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Georgian Desert

Overview

Our guide for the long-running Tusheti trails moves her horses down to the desert plains for the winter months as it's too harsh for them in the mountains. These trails will operate during those winter months when the desert is a far more pleasant temperature (it's too hot in the summer). The deser…

Highlights

  • Explore the wide open desert landscapes
  • Camp in remote locations far from other tourists
  • Experience the culture and cave cities of the region
  • Visit the fascinating David Gareja monastery
  • The truly adventurous can join the Transhumance

Essential Facts

  • 2 itineraries available
  • Max 8 riders per group
  • Average of 6 - 7 hours riding per day
  • Weight limit: 85kg / 187 lbs / 13 stone 5 lbs.
    more info One heavier rider can be accommodated - please enquire.

Description

Our guide for the long-running Tusheti trails moves her horses down to the desert plains for the winter months as it's too harsh for them in the mountains. These trails will operate during those winter months when the desert is a far more pleasant temperature (it's too hot in the summer). The desert landscape offers riders the chance to explore a new part of Georgia, a landscape dotted with cave-dwelling cities and monasteries carved out of the rock - a fascinating place to ride!

On these trails, you are mainly supported by a vehicle, so the riding pace is faster than in Tusheti, where you are accompanied by pack horses throughout. It is still not a fast ride, however, and there will only be a few trots and canters each day.

These trails are a back-to-basics experience with a low impact on the surrounding environment. You camp throughout in two-man tents and there are no facilities - no rivers to wash in and only limited water brought in on the truck (enough for riders and horses to drink, but not for washing). You will also be expected to help set up and break-down camp each day, and to care for and tack up your own horse.

In the spring and autumn, you can also get involved in the Transhumance - driving the horses between the Tusheti mountains and the desert. The entire Transhumance takes two weeks but is split into two parts. The transhumance rides are extremely challenging, particularly the section between Tusheti and the lowlands when you could be on horseback/foot for up to 13 hours each day to try and reach your destination before inclement weather sets in. You also have to be open to itinerary changes outside of your guide's control - these are genuine transhumance and the focus is on getting the horses to safety within the time frame.

Horses & Riding

Tack

Georgian saddles are simple affairs comprised of a solid wooden tree or frame, over which a cushion is strapped for comfort. Bridles have simple snaffles bits and many are made of rawhide.

Please note that you will be expected to groom and saddle your own horse on these rides.

Horses

The horses used on these trails are a local mountain breed. The horses are all born and raised in the Tusheti mountains and they are well adapted to the environment there.

On the Transhumance rides, the whole herd accompanies you, so foals and youngsters will run alongside their mothers who may be loose or might be carrying some packs/luggage. This enables the young horses to develop their knowledge and skills across the steep terrain. When they become riding horses in later life they will already be as nimble as mountain goats! It is a privilege to ride within the herd and watch the youngsters stretch their legs.

Riding

There are 2 itineraries:

  • Desert and Hidden Monasteries is a trail ride
  • Transhumance 1 - Desert to Laliskuri is a trail ride

Ages

Due to the rustic nature of this trail, it is not an option suited to children, however teenagers who are used to camping trails can be accommodated.

Health

Riders considering this trail must have a good level of physical fitness and general good health. You will be riding in very remote locations and there are some long sections where it will be necessary to dismount and walk on foot as well.

You will need to be very fit for the Transhumance trails (the second part in particular) as these rides include long riding hours and lots of climbing. You may also need to assist with loading and unloading the pack horses, putting up tents and generally caring for the animals at the end of a very long day.

Weight

85kg / 187 lbs / 13 stone 5 lbs. One heavier rider can be accommodated - please enquire.

Food & Accommodation

Food

All meals and drinks are included, except for alcoholic drinks on the nights in Tbilisi (you can choose and buy your own).

Breakfast consists of bread, butter, eggs, cheese, jams, and honey with tea/coffee. Lunch is usually a picnic and will include bread, cheese and salads. Dinner will be Tush specialities which can be cooked over an open fire. They will be based around plenty of vegetables as well as pasta, rice and buckwheat. Chicken and fish may be possible on some days but they tend not to travel well on the pack horses.

At the start of the trail, you may enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, such as delicious peaches and watermelons, ripe tomatoes and cucumbers, depending on the season. however, there is no way of replenishing stocks along the route, so the last few days will consist of pasta, cheese, rice and tinned products which can be easily preserved and carried on horseback. The same applies to the wine - Georgian wine is available, but once you have drunk what the horses have carried (in plastic containers), then there is no more wine until you return to civilisation - your guide tries to carry an adequate amount but it is not limitless.

Potatoes, cheese and occasionally meat can be bought from herdsmen/nomadic families if you come across them.

