Weekend Warm-Up: Irakli’s Lantern

Deep in the Tusheti Mountains, a lone patriot struggles to maintain his legacy. Irakli Khvedaguridze is a walking memory of a time long past, when Europe’s highest settlement of Bochorna was a bustling village full of life and hope. Now, his beloved home is a shell that continues to fade into the snowy oblivion of the mountaintops. 

Irakli Khvedaguirdze is 78 years old and the last resident of Bochorna. He has lived in these mountains since the 1940s. After the Second World War, his family, friends and neighbors gradually left the snowy slopes in search of a better life in the cities.

Eventually, he had only the sounds of nature and for company. The settlement declined into a ghost town, with the once-proud Georgian flags becoming tattered in the powerful mountain winds. Houses fell into disrepair. Phone communication ceased. 

Georgia’s Tusheti Mountains. Photo: Anastasia Sholkova/Shutterstock

 

After 2,000 years, the last man standing

Today, any contact with the outside world comes from occasional tourists or shepherds in the summer. On good reception days, Irakli can listen to the radio playing traditionally Georgian folk songs. The village is only accessible via helicopter.

Despite this, Irakli remains loyal to his childhood home. People have been living on these slopes for 2,000 years, and he does not want to be responsible for ending that legacy. 

Irakli goes long periods without seeing his children and grandchildren. The difficulty of the journey to Bochorna, along with the unstable communication, has contributed to Irakli’s ongoing loneliness and disappointment. He feels like he’s the only one in his country who cares about their roots. “The mountains are my life,” he says. His identity as one of the last of the Tusheti people remains unshakeable. 

A small village in the Tusheti Mountains. Photo: Anastasia Sholkova/Shutterstock

 

It’s likely that his generational resilience from growing up in wartime and living a more traditional lifestyle have a lot to do with his devoted sense of place. We now live in a time of maximum comfort and immediate gratification, where a traditional struggle to survive is rare. It would be a shame to see two millennia of tradition evaporate for the sake of wanting to be modern. 

It is bittersweet to acknowledge that his final contribution to Georgia is his role as the last inhabitant of Europe’s highest settlement (2,345m). After that, nothing. Nature goes on, and the mountains will abide.

At least memories last forever.

Kristine De Abreu is a writer (and occasional photographer) based in sunny Trinidad and Tobago. Since graduating from the University of Leicester with a BA in English and History, she has pursued a full-time writing career, exploring multiple niches before settling on travel and exploration. While studying for an additional diploma in travel journalism with the British College of Journalism, she began writing for ExWeb. Currently, she works at a travel magazine in Trinidad as an editorial assistant and is also ExWeb's Weird Wonder Woman, reporting on the world's natural oddities as well as general stories from the world of exploration. Although she isn't a climber (yet!), she hikes in the bush, has been known to make friends with iguanas and quote the Lord of the Rings trilogy from start to finish.

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Olga Espinosa
Olga Espinosa
1 month ago

I would love to communicate with Irakli to learn about holistic medicine used in healing patients. Of course, he relies on modern medicines but I read he has knowledge of old fashion approaches to healing. His story is most fascinating I’m in awe of his dedication.