This story, even though it’s real, may seem unbelievable.
Castle-village Khakhabo is situated in Pirikita Khevsureti, beyond Datvijvari and Tsubrovani pass, in Tchantchanistskali valley. Four families – Khosiauri, Mindikauri, Mamiauri, and Khakiauri used to live there for generations.
Granny Marusa lives in Khakhabostchala, Paata lives in castle-village. Sometimes a shepherd or a lost tourist, mainly a foreigner, may wander there. Last year, the local government built the first road to reach Khakhabo but never maintained it, making it dangerous and even impossible to pass. Granny Marusa used to get village by walk or horse, but border police took her by helicopter this year.
There was no electricity, phone connection, and internet before 2020. As a result, not many people knew of the village. Tourists rarely go beyond Mutso and Shatili; moreover, the walking path crossing Khakhabo was not marked. Therefore, to make a simple phone call, one should reach Tsubrovani Mountain (climb 12km) or go down to Shatili (25km).
In July last year, the communal organization of Pshav-Khevsureti managed to get the internet to Khakhabo. Paata Khakhiauri described to “Mtis Ambebi” what he thought the internet could change for the valley.
„When I first saw this video, I had a feeling that I was listening to someone very close to me. I wanted to see Khakhabo, meet Paata, help this lonely man trying to revitalize an abandoned village. So I started looking for tours to Khahabo, even thought about going up there alone. Then I found out my friend was planning a tour to Shatili and Mutso. We decided to add Khakhabo to the route.
We should meet Paata on the second day, 14:00 in Ardoti. We were exactly 7 minutes late. I will not forget seeing him sheltered below the rock. It was raining. The first glimpse of him made me think we were safe. That evening we reached Khakhabo“ - Nino Barnabishvili, an Italian-speaking guide who used to work in a tourist agency. She offered Paata to help in planning and organizing tours.“
The lonely man had already decided to build a new house. So „Mtis Ambebi“ assisted him in creating a business plan that won a grant from „Enterprise Georgia“ to arrange a guesthouse in Khakhabo.
Additionally, „Mtis Ambebi“ created a new route of unknown castle-houses in Khakhabo and Andaki valleys. With „Georgian Association of Ecotourism,“ we marked the path and installed informational signs. Another important initiative is to transform Khakhabo, Andaki, and Artchilo into an eco-museum and enlist them in an international network of eco-villages.
Nino and Paata continued to contact each other on a social network. After some time, they decided to get married. „When I started the building, every night, tired I used to talk with Nino, Wondering what she thought of it if she would like the final result. The fact that she would spend two months in this same house gave me strength. If a girl from Tbilisi decides to live in the mountains, a man should create conditions to make this feasible. A 40-year-old who does not think lives poorly.“
I would never want my partner to experience what I endured without roads, phones, electricity, house. When Paata was 11, an avalanche demolished their home.
„It was 1993. On the new year holidays, my sister and I left the boarding school, then snow blocked the pathway down, and we stayed at home. In mid-January, my uncle was caught in the avalanche. The next night, when we were asleep, an avalanche hit our house. The pressure brought down the roof, girder fell on my brother’s head, killing him instantly. I was unconscious; my father saved me. My mom and sister died too. My younger sister was asleep in the cradle. Mother covered it with her body, and that was how we found her. Dead, bent over the cradle. Tsitso, my sister, was thrown out of the house by the avalanche and lived.“
I always ask Nino to stay in Ananuri, in our house, but she refuses. She decided to stay wherever I was. So, for the first time after all these years, we will spend the winter here“ - Paata and Nino are hopeful for their friends” - If you cannot contact us via the internet, then we have an issue, and we hope somebody pays attention. At least someone from the helicopter checks if there are footprints on the snow or if the smoke is going up from a chimney.”
Many thought it was a joke. Nino says some people still do not believe they want to spend winter in Khakhabo. But, „We will be back in a year, and we will not be alone. We will be back with others, our neighbors“.