translated by Tinatin Bujiashvili
I was lucky to go to Mestia with a tourist company “Onlygeorgia”. It is 470 km from Tbilisi to Mestia. The road is very important for Svans. Since there was no road for years they were isolated from the outside world. Despite a good road, passengers have to be careful, as they might meet landslides on the road. Due to snow we couldn’t visit Ushguli.Amazing views were waiting for me…
After seeing the impressive medieval family towers built from natural stone we forgot about our tiredness and ten-hour journey. As we were told, each family has their own tower. There were towers of The Migurianis, The Khergianis, The phalianis, The Mchedlianis, The Ratianis, The Khojelianis, The MArgianis, The Nakanis, The Mushkudianis, The Chartolanis, The Gvarlianis and The Balianis. These towers are surrounded with MountUshba, Dalakhvari, Banguriani, Tetnuldi, Laghami, Lalaidi…
Very early in the morning we visit Margiani tower in Lanchvani, Mestia. Phusti, the place where local people sacrifice a calf to the chapel (Salotsavi), is visible from there. The sacrifice is for reign peace, wealth and calmness in the families. Even today only men and no women are allowed to enter the chapel. Not far from the place there is Lagargila, where only women are allowed to pray. On February 14 Mestians, 2870 families, celebrate “Lamp Day”(Lamproba). The day is for souls of dead people. Mestians have already made lamps from birch tree. They are placed near wood-stove (ghumeli) to make them dry. At twilight all Mestians lit one big lamp, then, all of them lit the lamp at the grave of their deceased. The celebration last the whole night. Horse-riding in July is also important day in Mestia. The Nigurianis, The Ratianis, The Phalianis, The Mchedlianis who are St. George’s Moljgragi (guard), compete with each other to win the Lion Flag (the flag opens like a lion’s mane during the ride). The winner receives the Lion for the year. The celebration is the most popular in Mestia. The winner takes the lion to St. George’s church and puts there until the celebration finishes. He has to guard the flag during the year. As locals say, four families are considered to be Moljgragi (guard) of ST. George, however, one family became extinct (due to the tradition of vendetta) another one left Svaneti. As a result only four families remained to be guard of St. George.
I was told that there were very beautiful lakes on the top of Mestia-Qoruldi,Chakhi. ChakhiLake has a shape of map of Georgia, said my host. Not only swimming but putting a finger isn’t allowed in it. Locals consider it to be saint. It is said that a vehicle, which was loaded with icons, fell into the lake.
People living in Mestia are proud of Ushba for its picturesque, spire-shaped double summit (Ushba’s south summit is slightly higher than its north summit, which has an elevation of 4700 m). Ushba, with its picturesque beauty and inaccessibility summits, attracts climbers and tourists. Locals claim that Gio Naguriani was the first, who climbed the mountUshba with its Jabranebi (Svanian leather shoes) two centuries ago before foreigners did it. “He was the first visitor of Ushba. Later others climbed there,”-claim local Mestians.
According to historical sources the north summit was first climbed in 1888, while the south summit saw its first ascent in 1903 by a German–Swiss–Austrian expedition. Before that MountUshba had nearly 20 unsuccessful ascents. In 1943 Alexandre Japaridze climbed the mount.
Mestia is famous for its acid waters-Bochkoli and Betqili. Local people have been trying to cure themselves from stomachache for years. Bochkoli has more visitors. Betqilia is a bit farther. It runs in a strangely curved stone and has more useful features. 19 year-old Mariam Nigvriani told us a legend about Betqilia. Betqil, who was a tiger hunter and a climber, fell in love with Dali, a Goddess of hunting. She responded to his love. However, when Betqil went to lowland, he fell in love with a Svanian woman. The Goddess of hunting heard about it and when Bertqil visited her again, she pushed and threw him out of the rock.
There was a tiger and picks curved in stone made by Svans. It was dedicated to Betqil.
Animal breeding is developed in Mestia. They grow potatoes. They have cows sometimes 12-15. They used to have pigs before swine plague. Our host taught us to prepare an unusual dish. When they slaughter a pig, they kept its blood and mixed with salt and garlic. Then they add some rice and put them in a clean intestine of the pig. Then it is boiled and fried. As they say it is the most delicious dish. Mestians never let their guest go until they eat eat Tashmijabi (made from potatoes and cheese) and Kubdari. Svanians Kubdari is very famous.
“Khochamdukhar” (good-bye) – says our host family and we take ten-hour jurney back to Tbilisi, hoping to visit the place once more to visit Qoruldi and Chakhi.