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Devi Asmadiredja

Guide at a Glance

  • Locations

    Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia

  • Activities

    Adventure, Hiking Trekking

  • Guiding Experience

    5 years

  • Languages

    English, French, German, Indonesian, Russian

  • Favorite Trip

    Off The Beaten Path

Guide Bio

I am a tour guide for off-the-beaten-track adventures. I offer an unforgettable outdoor experience in remote areas.

I’m half Indonesian and half German. I came to Georgia in 2011 and headed straight for the mountains in the northeastern part of the country. Here, I enjoy the ancient mountain regions of Pshavi, Khevsureti, Tusheti and the lower-lying regions of Pankisi and the Shiraki plains.

I know this region very well as I have walked almost every part of the mountains. I enjoy sharing the beauty and wonders of this place with visitors from across the world. I offer custom-made adventures and love introducing my guests to the locals I have lived among for years. This gives a better sense and understanding of the local rich culture and heritage.

I can also arrange photography tours, horseback riding trips, artistic workshops with local artisan families, cooking and music lessons.

I can communicate freely in English, Georgian, German, Indonesian, French and Russian.

Devi Asmadiredja's Reviews

  • Stephan
    Reply

    Had a fantastic time with Devi. She knows the area incredibly well, is a very inspiring person herself and has a great life philosophy as well, you can learn a lot from her about leading a free life. If you want a guide who has really passion for her work – not just doing tours “for business” and planning with the thought which kind of trip would attract most visitors – she will be the perfect choice. If you are the kind of traveler who normally doesnt book “organised trips”, but like to get out most of a trip and know all about local culture and meet local people – she will be the perfect choice.
    But if you like trips where everything goes as planned, where you follow the routes thousands of other tourists have done before – don’t go with her. We really enjoyed this adventure with you, Devi!
    Cheers, Stephan
    (Travel book writer from Germany, http://www.stephan-orth.de)

  • Greg Skehan
    Reply

    If you are interested in travelling to a totally unspoilt and rugged part of the planet, where very friendly local people carry on a simple traditional lifestyle in an unforgettably beautiful mountainous region, then read on.
    My wife (Chee Wan) and I have just returned from 4 magical days in Tusheti. This was arranged by the unique, energetic and multi talented Devi. We met Devi (who was recommended by a mutual Georgian friend) in Tbilisi and had a chat about the things we were interested in experiencing. She planned the trip around our needs and it turned out to be a truly fantastic 4 days. This was not a trip for the faint hearted or for those who want all the creature comforts of first world living laid on for you at every location. However, we ate a never ending supply of simple meals consisting of local tasty healthy produce, walked in a landscape that was like a National Geographic documentary, met truly down to earth, happy local people who immediately put a kettle on to share their coffee, tea etc and we felt truly alive and privileged to be there.
    The actual drive to get to the Tusheti Park included a long stretch of unforgettable 4WD roads. Forget about reading a book along the way. There was so much to see as we bounced around, dodging the inevitable pot hole and boulders on the road, but our driver Vakho was brilliant. Calm, confident in his driving ability and a vast knowledge of the actual route meant that we felt totally safe despite the adrenaline pumping through our bodies.
    Devi is a real gem – she has lived in this region for around 6 years and this showed time and time again as we met people who greeted her with familiarity, genuine affection and enthusiasm. She had many interesting stories and anecdotes about past trips, local history, the way of life of the Tushetian people and other nearby culturally fascinating groups. She had several alternative suggestions for us when interfering weather conditions prevented one of our intended side trips. Her organisational skills were very professional and her multi lingual skills (she speaks 8 languages!) are obviously a huge advantage when dealing with a diverse range of clients. It was very reassuring throughout the trip that she had our safety and our interests as a priority. She is a perceptive, knowledgeable and exceedingly well-travelled person. We shared interesting conversations and laughed a lot together. She also makes a great coffee first thing in the morning, and to sit on a balcony overlooking remote alpine villages, with mega high mountains in the background and a mist in the valleys was a perfect way to begin yet another day of adventures.
    We have been to Georgia many times, and visited most of the regions. Several friends have commented that as good as the country areas are, Tusheti is an absolute must to visit if you want to step back in time and appreciate the richness of life in this spectacular part of Georgia. We were fortunate enough to capture some really exceptional photos, meet some amazing people and have experiences that are truly unique and which we will share with special friends. The sheer splendour of the mountains is hard to put into words that do it justice – it is quite indescribable. Just go while it still remains in a glorious time warp. We really can learn a great deal from the way the Tushetian people live and from experiencing just a very small part of their culture. If you do choose to visit this area, summer is the only time it is accessible and we highly recommend that you try and get to do a trip with Devi. Personally, we will definitely be returning and exploring more of this region in future years, and hopefully will be doing so with Devi.
    Greg / Chee Wan / Australia

