Omalo and surroundings

Omalo

Omalo

The clan towers on Keselo Hill are the most significant example of the Tusheti defense architecture. Their foundations date back to the 15th-16th century after the period of Tamerlane's raids. They were commonly inhabited in summer, when the locals were most threatened by raids from neighboring Dagestan (mainly by the Didos, frequently mentioned in local legends) or from Chechnya. The towers were maintained until the 19th century. When Shamil's resistance was suppressed in 1859 and the Russian power in the Caucasus was stabilized, their maintenance lost any sense and the inhabitants of Omalo gradually moved to more comfortable houses which today form Upper Omalo (see the picture from 1886 above).

The towers successively dilapidated. The Second World War meant their epilogue as the Red Army mined them and blew them up (you may still find holes as remnants of the dugouts of the Soviet garrison). The official argument for the destruction of the towers was the concern over the advancement of the German Army, which was still relatively far, though. The real reason apparently was to eliminate one of the main symbols of Tusheti so as to allow for smoother forced transfer of local inhabitants to the controlled Kakheti. The event may also be associated with the uprising under command of Adam Bobghiashvili.

Under the auspices of the Keselo Fund and with the support of the Dutch Bradshaw Foundation, seven of the towers (two in 2012-2013) have been reconstructed since the year 2000. The archaeological findings from 2013-2016 apparently show the foundations of another building. One of the towers houses an interesting ethnographic museum (keys from the museum available from Nugzar Idoidze in Hotel Tusheti Tower; entrance fee GEL 5, the guide speaks Russian).

In Omalo you can visit a local church from the 19th century (regularly open in summer and accessible for women). Church services are held sporadically; the priest is mainly present at the time of the Tushetoba festival. Below the castle of Keselo you can find a small brewery (with an information board) where they have been making beer for religious festivals until today (remember, women in their period and foreign women in general are not allowed to enter).

A hillock dominating the village is a sacred place where women have no access. Local legends say that spiritual powers arise from the earth and heavenly powers descend here. A rumor goes around that a mysterious light appears from time to time above the hill. Legend has it that the Dagestan Army built a camp there one day in order to besiege Keselo. One of the Keselo defenders saw how the enemy's commander was walking on the top of the hill. Hence, he took his cross-bow and shot him dead with a single shot. Deprived of their commander, the army retreated.

Legend of the sacred hillock above Omalo

Once there came the large Dagestan Army towards Keselo. The locals hid in the towers and the enemies began to plunder the villages and feast. The enemies' zurnas (horns) and drums echoed in the tower. On the third day, the Dagestani naib (commander) in his white coat came up the hillock and fearlessly pottered about. One of the defenders, however, called at one of his fellow warriors:

"Mika! Charge your khirimi (weapon) with twice the amount of gunpowder as it might reach the hill." Mika charged the gun as advised and with a single shot from the fort he killed the naib on Karate Hill. The commander's death was traditionally a bad sign for the Dagestani. Thus, they ceased fire at once, loaded their commander's dead body and retreated.

(Tsotsanidze, Giorgi: Ot listopada do listopada. Kavkasiuri sachli (Caucasian house), Tbilisi, 2008, pp. 15-16).


Sacred hill above Upper Omalo
Sacred hill above Upper Omalo

Visitor's center and Lower Omalo

Coming from Kakheti, the road ascends from the river to the beginning of Omalo plateau. After 1 km from here there is a turn to the visitors's center (alternatively use yellow trail from Lower Omalo to the crossroad where Kakheti road forks to Omalo and Diklo-Shenako respectively and follow the signpost do the center). Here, you can buy schematic maps of the region and get information about trails, accommodation, nature, history and Tusheti traditions. It is open roughly between 9-18, a small cafeteria works in the building as well as the hotel, which is above average standards for Tusheti. Conference center hosts different meetings and seminars and the place in front of the building is usually venue for Tushetoba (of Shepherd's day, both in August). About 200 m from the building there is a viewing point on Alazani valley with the road to Kakheti.

Visitor's center during Shepherd's day
Visitor's center during Shepherd's day

In Lower Omalo a former Soviet telecommunications center (with a large satellite dish) is a good meeting point with the main shop in the village further above. Below the lower part of Omalo the headquarters of border police is located with the airport/helicopter field where regular flights of border guards (about once in a week) land and take off. Going on the road to Shenako and Diklo (yellow and red trails), the half-ruined building of unfinished cable car station raises up.


Que

About 1,5 km from Omalo (following the red trail in the direction to Dartlo) you will come to the meadow with the road curving to the left. Going to the end of a little valley (unmarked but signposted with the arrow) you will come to the bezoar goats viewing point with a little wooden terrace. Unfortunately, the place is currently destroyed by the construction of a new hotel, however, at the end of the day you still might have a chance to see the goats or watch Tusheti raptors. You should be very careful as goats are shy and they can register any move even through the valley. If you are not lucky, you can admire a beautiful view of Pirikiti Alazani valley.

Ghele

A sacred place on the pass between Pirikiti and Gometsari. Members of communities used to meet in the meadows to deliberate on important issues in Tusheti. Today, the place is an important crossroads of tourist trails to Omalo, Dartlo, and Chigho. Marvelous alpine meadows above the pass invite you for a pleasant walk and also the place to stay overnight and observe sunsets and sunrises.