Layla (4008m) in the middle of summer
Each and every season is unique!
In recent years (starting from 2017) the weather pattern has changed. There is no certainty that those dry and sunny summers will or will not continue. However I decided that the following updated description should refer to this recent pattern.
If planning to revisit consider coming in different month. You might not even recognize your favorite spots! Autumn has beauty very much different from summer's.
Above the glacier of Mt.Layla in the second half of August
Tourists don't know where they've been, travelers don't know where they're going.
The "problem" of most tourists is that they don't have enough time, both for research and traveling. And information is scarce.
So this is one of my goals - to inspire interest and to introduce Svaneti not just as another picturesque destination but something you become familiar with even before your visit. Not just jumble of unfamiliar peaks and valleys but distinct places with their names and history.
For most people the road from Zugdidi to Mestia is hardly more than 3-4 hours spent on a bumpy road of 136 km while being drowsy after an early wake up call in the train from Tbilisi (or shared taxi from Kutaisi). Very few consider it part of their travel; for majority the important thing is to get to Mestia where things are more exciting. True, not all seats in marshrutka are good for seeing what's there outside (to get your window seats arrive earlier) but with some determination you may succeed.
So here is the famous Inguri Road (which I believe is more interesting than Georgian Military Road to Kazbegi) illustaretd with 10 photographs of different places along it. All of them are easily recognizable.
Svaneti is as beautiful as the road which brings you there!
1. Zugdidi is 30 minutes away and after crossing Magana river (flows from Tobavarchkhili Lakes) the road enters higher places and starts to climb up leaving the coastal plane far behind. Across the valley you can spot Egrissi Range (photo 1) with it's saw-like ridges and before July is still covered with snow. No other range is as close to the Black Sea as Egrissi which despite it's very modest heights (up to 3300m) carries some small glaciers.
2. Inguri Dam and reservoir (photo 2)are perhaps the most known attractions of the road. On the web you can easily find facts about this huge constuction. The reservoir is quite beautiful in particular when water is color of turquoise.
3. After Khaishi (the first sizable village of Svaneti) the road crosses bridge to the right bank. Here is a confluence with mighty Nenskra - the valley on the western border of Svaneti and Kodori Range above it creating a high barrier separating it from Abkhazia. From this point the valley turns into a narrow gorge (photo 3) with roaring Inguri just below the wheels. This part of the road is the most thrilling.
4. Nakra valley marks the midpoint of the road. Clear water of Nakra is unlike grey streams of Inguri. Nakra village is relatively new, only in 1930-th svans started to move to this once totally uninhabited and wild valley. Donguz-Orun Pass (3250m) in it's upper reaches is the easiest link to Northern Caucasus and brings you after a long day's walk straight to the foot of Mt. Elbrus (the highest mountain in Europe).
5. Road steadily climbs up leaving the river far below. From now on the distant views are not hidden anymore. Long switchbacks take you even higher. From above, when looking back you see Mt.Shtavleri (3993m) a massive pyramid in the range separating Nakra and Nenskra valleys. On your right hand side still closer is Bakildi Ridge (photo 5) with numerous attractive looking villages at it's foot.
6. On 110 km the road is still high above Inguri and Mt.Layla though modestly comes into view. Below are four villages of Tskhumari community known for it's excellent harvests of walnuts.
7. If the day is not overcast and your seat is on the left side (stretch your neck of not) you will have an absolutely grand view of Mt.Ushba (it's South summit), Guli glacier and Guli pass.
8. Road makes a large half loop and passing by Tskhumari road sign turns east. High snow peaks (5000m high or alsmost so) appear on the horizon while closer is the beautiful valley with steep slopes above the river. Excilarating view... Latali community is getting closer.
9. A bit later turn your head to the right and you will be greeted by Laylachala - the valley of 8 glaciers!
10. After leaving Latali, Mestia is not far, only 9 km away. Now, when Inguri is behind a wooded Zagar Range we are in the valley of Mulkhura. Lenjeri community (photo 10) with it's many towers is easily recognizable while Gvalda Range dominates the view with it's highest mountain - Banguriani (3857m).
Welcome to Mestia!