Remarkable Highlands of Lesser Caucasus Mountains – Javakheti  districts is located in Southern Georgia and consists of Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda Districts, with a border to Samtskhe which lies on Vardzia Gorge. In comparison to Samtskhe’s (Akhaltsikhe, Borjomi and other districts which are more Georgian populated) hidden mysterious gorges, it lies on the Vulcanic Javakheti Plateau, with most of the settlements at around 2,000 from the sea level in subalpine and apine valleys and colder climate conditions. You may fall in love with Javakheti, but it depends on you, your spirit, depends on the period when you visit it and the time you will spend there. You may compare this region with Felini or Bergman movies, some people love it more. This region has significant Armenian population who resettled here 200 years ago from historical Western Armenia, Turkish Eastern provinces. The nature of this Georgian land also somewhat resembles to Armenia. For example, Tabatskuri lake might remind you the pearl of Armenia – Lake Sevan.

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Levani lake, 2570m by Levan Gejadze

Views from Mt.Abuli 3300, by Nino Kiviladze

There are many rivers, small and bigger lakes in Javakheti but driving from Tbilisi in 2-3 hours you will first meet Paravani and Saghamo Lakes. Make sure till you turn west in village Koda, digital banner says that the pass to Javakheti is open. It might be closed during winter. I have visited Paravani lake, which is the largest lake in Georgia. I like when the surrounding mountains are covered with snow and the grass is green in May, also yellow and white colors of October and in early spring when the lake is frozen and you can walk or even dance over it. The area is sacred for Georgians as St.Nino who baptized Georgia came through Javakheti mountains. There are Georgian Monasteries in the area. Saghamo Nunnery at Saghamo Lake has very hospitable nuns and  there is St.Nino Nunnery in Poka at Paravani Lake which is famous for its cheese production.

If you are interested in trekking in Javakheti and megalyths from the lakes you can continue to explore fortresses Shaori and Abuli from the 2nd millennium BC, standing on the top of mountains. Also you can ascend the highest summit in the area Mt.Abuli (3305m). It takes one day and you should start early to make it in one day from village Abuli (2000m). You can also hike to Levani Lake in Javakheti or alternatively make a jeep trip and camp there which is quite big and beautiful alpine lake (you can see gps track below). Alternative trekking option can be to hike to Vardzia. You can start from Chunchkha village and continue through Kvarsha and Kilda ruins to Kumurdo Church (X century domed church) and from there to the village Gogasheni from where you will have fantastic views to Vardzia. You can shorten this route and start in Kumurdo or in Gogasheni. Great Trekking/jeeptour destination can be beautiful Tabatskuri Lake which is my favorite place in Javakheti.

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Trekking Route 1 – Javakheti Mountains: Paravani Lake-Shaori Megalith-Levani Lake-Mt.Didi Abuli-Abuli Fortress (Patara Abuli Mt) ; Alternative Longer Route which can be started from beautiful Tabatskuri lake: Village Gandzani-Patara Abuli and Abuli Fortess-Didi Abuli Mt-Through Small lakes to levani Lake-Samsari Range-Tabatskuri lake; Shorter Hiking Option: Paravani lake-Shaori fortress-Levani lake (GPS Track Attached to the map)

Difficulty: Moderate; Type: Mountains, stony paths; summits; Alpine lakes;  Number of Days: 4; Longer Version 5 days;

Trekking Route 2 – Panorama to the Gorge of Vardzia from Javakheti Plateau: Kvarsha ruins-Kilda church-Kumurdo-Gogasheni village panorama to Vardzia-Vardzia Cave City ; Recommended Time from End of June to The first Half of October;

Difficulty: Very Easy; Type: Cultural, Panoramic; Number of Days: 2-3 ; Recommended Shorter Version: Kumurdo -Gogasheni-Vardzia Hike ; Recommended Time: May and October;

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Khanchali By Jor Bdoyan

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Saghamo Lake in Mid-October

What I like in Javakheti most is its flora and fauna. Almost everywhere you will see nests of cranes. Also you can observe wild waterfowls in Khanchali lake area which is covered by aquatic plants. Khanchali Lake is just 2km from Ninotsminda but not on the central road so it takes time to visit it. There are artificial forests near the lake which can be great for camping. If you are in late spring/mid autumn or in bird migration period (contact Javakheti protected areas administration for more info) Khanchali lake might be really beautiful and should not be missed. Bughdasheni Lake must be also interesting point during that period.

Samsari rock-cut domed church and the only remaining natural forests of Javaketi just below Samsari range might be also interesting place to visit on the road to Tabatskuri Lake. Inside the church there are Georgian inscriptions from 10-11th centuries. Area is quite interesting in mid-October in autumn colors if you choose the right time. In this period you can observe potato gathering in the highlands of Akhalkalaki.

Paravani lake, end of April by Maiko Lukhumaidze

Javakheti might be paradise for photographers if you find right time, but one more shining spot in this paradise can be Dukhabor church in Gorelovka village. The church (orphans house) which is the color of the sky, belongs to locals from Russian sect Doukhobors who were expelled from Russia in 1841. There are not many families left in Georgia most of them were repatriated to Russia, so don’t postpone to visit Dukhabors houses and feel yourself in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s movie : Trois couleurs: Bleu. 

Jeep Tour Route (places not in bold can be skipped) for which Javakheti is ideal as it’s on the way to Vardzia: Tbilisi-Tsalka Canyons-Paravani lake-Saghamo lake with stops at Monasteries-(Camping at Khanchali Lake)-Gorelovka doukhobors houses-(Kumurdo)-Gogasheni village-Apnia-Vardzia. Two Comments:  1) If you are coming from Tbilisi you can always stop for Tsalka Canyons.  Walking Distance 4km can be covered by anyone and everybody will enjoy it but it will need half day. Although by cutting Tsalka Canyons you can make it to Vardzia in 1 day. 2) In case of hired transport you can descend to Vardzia yourself where driver will wait for you. Also, Apnia-Vardzia road is not the best, in case of regular car use regular asphalted  road;  If you want you can drive from Akhalkalaki to Tabatskuri to camp there and come back.

Alternative Jeep Route can be to see both Borjomi-bakuriani area and the most beautiful sight of Javakheti –Tabatskuri lake: Borjomi-Tabatskuri Lake-Samsari rock-cut church-Vardzia.  Samsari rock-cut church is not must see place, but the area is very beautiful when the forests are in full bloom in late spring or in the first half of October. Samsari area which is on the cover photo is the only area in Javakheti volcanic plateau where there are natural forests. Old Georgian inscription at the entrance of domed temple says that once upon a time Javakheti was covered with forests. PS. There are so many sights in the Vardzia gorge, as well as in Samtskhe region. You can find it on my site. If you want a personalized jeep-tour schedule you can also contact me through the contact form.

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Doukhobors’ spiritual center by Lasha Margalitadze

Shanidze panoramio

Gorelovka by Shanidze

If you want to read more about you can read this amazing e-book. You can view photos of Jor Bdoyan here.  The cover photo of Samsari Mt in October by my friend photographer Lasha Margalitadze.  For the map please see:

For the map and gps track please see:

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