. To avoid snow from entering your shoes, Indiahikes will provide you with gaiters that you can put on over your shoes. You will have qualified technical guides with you, who will lead the way on difficult terrain.
All our sleeping bags and tents are custom-made for high altitude. If it is cold outside, it will be around 10 degrees warmer inside the tent. The sleeping bags can withstand temperatures up to -10 degree Celsius.
With all these processes and equipment in place, you can be rest assured that you will have a safe trek with Indiahikes.
Nevertheless, you will need to be cautious and report the slightest of symptoms to your trek leader as soon as you feel them.
5. Being hydrated and well-nourished on the trek
You need to drink a minimum of 4 litres of water every day during the trek to ensure that you’re well hydrated. De-hydration on a trek can make you lose energy very quickly and intensify the effects of AMS. Your trek leader will brief you about the amount of water that you need to carry with you at the start of each day as well as water sources on the trail.
We provide trekkers with nutritious meals to ensure that they are energized to complete the trail each day. Apart from this, snacks or packed lunch is provided wherever the trail before a meal break is likely to be long. Make sure that you do not skip any meal as this can lead to serious health emergencies on high altitudes.
The Indiahikes Special Covid Cancellation Policy
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 one of the most trekker-friendly cancellation policies.
This policy is effective for registrations starting January 5, 2021.
| Face no cancellation charges any time before the trek date
– Cancellation upto 7 days before the start date of the trek — Get a complete cash refund (minus 4% transaction fee). The money is refunded to the same bank account, credit or debit card from where payment was made.
– Cancellation during the last 6 days before the start date of the trek, and not counting the day of the trek — Full refund with 100% of the trek fee in the form of an Indiahikes Trek Voucher. Valid for 1 year from date of issue. Can be used on any Indiahikes trek.
– Cancellation on the start day of the trek, or no show on the start day of the trek — Unfortunately, no refund.
Important note: The Trek Insurance amount is not refundable.
| In the rare event that we cancel a trek, this is the policy we follow:
We almost never cancel our treks. But in case we cancel a trek because of natural calamities (snowstorms, thunderstorms, floods, landslides, earthquakes) or unexpected political unrest, curfews, local riots, or government orders, Indiahikes will issue a voucher for the full amount of your trek fee (minus the trek insurance). You can redeem the Trek Voucher on any of our treks over the next one year.
Important note: The Trek Insurance amount is not refundable.
| The Indiahikes “Repeat My Trek” Policy (trekkers love this!)
There are some thoughts and ideologies that we hold close to our hearts.
1. As trekkers, there are times when we have to let go of a trek midway. Sometimes we fall ill, or get hit by AMS or at times simply fatigue pulls us down. At other times bad weather plays spoilsport, or the trail is blocked. It can happen that your Trek Leader sends you down due to a safety or health issue.
At Indiahikes we feel terrible when such an event happens.
Should such a situation occur that you have to drop out from this trek, we want you to know that we feel as bad as you do. You can always come back another time and finish your adventure. For this you do not have to pay Indiahikes any money.
2. On the other hand, there are times when you fall in love with a trek. So much so that you want to do it again, perhaps see it in another season. If you ever desire to do a trek again, please do so. You don’t have to pay Indiahikes any money for repeating this trek. Just inform your Experience Coordinator who will guide you through a special internal process.
Our only request: Just register for your trek in advance – you know how it is with our groups – they get booked in advance.
Note: The Indiahikes “Repeat My Trek” policy does not apply to our international treks.
If you cancel any rental gear from our store:
- Cancellation of rental gear 7 days before the start date of the trek — Get a full refund minus 4% transaction charges.
- Cancellation of rental gear less than 7 days before the start date of the trek — Get a voucher for the whole amount. This voucher is applicable on all our future treks.
If you cancel the offloading of your backpack:
The offloading fee will be refunded to your account with a 4% transaction charge.
If you choose to cancel your backpack offloading AFTER reaching the base camp, you will get a voucher of the offloading fee.
| How to cancel your trek:
In case, you wish to cancel your trek, follow these steps.
- Login to your Indiahikes Trek Dashboard using this link.
- Find your upcoming trek on your home page.
- Click on “Cancel Trek”
- Mention why you’re cancelling your trek on the form that appears.
- Choose either a voucher or a refund (where applicable).
- Click on “Cancel Booking”
How long does the refund process take?
After you have cancelled your trek, if you have opted for a refund, the refund amount will land in the same account that you have made the payment from. It will take 4-5 working days.
If you have chosen a trek voucher, it will land in your inbox within an hour. You will also be able to see it on your Trek Dashboard.
What is a Trek Voucher?
Trek Vouchers are credit amounts added to your Indiahikes account. You can redeem these on any of your future treks with Indiahikes. Every Trek Voucher has a validity of one year.
Important note: Indiahikes Trek Vouchers are non-refundable, not transferable to others or extendable.
