Remote, with frequent avalanches and cut off for centuries during winter, mysterious Ushgali lies higher than any other village in Europe. Svan koshkebi, the defensive towers, some 1200 years old, dominate. Cows roam the narrow, muddy streets, joined by the occasional sheep, pig and crowing rooster. Rocky Mount Shkhara, with glaciers flowing from its ridges, sets the backdrop, dwarfing the green hills, crying out for trees.
The Sevans built these columns a thousand years ago to defend against enemies. The structures housed animals, people, and food in these 20-25 metre tall structures, consisting of four or five stories. A simple wooden staircase connected the floors. Openings used to attack invaders lay on the highest floor. The white and black brick towers saved the inhabitants from an onslaught by outsiders and feuding enemies. Families and livestock moved into the koshkebis when danger threatened.
A lone tower lies on a hilltop, surveying the landscape looking for attackers long lost. Little has changed here, but lots has changed. Isolation left long ago. Young people leave for the cities. Children play in lanes, their days living here are numbered.
A bumpy road leads through steep gorges from Mestia. Jeeps bring travellers here. Small settlements with more towers stand resolutely against time. Poor accessibility protects Ushgali from the onslaught of tourists suffered by other similar destinations.