Pshaveli – Omalo: Abano Pass more than just a route

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Two years ago Karin and I visit Georgia with our two BMW GS. 2016 we travelled again to Georgia for a round trip with Dnepr Sidecars guided and accompanied by Sandro and Nika. Up and until our actual trip Sandro offered motorcycle tours through Georgia on Dneprs. During our two trips in Georgia we learned a lot about these beautiful country and it could also be that we falled a bit in love into the country and its people. But for several reasons one region we couldn´t visit. Tusheti and its natural park, located in the most north east region of the georgian Kaukasus. Omalo the main village out here as well as all other tiny little towns around can only be visited during the summertime. The route towards Omalo the so called Abano Pass is named as the most dangerous road in Georgia, also mentioned as one of the most dangerous roads in the world. We have learned a lot about Tusheti and thought we are used to visit Tusheti and get in touch with the nature. So it was no question how to answer the E-Mail of Sandro we received in December. He mentioned he has found another guy of which he thought he is able to do it. So we sended back a clear yes, we will join the tour.

At home, sitting in the warm and dry livingroom to send an yes E-mail is easy, we will see how it is in real. Today morning (07.08.17) Karin, Markus, Sandro and I having breakfast in our guesthouse at Telavi (failure #1). Downstairs in the garden are our sidecars (from 87 und 90) and a slightly younger Tenere for Sandro waiting for us.

Starting time 10.00 am (failure #2). First stop at the market in Telavi, cause we need to buy some food and a lot of water. Originally Sandro was also willing to buy some gas for safety reasons, but at least we didn´t. In Omalo it should be possible to get gasoline, offered by farmers and hosts from a jerrican.

The first 20 kilometers are going fast, cause the road between Telavi and Pshaveli is very well prepared. In Pshaveli we follow the roadsign „Omalo 70km“. But on the other hand basically no sign is needed, cause there is only one way up.

The road starts smoothly. Partially paved, but mostly gravel and a little river beside the road. Dangerous, no nothing dangerous, not any differences compared with a lot of roads in Europe (failure #3) Sandro adjusted the sidecares to be able to work with the expected mountain air and we getting speed again. But „speed“ comes to an unexpected end around 11.30am – the sidecars needs to cool down. Overheated Sandro recognised.

So all proud overtaken trucks are again in front of us. But during the break we meet Roman and Tomas from Czech Republik. The young guys with two small 125ccm bikes are on the way to Mongolia. They heard about Omalo and decided to try it to go up. Just for training purpose?!

They asked us if they can join us. Yes sure lets do it together (correct decision #1). Going uphill together could be only helpful for all of us. At least neither their 125er with its 10HP nor our Dnepr with hopefully 30HP are best equipped for the upcoming challenges.

The road is reduced to a single lane, mostly just wide enough for the omnipresent russian Kamas trucks. Slate, stones and water on the road requests us to reduce our speed to a minimum. We decide it would be better to stop roughly every 5km to have a break for humans and allow the Dneprs to cool down. (correct decision #2)

Having reached an altitude of roughly 1500m, we made it half the way to the top. Now not only the landscape changes, the road changes its behaviour as well. Its a pity all around a stunning landscape but as the driver I need to keep my concentration on the way. From now on we have to deal with precipitous, sloping hairpin curves. The curves are so steep ascending what we either need to keep the momentum up or to push the bikes manual to pass the serpentines.

More than once I´m stopped in the middle of the hairpin. Is it due to the situation that I was not able to keep the momentum or cause something is standing / laying around in the middle of the road. Now the second challenge comes into play. The drum brakes of the Dnepr are not really made to stop rolling backwards and at the steepest point also the first gear is not always able to hold us. Rolling backwards is not a good idea, cause in worst case we will drop down to the next lower hairpin. So as the last option I´m forced to roll back into the wall or Sandro stopped me with the Tenere. Thank god the Tenere has well working disc brakes. Out of self-interest Karin starts to announce the hairpins (next time I guess she is able to race with Walter Röhrl 🙂 believe me it´s true) and steeping out of the sidecar at the most steepest points (correct decision #3).

After passed a 90 degree right curve we are able to see the highest point for the first time. Couldn´t be so far anymore my stomach insist. But unfortunaly it´s not right, our Garmin Navigator announce 600m altitude, 5km and 7 hairpins to go.

Around 4.00pm local time we reached the top and parked our bikes on an altitude of 2.858 m (Garmin announced). But we are not the only one, between a lot of Georgian we meet Birol and his son again.

We met Birol, coming from Ankara, yesterday in Telavi for the first time. He crashed 3 times and as result he lost lot of gas. So he asked us for support. Yes sure, if help is necessary we will help you. Birol tried it but a few kilometers later some liters of petrol switched from the Dnepr tank into the Guzzi. My full respect to Birol and his son. For digital natives as well as for anybody else the Georgians has installed a free wifi-spot on the top of the pass. So the czech guys are able to call their relatives and the one or the other are posting selfies on social media.