Accommodation

On most nights you will be camping in two-man tents. You will need to bring your own sleeping bag and Thermarest pad. There is a central dining tent on most nights which you can sit in if the weather is bad.

There are no facilities at the camping spots. As this is the desert, all water is brought in on a vehicle and there is only enough for drinking (horses and humans) and cooking. There will be water for washing hands and faces, but no showers and no toilets.

All of the itineraries include hotel nights at the start/finish in Tbilisi which will be in twin/double rooms with en-suite bathrooms.

There is also a night or two in local village guesthouses - these are basic, usually with dormitory accommodation and one shared bathroom for the whole group

It is not possible to request single accommodation on the trail and you must be prepared to share for most nights of the ride. However, there is an option to pay extra for a single room on the first and final nights, at the hotel in Tbilisi. Please note that numbers are limited and these will be assigned on a first come first serve basis.

Itineraries

Desert and Hidden Monasteries Tented accommodation.

Transhumance 1 - Desert to Laliskuri Tented accommodation.

Other Activities

These are riding trails only, and although visits to local sites of interest are included in the programme, you will need to travel by horse between these.

Travel

There are relatively few direct flights to Tbilisi, with the most popular routes from Europe including a stop in Istanbul. Flights do tend to arrive very late at night or early in the morning, but you are collected from the airport and transferred straight to your hotel to rest. You may wish to add an extra night at the start to recover from the flight and explore the capital city.

Airport transfers are organised and included provided you arrive after midday on Day One and depart before 20:00 on the final day.

If you arrive earlier than this or depart later, then you will need to organise a taxi to take you to the hotel/airport for the first night. You can download an app called "Bolt" (similar to Uber) and book your taxi easily this way.

Itinerary & Pricing

Day 1 - Arrival

Riding: No riding.

You will need to arrive in Tbilisi either on this day or the day before (a hotel can be arranged at extra cost). The group will meet in the city at 6 pm for a ride briefing and dinner together. If your flight lands midday or later, then a transfer is included from the airport to the city, but if your flight arrived earlier than this, you will need to take a taxi to the hotel in the city at your own cost.

Day 2 - Tbilisi - Sartichala Lake

Riding: 6 hours

At 9 am you will depart from your hotel with the group and travel for around one hour to meet the horses and help prepare them to ride.

Mount up and ride towards the southern border with Azerbaijan. The landscapes will become more and more remote until you reach a secluded area which feels like a different planet. Set up camp close to a former water reservoir which may be totally dried out and offers a stark, surprising landscape.

Day 3 - Sartichala Lake - Monasteries

Riding: 6 - 7 hours

After breakfast and tacking up the horses, you will ride towards a beautiful valley, passing through old soviet farms. Heading up to the top of a ridge offering beautiful views over the whole region, before dropping down through an area of reddish rock erosion. You will continue through this amazing geological spectacle, before reaching an abandoned cave dweller city which you can visit on foot and walk onto the ridge above it (c. 1hr walking). You will then pay a visit to the beautiful monastery of Matlismtsemeli with its huge 6th-century church carved into the rock.

You will set up camp nearby for the night.

Day 4 - Monasteries - Udabno Rock Formation Desert

Riding: 6 - 7 hours

Today you will ride to the well-known David Gareja monastery. The complex was founded in the 6th century by St. David Garejeli, one of thirteen Assyrian monks who arrived in the country at around the same time. His disciples, Dodo and Luciane, expanded the original lavra (cluster of caves with a church) and founded two other monasteries known as Dodo's Rka (the horn of Dodo) and Natlismtsemeli (the Baptist). Between the late 11th and early 13th centuries, the economic and cultural development of David Gareja monastery reached its highest phase, reflecting the general prosperity of the medieval kingdom of Georgia.

The monastery suffered a lengthy period of decline and devastation, first at the hands of the Mongol army in 1265 and then the Safavid attack of 1615, when the monks were massacred. Some restorations have since been undertaken by different kings. After the violent Bolshevik takeover of Georgia in 1921 the monastery closed down and remained uninhabited until 1991 when some monks finally returned to the monastery once more.

Your horses will be tethered whilst you are free to explore the site. Later you will remount and ride through a valley which is a labyrinth of coloured, eroded mountains with many hidden rock cities which you can explore. You'll cross a ridge with outstanding views before reaching the abandoned far western village of Udabno where you overnight in a very simple guesthouse.

Day 5 - Udabno - Iori

Riding: 7 - 8 hours

Today's ride will see you heading across long and seemingly endless plains, offering a sense of immensity. Almost as if by sudden, you'll come across an eroded valley that you would not have imagined could be here. You will ride through the valley and climb back up onto the ridge on the other side. For the rest of this long day, you can admire the snow-capped Great Caucasus Mountain range in the distance and the great depression of the Vaschlovani desert.