  • Joel
    Reply

    I’ve always had a deep interest in Chechnya, it’s people, culture and history. Whilst planning a trip to Georgia, a trip to the Chechen Kist region of Pankisi was something I really wanted to do. I initially planned to venture there alone, which I now realise would have been extremely difficult because of the language barrier and lack of knowledge of the local area, when I came across Devi’s website. I contacted her and she was extremely efficient in planning my trip and gave up a lot of her own free time to correspond with me and ensure she knew what I wanted to see and experience in Georgia. As a solo traveller, this was my first time hiring a full time guide and I did not know what to expect, when I eventually met Devi in Tbilisi, I instantly knew she is a character. The days that followed I will never forget. Devi first took me on an incredible hike through jaw dropping mountains, with huge eagles circling above abandoned medieval fortresses and towers and not one tourist in sight. When we went into Pankisi, Devi took me to meet Raisa and stay with her family, they were some of the most friendly, warm and generous people I have met in all of the countries I have visited, I was humbled at the hospitality of every Chechen I had the chance to meet in Pankisi and I was honoured at the chance to be able to experience their culture and be allowed to witness and film the Zika ceremony, something I have wanted to witness for a long time. Devi then took me to her home and introduced me to her partner Vaho and his mum, I felt very welcomed and their hospitality again was amazing, we then headed up high in the Tusheti mountains for one of the best drives of my life, with amazing scenery at every turn. If you book just one tour guide in Georgia, even if you don’t normally book tour guides, make it Devi. She has the combination of precise German efficiency, local contacts and fluency in local languages including Georgian and Chechen, if something goes wrong, she instantly works hard to solve it and succeeds. So if you want a REAL adventure, unique experiences and stories to tell unlike any other, book Devi. I cannot recommend her enough, there is no other tour guide like her! Thank you for the experience, Devi! :)

  • Rumsha Shahzad
    Reply

    I’ve been delaying writing a review for Devi because I wasn’t sure how to do justice to the amazing and fascinating person she is. One of the most perceptive people I have ever met, Devi knows how to angle your trip exactly around what you need and what you’re looking for. I contacted her with a very vague sense of what it was I wanted to explore and she came up with the most perfect plan. While we only visited Pankisi for around 2 days, I got a chance to know Devi much before I arrived in Georgia. Prompt and responsive, as soon as I contacted her, Devi set about planning my trip, taking into account every preference I had (including whether or not I liked the coffee she drinks at least a gallon of everyday!).

    Pankisi itself is a magical wonderland in every sense of the word. If you have an affinity for natural landscapes, then the stunning mountains and raw beauty of Pankisi will definitely leave a lifelong impression on you. As if that wasn’t enough of a selling point on it’s own, we stayed with the charming family of Duisi’s female Sufi leader Raisa. The most thoughtful of hosts, they make sure your stay is as comfortable as possible, taking a genuine interest in your visit. One of the best parts of the trip was the people I got to meet – whether it was Raisa’s family, the Kists in Birkiani and Tsibakhevi or a wonderful man from Akhmeta who gave us a ride towards Pankisi and then insisted we come and have lunch with his family. Pankisi is definitely the place to go to if you want your faith in humanity and the goodness of people restored.

