This year, in the beginning of October, we decided to try to cross Abano Pass, in Georgia, by ourselves. We rented a 4×4 (Pajero) and we were on our way!
Abano Pass is a high mountain pass located in the region of Tusheti, in the central part of the Great Caucasus Mountains, at an elevation of 2,850 metres (9,350 ft) above the sea level and is the highest drivable mountain pass in the Caucasus and is considered one of the most dangerous roads in the world!
The pass is driveable only by 4×4 cars. Conditions can change quickly and be harsh. Road closures can be frequent, so check conditions before traveling to this area! Usually, due to weather conditions, the road is closed between October and May (although this dates are flexible), so the best time to try to cross it is in Summer.
The road to reach the pass starts in Pshaveli and ends in Omalo. It has a length of 84,5km, but people will tell you that the expected driving time is over than 12 hours. We’ve done it in 7.5 hours (4h hours to Omalo and 3.5 hours back), but we encountered perfect road and weather conditions (dry road and sunny days).
The pass links the Georgian regions of Kakheti (south) and Tusheti (north). Tusheti is the most pristine and remote mountain region of Georgia at 900-4800 meters above sea level. It is covered with ravines and two main river valleys, Gometseri Alazani and Pirikiti Alazani.
Once reaching the top of the pass, you can see the border mountains to Russia, Chechenya and Daghestan. From the Abano pass the road takes the same steep downturn into the Chanchakhovani gorge before reaching Omalo. In this area there are no electricity, and people use solar energy.
The Tushs were sheep herders, and the region is famous for its Tushetian Gouda cheese and high quality wool. Now many work on tourism but there are still many local shepherds. Most of them spend the summer months in the highland areas of Tusheti but live in the lowland villages of Zemo Alvani and Kvemo Alvani in wintertime. Only 11 families remain in Omalo in Winter, completely isolated from the rest of the world.
Omalo is located on a natural plateau, connecting four main gorges: Chanchakhovani gorge (with villages Shtrolta, Khiso, and Khakhabo), Chaghma gorge (with the villages Omalo, Shenako and Diklo), Pirikiti gorge ( with villages Dartlo, Chesho, Parsma and Girevi), and Gometsari george (with villages Dochu, Beghela, Jvarboseli and Verkhovani). The fortress of Keselo, with it’s towers, is a landmark in Zemo (upper) Omalo. It served as refugee for families when attacked by rivals.
When we arrived at Omalo the night was already falling and we discovered that there were already only a few people living here. Most of them already had left Omalo to spend the winter in warmer villages. Althought it was cold we decided to camp under some pine trees with a wonderful view over the village and the mountains that surround it.
Before going to sleep we decided to search for a place to eat. Everything was closed so we asked the only man we saw and he pointed to a house. We shouted to see if anyone opened the door for us. A man and a woman appeared a few minutes later, surprised at the two strangers that greeted them in the darkness.
We noticed that they were not expecting company but still invited us to enter. The woman, Nino, was cooking in a warm rustic kitchen lined with stone. She was the only one who spoke english and we had a nice conversation as we all ate the delicious lamb she served us. She explained to us that she ran the Guesthouse “Keselo” and at the end of October or November they would go away, as most Tushs. She also explained that, sometimes, when there are people enough, it’s possible to reach and leave Omalo by helicopter, so if the road suddently closes, they can leave Omalo this way. We had a wonderful dinner and we felt that we should come back one day and stay more time here.
The next morning we could see the sunrise over the mountains and enjoy the unique beauty of this remote place.
It is totally worth it to cross Abano Pass. Don’t be discouraged by the time it will take you to get to Omalo and back. The Tushs are very friendly and the scenery is just breathtaking! And the road itself is beautiful and with good conditions it’s not that difficult nor that dangerous! Just take your time and enjoy the ride!
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