The tiny republic of Abkhazia has some of the Caucasus region's most enviable landscapes – from its sunny beaches to spectacular mountains. Its turbulent past has previously made it off-limits for visitors itching to share it. Not anymore…
The tourists are returning. Artoush takes visitors to places well off the beaten track. Along the river Kodori in Abkhazia there are many such gems, and RT’s guide tells us local legends. He knows dozens of them.
"Take Black Water for instance. People whom even the professors failed to cure get well here. Allergies, dermatitis, things like that – there you go, sir!" tour guide Artoush Shebelyan tells RT.
It was a part of the ancient trade route between east and west, the Silk Road, and this path often reveals mysterious treasures. Artoush is even certain that the area was once inhabited by giants.
“There was a survey, and they found human bones. Let me tell you – the part of the bone from the knee down was one and a half meters long! Can you imagine how tall they were? It means they were giants!” he said.
The journey ends under the heavy hanging rock formations – almost a cave, with a natural amphitheater surrounded by water. The place is one of Abkhazia’s well-kept secrets, offering a magnificent view over Shakuran waterfalls. It is hard to get here, but definitely worth the effort.
For years, this and other Abkhazian landmarks were inaccessible to tourists. While this small republic is known for its Black Sea beaches, during the past two decades only a few have dared to go to the mountains. For more than five years, the upper part of the Kodori Gorge, also called Abkhazian Svanetia, was occupied by Georgian Special Forces.
In August 2008, Abkhazia regained control of the area, making it possible for visitors to enjoy Svanetia’s beautiful mountains. And now, even during the low season, people come here for sightseeing.
“Even the mere fact that you’re escaping from the city’s smog is just great. The air here is so clean – you can finally breathe normally and you feel much better here,” a tourist from Volgograd, Dmitry Myatov, said.
The highlanders are hoping to restore the region’s tourism industry. Most people here remember the good old times, when local families provided simple room and board for everyone.
“Practically every Svaneti family invited tourists to their homes. And there were many of them,” another tour guide, Robik Arakelyan, recalls. “Here you can do many things: skiing, hunting, trout fishing. Now that the war is over, the locals are coming back, and people are getting used to the new government. So we’re hoping that life will get better.”
It is likely that the Kodori Gorge and the Abkhazian Svanetia will remain an exotic destination for years. But those who dare to come here will be rewarded by the pristine beauty of the mountains, the sound of the giant waterfalls, and the ancient legends told by the wise Grandpa Artoush.