    My main reason for going to Pankisi was to see the female Zikr ceremony at the mosque in Duisi – while the intensity and power of that experience is something I am struggling to describe, I can guarantee that the spiritual passion of the female Sufis in Pankisi will leave you awestruck.
    Whatever you’re seeking in Pankisi, a cultural immersion, a trip “off the beaten path”, a spiritual experience – Devi is your person if you want to make sure your expectations are met. Her matter of fact way of dealing with the many struggles she has been through definitely put my own life into perspective. As we walked around Duisi, Tsibakhevi and Birkiani, I realized just how well Devi knew every road, turn and person there. There are an infinite number of things I would recommend about Pankisi, but Devi was definitely the highlight. I’m glad to have found a lifelong friend and kindred spirit in Devi and to have shared many profound, (and also many comical moments and laughs) with her. It’s plain to see she is adored by everyone in every place we visited and the more time you spend with Devi, the easier it is to see why it’s impossible not to love her.

  • Andras
    Reply

    We spent a few days in Georgia (Tbilisi and Kutaisi) in April 2017. We wanted to have an experienced guide who can design a custom trip for us. I contacted Devi a few days before our arrival. She responded quickly and planned a great trip for us. She arranged for a driver/guide (Gio) who could take us to the mountain regions and to Kutaisi. We met Devi in Tbilisi, spent two days with her there and in the mountains. We visited several places around Tbilisi and Kutaisi. She was absolutely fantastic. She and Gio arranged traditional Georgian meals for us, showed us beautiful places, gave us suggestions how to make our trip more meaningful. All we had to do was to enjoy our trip as Devi took care of everything for us. She is a very experienced guide who has in depth knowledge of Georgian life. She is very helpful, flexible and highly capable of organising tailored trips. Overall, our trip with her was a very positive experience.

  • Alexi
    Reply

    Devi is a force all her own. We met at the Why Not Hostel in Tbilisi and just from a few minutes conversation, one can already tell Devi can show you an entirely different world. She showed me a video of a Muslim women’s ceremony in Pankisi and I immediately knew I’d extend my time in Georgia to go with her that Friday and see it for myself. I had a couple of questions beforehand about the location and she answered everything quickly and efficiently. While in the Pankisi region, we stayed with a wonderful local family and felt warmly accepted. Devi is a celebrity and when walking around, people call out to her to say hi and catch up. I felt comfortable and safe with her everywhere we went. I wouldn’t dare get near her with a huge stick in her hands! The ceremony Friday was even more moving and spiritual than I expected after seeing her video. I was even able to join this circle of women singing and moving around and felt a deep connection with them all. It is by far the most memorable experience I had in my three weeks in Georgia and I’m eternally grateful to Devi for showing me this unique part of the world. I cannot recommend her enough!

  • Zivile M
    Reply

    When decision to travel to Georgia came about, I knew one thing. I wanted to see real life, local culture, immerse into their daily routine. Everything off the tourist track. This is a hard thing to do unless you have a guide who speaks various local languages and has gained the trust of rural communities. Devi is such guide. Because of her connections, I was fortunate to live with the local family in the foothills of Caucasus mountains and see their daily lives. Cooking, eating, walking the village – this would not have been possible without Devi. She is an immense resource as was born in Europe and understands how a western mind works, but also now is basically Georgian having lived in Georgia for many years. This is an advantage to the kind of traveler that needs a local ‘friend’ rather than a guide. Thank you Devi! My next trip is Tusheti!

  • Constantin
    Reply

    A mutual friend of friend of Devi and me highly recommended her trips through Georgia. Since I was going to be in Georgia for 2 weeks, of which one was occupied with a seminary near Tbilisi, I felt like getting a guide or at least participating in guided tours.