How to use an Indiahikes Trek Voucher?
If you have received an Indiahikes Trek Voucher, you will automatically see it when you are making a payment for your next trek.
Once you click on the voucher and apply it, the system will deduct the voucher amount from your payable amount.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your Experience Coordinator.
An insight into Georgian Culture
Georgia is a Eurasian country, which means it sits right between Europe and Asia. It shares its border with Russia in the North, Azerbaijan in the Southeast, Armenia in the South and Turkey in the Southwest. Being at the crossroads of eastern and western civilisation, the country is a happy mix of eastern and western influences. It is seen in their architecture, culture and food.
Tbilisi, the capital
Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, is a charming blend of modern and classical. On one hand, there are orthodox churches and monasteries, reflecting the country’s overwhelming Eastern Orthodox Christian population. On the other hand, there are casinos and clubs mushrooming across the city, signifying a fairly active nightlife.
The buildings you see, especially in Tbilisi’s old town, seem to be from old Soviet time. Yet, the moment you walk in, you see that interiors are entirely modern! All of these old buildings seems to have their interiors renovated, with their crumbling exteriors dating back to Russian imperial times. Old Tbilisi has narrow, cobbled streets that wind around the town, with stray cats flitting in and about.
On the trail to Atsunta Pass
In the mountains, the houses are simple stone houses. You find homes with fruit trees growing out of them. The sight of them fill you with warmth. On the trail, ancient ruins of stone towers and shrines are many, a remnant of an era gone by. They add to the charm of this trek.
The people of Georgia are extremely hospitable, polite and friendly. They will often go out of their way to help you – even if you don’t share the language. There is also an abiding sense of integrity. They even get offended if you entertain the idea of them cheating you!
They are also extremely rooted – the people have a strong sense of belonging to Georgia and they take pride in their unique culture. They celebrate it! In the city, you will find multiple events centered around art, theatre, dance and music. You will see some of the music and dance on the streets. Our founders caught a folk performance (incidentally from the mountain folk of Tusheti, the region we trek in!) in the airport!
On the trail, the mountain folk are quite like the ones you find in the Himalayas. The locals love to host, feed you, regale with their stories of their life and culture.
Most people speak Georgian, Russian in some places and very basic English. The owners of guest houses you stay at will converse with you in this basic English.
Georgian cuisine has a healthy mix of vegetables and meat. Which means, there are a fair number of vegetarian dishes along with non-vegetarian dishes on the menu. Options for vegans, however, are difficult to find.
Expect bread and cheese with every meal, or cheese-filled breads or steamed dumplings with vegetables, meat and cheese. There are multiple varieties of cheese in their cuisine.
Eating together seems to be the norm. Food often comes in sharing plates and every serving is for at least 3-4 people. The portions are quite large. So come to Georgia with a healthy appetite!
The price of food seems to be quite standard, with very little difference between the regular and higher end restaurants. Say, if a meal costs you GEL 7 at a regular restaurant, the same dish will cost you about GEL 8 lari at a higher end restaurant. Expect the prices of food go higher up in the mountains.
Here are some special Georgian dishes you must try:
- Khachapuri (Cheese-stuffed bread)**Recommended
- Khinkali (Also called Totori in the Tusheti region) (Georgian Dumplings)**Recommended
- Matsoni (Yogurt)
- Lobiani (Bean-stuffed bread)
- Chvishtari (Cheese corn bread)
- Badrijani Nigvzit Roasted Eggplant (badrijani)
- Lobio (Bean Soup)
- Qababi (Kebabs) Grilled minced meat
- Mtsvadi (Shashlik, meat skewers) Fire-roasted chunks of pork, salted.
- Satsivi – Poultry (chicken or turkey) served with a thinned paste of walnut, garlic and herbs.
- Mashed potatoes and lots of cheese!
- Puri/Tonis Puri (Georgian Flatbread)
Of course, Georgia is famous for its wine! We recommend sampling some after your trek.
Also, we loved gorging on the locally grown fruits. They grow in abundance and cost lesser than normal food. Try the cherries, peaches and plums that thrive in trekking season.
– Most of the country follows a standard pricing. You can bargain only for your transport.
– There seems to be no culture of tipping. So you can just pay what you have been charged.
– Don’t try to pet the dogs in the mountains. The shepherd dogs are not friendly. They are trained to guard their flock and will attack you if they see you as a threat. The best thing to do when you find these dogs on trail is to wait for their owner/shepherd to come around, so you can go ahead.
Face no cancellation charges any time before the trek date
At Indiahikes we follow a 31-Point Safety Protocol to ensure that you remain safe even as you trek during the Covid times.
Having said that, we are also aware that travel rules are dynamic and lockdowns are not always predictable.
To address this, we have a very trekker-friendly Cancellation Policy. This cancellation policy allows you to cancel or reschedule your trek till the last day without losing any money.
We will open up dates shortly. Click here to see other similar treks that might have dates.