By the end of the day, you will have reached an oasis - the Iori river ecosystem - which is full of trees and birds. Here you will help set up camp for the night.

Day 6 - Iori - Sataple

Riding: 7 - 8 hours

Today's ride will be through arable valleys, once utilised by the Soviets for pumping oil. Now abandoned for farming, you can enjoy the beautiful landscapes of the Great Caucasus Mountains. Eventually, you will reach the salt lakes and set up camp beside them.

Day 7 - Sataple - Sartichala - Tbilisi

Riding: 5 hours

Your final ride will take you alongside the Iori river to Sartichala where you will say a fond farewell to your horses. Transfer back to Tbilisi for a final celebratory dinner.

Day 8 - Departure

Riding: No riding.

Transfer to the airport for your flight home. If your flight departs before 8 pm then a transfer is included, but for later flights, you'll need to take a taxi.

Accommodation

The first and last nights are in a 3/4 star hotel in the old centre of Tbilisi, in twin/double rooms. One night will be spent in a rustic guesthouse in Udabno. The remaining 4 nights will be camping in modern dome tents with no facilities. The tents are provided, but you will need to bring your own sleeping bag and camping mattress.

Experience Intermediate / Experienced

You should be at least an intermediate rider who is comfortable in all paces. There are some opportunities to trot and canter, but in general, the pace is slow. You need to be fit for some long hours in the saddle and will also have to dismount and lead your horse over some tricky sections.

Minimum group size 4
Maximum group size 8
Departure windows

March 26, 2023 - April 2, 2023

April 9, 2023 - April 16, 2023

April 23, 2023 - April 30, 2023

Nov. 5, 2023 - Nov. 12, 2023

Pricing

2023
Rider, sharing
£1720 $2085 €1935
Included 7 nights accommodation (four in tents), all meals, table wine and tchatcha (local liquor) during the trail (until stocks run out), riding, logistics vehicle, set-time airport transfers.
Not included Flights, insurance, transfers outside of set times, sleeping bag and camping mattress, alcoholic drinks in restaurants on first/last nights, tips and other personal expenses.

Extras

2023 - Additional nights in Tbilisi (Single room) €60 per night
Paid locally
Single room, per night.
2023 - Additional nights in Tbilisi (Twin room) €80 per night
Paid locally
Twin/Double room per night (not per person)
2023 - Single Supplement £53 $65 €60 per night
Paid to Far and Ride
Single rooms only possible on first and last night in Tbilisi. Not payable if willing to share.
Note: All programmes and itineraries are weather dependent; in the face of adverse, or unexpected, weather conditions reasonable attempts will be made to provide equivalent riding. All programmes are accurate at the time of writing. However, the team may adapt or modify details, whilst aiming to provide a similar experience.

Day 1 - Arrival

Riding: No riding.

You will need to arrive in Tbilisi either on this day or the day before (a hotel can be arranged at extra cost).

The group will meet in the hotel foyer at 6 pm for a ride briefing and dinner together. If your flight lands midday or later, then a transfer is included from the airport to the city, but if your flight arrives earlier than this, you will need to take a taxi to the hotel in the city at your own cost.

Day 2 - Tbilisi - Sartichala Lake

Riding: 6 hours

You will depart from the hotel after breakfast this morning at around 9 am. Your driver will transfer you c. one hour to meet the horses. After tacking up your horses and preparing them for the trail, you will begin to help your hosts in gathering the whole herd together before setting off in the direction of the southern border with Azerbaijan. The landscapes will become more and more remote until you reach a secluded area which feels somewhat like another world. Here you will help set up camp close to a former water reservoir which offers a stark backdrop landscape.

Day 3 - Sartichala Lake - Monasteries

Riding: 6 - 7 hours

In the morning, you will help to prepare the horses and set off riding through a beautiful valley, passing old Soviet farms. Ride up onto a ridge which offers spectacular views over the whole region, before descending into an area of reddish rock erosion. Later in the day, you will reach an abandoned cave dweller city, where you will be able to dismount and explore on foot, as well as walk the ridge above it (c. one hour walk). You'll then visit the beautiful monastery of Natlismtsemeli with its huge 6th-century church carved in the rock.

In the evening you will help to secure the herd and set up camp close by.

Day 4 - Monasteries - Udabno Rock Formation Desert

Riding: 6 - 7 hours

Today you will ride to the well-known David Gareja monastery. The complex was founded in the 6th century by David (St. David Garejeli), one of thirteen Assyrian monks who arrived in the country around this time. His disciples; Dodo and Luciane, further expanded the original lavra (cluster of caves with a church) and founded two other monasteries known as Dodo's Rka (the horn of Dodo) and Natlismtsemeli (the Baptist). Between the late 11th and early 13th centuries, the economic and cultural development of David Gareja reached its highest phase, reflecting the general prosperity of the medieval kingdom of Georgia.

