When fording a rushing river in a 4x4, there are a few tricks to remember if you don’t want to die: cross on the diagonal, never change gears in the water, and if you start drifting downstream, throw open the doors—fast. “Water comes in, floating stops, and the jeep can go out,” said Kartlos Chabashvili, my mountain guide.
He was bracing me for one of the most dangerous drives in the world. The dirt track up and over the Greater Caucasus via the 9,300-foot Abano Pass is plagued with avalanches, rock falls, and vodka-swilling mountain men careening around switchbacks in Soviet trucks. But so be it—I was on my way to Tusheti, a region in northeast Georgia whose untamed alpine beauty, ancient stone towers, and elusive, mystical people were by all accounts worth risking one’s life to visit.