Tusheti, spread across the peaks and valleys of the Caucasus Mountains in northeastern Georgia, is all but cut off from the outside world for seven months of the year. The only road in or out, through the treacherous Abano Pass, is impassable until the winter snows clear. During this time occasional visits from a Border Police helicopter are the only link with the outside world.
The region is the ancestral home of the Tush, traditionally nomadic shepherds who spent summers in high, defensible alpine villages, and winters on sheltered lower slopes. Over the past decades they have chosen to spend their winters in the lowland towns of Kvemo- and Zemo-Alvani, leaving just a few hardy souls to brave the winter cold and isolation.
But when the Abano Pass opens in spring the Tush flood up to the highlands, the shepherds among them making a ten-day trek to bring their flocks to alpine pastures. Young people who have electricity, indoor plumbing and gaming consoles in town spend summer mornings milking cows and days on horseback. Despite the comforts of town life, there is a palpable sense that for most Tush, the mountains are their real home.
Tusheti is famed for its cheeses and wool, but production and access to markets are limited, and tourism has become the mainstay of the local economy: simple seasonal guesthouses cater for summer hikers who come to experience the beauty of the Caucasus. But the tourism sector is constrained by the very remoteness that is its main attraction.
Hoping to open up markets for local wool and cheese and to boost the tourism sector by enabling businesses to advertise and transact online, an intrepid group of volunteers set out to bring high-speed Internet access to the mountains. By increasing income-generating opportunities, they hope to counter the rural-urban drift that is seeing young people move away to cities, and to make it possible for the Tush to once again live in the mountains year-round. Detractors, however, feel that Tusheti's simplicity and remoteness should be preserved, and that the modern world should be kept at bay. Will the Internet ultimately prove to be a way to preserve a history and a way of life, or could it corrupt one of the last isolated regions of the Caucasus?