Enguri River

Geographical - - SPOT­LIGHT ON... - Bi­sect­ing Gero­gia's north­west­ern re­gion, the Enguri River has come to mark a painful di­vide be­tween the coun­try and the break­away re­gion of Abk­hazia. Jour­nal­ist and pho­tog­ra­pher travel along the river’s length, from the iso­lated high­lands of the Cau­ca­sus,

The Enguri, a dis­creet river lo­cated on the edge of Europe in Georgia, is lit­tle known by out­siders. Its wa­ters don’t pass through any ma­jor town and just by­pass Zug­didi, the main city in the re­gion of Samegrelo. Yet, de­spite its rel­a­tive soli­tude, this is a river of great geopo­lit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance, one that serves as a back­drop for Georgia’s tu­mul­tuous con­tem­po­rary his­tory and that stands as a sym­bol of the painful di­vi­sion be­tween the main­land and the break­away prov­ince of Abk­hazia, whose in­de­pen­dence is only recog­nised by Rus­sia and a few other states.

The source of the Enguri lies a few hours hike up from the vil­lage of Ushguli at the bot­tom of the Shkhara glacier on Mount Shkhara, the coun­try’s high­est peak. Stand­ing at 5,193 me­tres, this moun­tain is also the third-high­est sum­mit of the Greater Cau­ca­sus, a range dom­i­nated by Mount El­brus, which rises 5,642 me­tres above sea level. Run­ning for 213 kilo­me­tres, the Enguri flows down these moun­tain­ous slopes, across the marshy plain of Samegrelo and fi­nally into the Black Sea.

Lo­cated at 2,100 me­tres above sea level, Ushguli is con­sid­ered one of the high­est per­ma­nently in­hab­ited set­tle­ments in Europe and has lately, and per­haps sur­pris­ingly, be­come a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion. Tourists from China, Ja­pan, Rus­sia, the USA, Europe and Is­rael cross paths in its muddy streets and al­most ev­ery house has been turned into a guesthouse, many of which also func­tion as restau­rants, mar­kets and wi-fi cafes, as ad­ver­tised on boards out­side.

The tourists come for the views – a high green val­ley dom­i­nated by the icy cliffs of Mount Shkhara – as well as for Ushguli’s pe­cu­liar ar­chi­tec­tural her­itage. As in other vil­lages in Svaneti, the re­gion in north­west Georgia that bor­ders Rus­sia, stone houses stand side by side with me­dieval de­fence tow­ers, around 30 of which are scat­tered through­out Ushguli. They were orig­i­nally built to pro­tect the vil­lagers from in­vaders and from vendet­tas be­tween ri­val clans. It’s thanks to the pres­ence of the tow­ers, some of which were built a mil­len­nium ago, that Ushguli was listed as a UNESCO World Her­itage site in 1996.

The vil­lage of Ushguli is the first vil­lage crossed by the Enguri River. It’s a UNESCO World Her­itage site due to its me­dieval de­fen­sive tow­ers

In the vil­lage of Ieli, many of the lo­cal Svan peo­ple use bulls to work their fields

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