The monastery suffered a lengthy period of decline and devastation, first at the hands of the Mongol army in 1265 and then the Safavid attack of 1615, when the monks were massacred. Some restorations have since been undertaken by different kings. After the violent Bolshevik takeover of Georgia in 1921 the monastery closed down and remained uninhabited until 1991 when some monks finally returned to the monastery.

Your horses will be tethered nearby whilst you explore the site on foot. Later, you will join the horses again, remount and ride through a valley which is a labyrinth of colourful, eroded mountains with many hidden rock cities which you can explore. You'll cross a ridge with outstanding views before reaching the abandoned far western village of Udabno where you overnight in a very simple guesthouse.

Day 5 - Udabno - Sagaredjo

Riding: 6 hours

Start the day by riding through a canyon to Sataple, an old Russian village. Pick up the river Lori and follow its course to Sagaredjo, another little village where you will overnight with a local winemaker. Here you will learn about the traditional winemaking process in Qvevri (amphora). After a wine tasting and dinner, you'll sleep in a dormitory together.

Day 6 - Sagaredjo - Gombori

Riding: 6 hours

Weather permitting, today's ride will see you head up into the Gombori range to admire the amazing panoramas of the Greater Caucasus Mountains ahead and the desert landscapes you've left behind. You'll help set up your camp for the night in the Gombori range.

(If the weather is poor, you'll camp at a lower altitude).

Day 7 - Gombori

Riding: 6 - 7 hours

Today's ride will see you head further along the Gombori range, negotiating difficult routes and discovering the many beautiful vistas and landscapes that this remote location will afford you!

In the evening you will set camp once more in the Gombori range.

Day 8 - Gombori - Laliskuri

Riding: 6 - 7 hours

Today you will head down from the range, into the valley and visit some beautiful places such as the Academy Ikhalto or Shuamta which are some 6th-century monasteries. Tether the horses and visit the impressive cathedral at Alaverdi on foot, The cathedral dates back to the 11th century. Once happy, you will remount and ride onto Laliskuri where you overnight with a Tush family in their rustic guesthouse.

Day 9 - Laliskuri - Tbilisi

Riding: No riding.

After breakfast this morning you will ensure the horses are settled in their halfway paddocks and say fond farewells before hitting the road at 11 am to transfer to Telavi, where you can explore the bazaar for a while. You will then transfer back to Tbilisi to overnight in a hotel in the old centre.

Day 10 - Departure

Riding: No riding.

Transfer to the airport for your flight home. If your flight leaves before 8 pm then your transfer is included, but for later departures, you'll have to take a taxi at your own cost.

Accommodation

You stay in a 3/4 star hotel in Tbilisi on the first/last night in twin/double rooms. One night in a basic guesthouse in Udubno; one night in a dormitory at a winery and one night at a basic guesthouse in Laliskuri. Four nights camping with no facilities, but tents are provided.

Experience Intermediate / Experienced

You should be a very capable rider who is confident and experienced in all paces. There are some opportunities to trot and canter, but the riding pace is generally slow. You must be fit for some long hours in the saddle and ride regularly at home. You will need to dismount and lead your horse across some more technical sections of the route, so general physical fitness is a priority as well. All the while, you will be accompanied by a herd of loose horses, through very remote locations.

Minimum group size 4
Maximum group size 8
Departure windows

May 15, 2023 - May 24, 2023

Pricing

2023
Rider, sharing
£2055 $2485 €2310
Included 9 nights accommodation (4 in tents), all meals, table wine or tchatcha (liquor) during the trail (until stocks run out), 7 days riding, transfers as specified.
Not included Flights, insurance, transfers outside of set times, sleeping bag and camping mattress, alcoholic drinks in restaurants, personal expenses, tips.

Extras

2023 - Extra Hotel Night in Tbilisi (Single) €60 per night
Paid locally
Single room, per night
2023 - Extra Hotel Night in Tbilisi (Twin) €80 per night
Paid locally
Twin/Double room, per room per night
2023 - Single Supplement £53 $65 €60 per night
Paid to Far and Ride
Payable to guarantee a single room in the hotel in Tbilisi - not payable if willing to share.
Note: All programmes and itineraries are weather dependent; in the face of adverse, or unexpected, weather conditions reasonable attempts will be made to provide equivalent riding. All programmes are accurate at the time of writing. However, the team may adapt or modify details, whilst aiming to provide a similar experience.