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PILGRIM PROGRAM

SHKHARA TRAIL

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE ROUTE

The route begins in Zhibiani the highest and most remote village of the Ushguli community. The route exposes us to some of Ushguli's most unique architectural and religious monuments, as well as the striking beauty of the area from Ushguli to the source of the Inguri River in the Shkhara glacier. The route is nine kilometres long and varies in elevation by 300 metres. It takes about six hours.


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DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE ROUTE

The route begins 2080 metres above sea level in the Ushguli community's village of Zhibiani. On a hill overlooking the village stands one of Svaneti's most important places of worship, Lamaria, which houses the Church of Saint George.

The route begins on the slope of this hill, near a Svanetian house with a lateral tower (Picture 1). The marker "1" signifies the start of the route. Ten minutes from the start, after descending from the hill, we cross a bridge over to the right bank of the Inguri River (2060 metres above sea level) and continue going north-east in the direction opposite the flow of the river. For the first seven kilometres, the trail follows the road, which, like other roads in Svaneti, is in very poor condition, but is nevertheless used to bring hay down from the mountain on tractor or sleigh and as such, is easily visible. Around one hundred yellow arrows, painted mainly on large rocks and boulders, mark the way.

One hundred metres from the bridge we cross a small stream - the Inguri's first tributary on the right, which locals call Natkarvashi stream. About 700 metres from here, a half hour's walk from the start, we cross the second tributary, the Ladgimi stream. From here we get a good view of Mount Shkhara (5,150 m). In front of it we see a snow-capped mountain, down the slopes of which two streams flow down (depending on the season) (Picture 2). On the right we see the Namqvani glacial plateau and on the left - the face of Shkhara together with the glacier, the details of which will become clearer later. The mountain is a good landmark, as it is visible from practically every point on the route. We go towards it (Pictures 3, 4, 5) and head for the base of the Shkhara glacier.

At 2,100 metres, the Inguri is joined by another, more powerful stream, the Paqvlashi, which is surrounded by marshland. Fifty minutes from start, at an elevation of 2,130 m, we notice a small lake on the opposite side of the Inguri. If we walk for ten minutes after this point, we cross a small stream. Later, at 2,180 metres, the road forks, one leads up into an open area, while the other, our route, continues along the Inguri's right bank. After this we come across a giant boulder and the upper and lower Lalkhorashi streams. Along this area, on the left bank of the Inguri, we notice a large pile of rocks and an old shepherd's camp.

Along this route we may find small streams or brooks other than the ones mentioned above. The largest of the streams is the Paqvlashi.

At 2,300 metres, the Inguri is joined on the left by another tributary. Its source is the Namqvami glacier. Our path again continues along the Inguri and after ten minutes, at an elevation of 2,290 m, and leads to a forest and a pile of rocks (Pictures 6,7). Here, in certain areas, grass conceals just how rocky the trail is. We must exercise caution in order to avoid slipping on the rocks. Twenty minutes later, above the pile of rocks, at an elevation of 2,390 metres, we can see the finish (Picture 8). We approach the source of the Inguri (Picture 9). Three glacial streams take shape at the rocky summit of Mount Shkhara and join at 3,000 to form the Shkhara glacier. The lower part of the glacier is covered in detritus. The Inguri River gushes out from the bottom of the glacier. We must exercise caution here, as rocks periodically fall from the glacier.

At several points on the trail, we must wade through water, so we should bring appropriate footwear.

Both the Inguri River and Mount Shkhara serve as good landmarks on our route, as they should remain in sight at all times.


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