Omalo is now only 26km away on at 1900m above sealevel. We thought from now on its downhill. (failure #4). Correct, it´s downhill in hairpins with sometime more than 20% slope we getting lost of altitude until we are down on 1600m. Again the road is following an idyllic river in a nice atmosphere.

We relax and thought the most dangerous part has past. Irritating are only the roadsigns: „Rockfall“, „parking prohibited next 600m“ and „Serpentine next 3000m“. The meaning of the last mentioned sign we recognise very fast. As Omalo is on an altitude of roughly 1900m we must climb up again. Of course with hairpins and 90 degrees curves.

But instead of 20% slope the georgian road workers decided to make it different. Now the serpentins are made out of more or less deep sand, simultaneous result, only with the momentum from the straight part we are able to climb up. But now, due to the lower altitude Karin is not forced to step out and we also don´t need to push. As well the 125ccm bikes are going better again. Just Markus Dnepr is asking for a cool down break.

As a result we can have a look from above how nicely he is climbing up the hill, followed by Roman. After a tour of around 10 hours at least we made it to arrive at our Green Guesthouse in Lower Omalo. We are a bit proud, all information we have so far, it seems to be that we are the first tourists which made it to reach Omalo on Dnepr Sidecars. Just one reason more to celebrate the evening. Having dinner all together with bikers from Czech, Germany and Georgian isn´t it a surprise that we must check and taste the difference between Slivovitz and Chacha?

We have been nine days in Georgia, what we have expierenced during the rest of our time, how and when we had traveled back to Kacheti, why we are forced to come back to Tucheti and why Sandro is not able anymore to offer Dnepr sidecar tours in Georgia you can read during the next weeks in our blogs. So why not become a follower of us, just click on the link in the footer of this page.

Searching the web for Omalo and the Abano pass you will amost find reports how dangerous it is, this is the obvious site. But there is much more in it. Since centuries Tuchetien people are living in the highest montains, far away from anything. The tracks which they use until today you can see driving the Abano road. By horse it takes some days to go to Omalo, but shepherds doing it year by year driving their cattle and sheps from summer to winter meadow. If you want the pass is also able to transfer you into a slightly different world, yes meanwhile TV, Energy and Internet has arrived in Omalo, but not used in a similar way like the people down are doing it. Also if you are sensitive for nature you can see and feel a kind of nature which i didn´t see before. In another blog I have read: „Omalo the most peaceful village i have ever seen“ and yes i can sign that too. Tucheti to visit was worth all the effort we put on the road.

Abano Pass details:

length 70km, max altitude 2857m (our Garmin announced), almost single lane gradients of 20% and sometimes more. Slate, gravel and water defining the route. Road condition and the exact course can change day by day due to rain, rockfall and or avelange. If you are able to understand georgian or russian you can get information about the route condition easily from the truck drivers and/or the road workers.

Drivable between June and beginning October. But in June and end of September / beginning of October you must take snow fall into account. Excluding the top no phone or internet connection is available. A function rescue chain depends on luck and if you are lucky it´s also a question of time. Rescue cars are located in Omalo and Pshaveli.

 

If you don´t want to drive by your own, for whatever reason you can hire a jeep and driver in Telavi / Pshaveli. As of August 2017 you have to pay around 200 GEL back and forth, which i think is a reasonable price. If you would like to enjoy nature and landscape, I recommended to think about this option.

The truck driver needs roughly 5-6 hours oneway. Jeeps are a bit faster. No fixed timeplan is available. They go if it is possible, some of them day by day. But it can also happen that for 1 or 2 days the road is not passable. Take it cool and enjoy. We have heard about visitors which have arrived in Omalo late in the year and due to unexpected heavy snow storms they are not able to go back. To stay eight months in Winter in Omalo is an expierence which I don´t want to share. That for my suggestions is don´t go later than beginning of September

For more information have a look to the short video of the BBC: Abano Pass BBC Video. Better and with more information but only in Czech a video of visitors from Czech Republik: Abano Pass Video eines Teams aus CZ

Georgian  government is still planning to build a new road to Omalo, current timeframe is to be ready in 2019 or 2020, which should also be driveable during winter time, but lets see.

Respect:

They have phone, energy and wifi in Omalo since last year, but only if the sun is shining, batteries are full or emergency power stations are running. Only some of the houses have permanent water. Each tomato or potato, every liter of diesel or gas must be carried over the pass. Take that into account please.

The Tuchetians have their own religion and traditions they are living with since centuries. Please be respectful and accept it, even if you can´t understand it on the first sight. Some of the Tuchetians are still living in the montains over the whole year not only during the four month summer time.

Become interested in Omalo or Georgia, I recommended to search on the internet for „Georgia about“ oder „Georgia insight“.

 

 

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