    When I texted Devi on her Facebook she was immediatly interested in my wishes and ideas about the trip we would do together. Concerning money she was also really cooperative and tried to find a solution that would fit us both.

    Devi suggested a trip to eastern Georgia, Kakheti. Since I had no idea what exactly I wanted to see, visit or experience I agreed.

    What I saw in this week would be the most authentic and pleasant encounter with georgian culture and mentality I could have gotten.

    We stayed at super friendly and hospital families who provided us with extremely tasty food and accomodation. Tables were bending under the weight of plenty dishes.

    Devi also took me to places I would have overlooked when traveling alone. During the whole week I really felt like experiencing Georgia, rather than just visiting it.

    To cut a long Story short: I highly recommend Devis’ tours and I am thankful for an unbelievable week in the Caucasus.

    Madlob!

  • Jacob Balzani Lööv
    Reply

    Devi she is a monster in her knowledge of Georgian mountains and people. It is hard to go to a place where nobody know her but, if such place exists, they surely heard of her. Devi expertise comes from the curiosity which pushed her all around the country and prompted her to learn different of the many languages spoken in Georgia. I’ve spent many days in Vashovani National Park and there is nothing more reassuring than having her walking in front of you with her stick, when surrounded by flocks and Caucasian Shepherd dogs, which like to bite anything that move and can weight up to 100 kgs. As she saved me few times, I can definitely tell you that she can deal with them! And people love her, we have always been welcome by anyone, Kists, Tushs, Armenian and Azerbaijanis, I can even remember the Georgian border guards filling our backpacks with food! If you prefer authentic experiences to boutique hotels then with Devi you will find a lot of what you are looking for!

  • Alex Dodds
    Reply

    While it is undoubtedly a good thing that travelling has become more accessible and affordable during the course of the last three decades, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find truly authentic experiences. All too often you visit an amazing landmark or witness a fascinating local ritual only to find yourself surrounded by tourists. We complain about it, pretend we are different but actually it makes sense, the reason why you and everyone else is visiting that particular place is because it is incredible. However, you still can’t stop that nagging feeling and wonder what it would have been like earlier when these place rarely received any visitors. I have been lucky enough to have been on some pretty epic trips – Uzbekistan/Tajikistan, Ethiopia, Eastern Russia, North-Western China, Libya, but the week I spent with Devi is the most remarkable and authentic travel experience I have ever had. To start with, her personal story is fascinating but it is her local knowledge and network which gives you a real insight into the lives of both Tush and Kist people, as well as being someone who is a great laugh to spend time with. The programme she organised for us was the perfect mix, taking in some mind-blowing scenery and witnessing the ritual in Pankisi was something that I will never forget. During the whole week I did not see a single tourist. The homestays she organised for us were also great, the food was brilliant and by the end I felt that I was one of the family, genuinely.

    If any one fancies a truly off the beaten track experience in Georgia in an already remote region then you have to go with Devi, I am looking forward to her tours of Chechnya in a few years!

  • Sebastian
    Reply

    Devi,
    alrady after the meeting at the Why Not Hostel Tbilisi, it was clear, that the trip to Tusheti could be the highlight of my three-week tour Georgia in August 2015.
    Devi has a very interesting personality. She has Indonesian-East German roots, has lived for many years in Georgia and speaks their language and knows the country like your home.
    We traveled for a while in to the hidden place of Tusheti and hiked to the local Shepherds and stayed there on the small farm for two nights.
    We cooked togehter, drank wine, were playing with the dogs and could watch the cheese production. It was a great experience and the hospitality beyond words, surrounded by the magnificent mountains of the Caucasus. By Devis excellent language skills – the communication to the Shepherds was less difficult. After the nice days we hiked in the idyllic Village of Omalo and stayed there in a beautiful GH. During the many rest breaks we had lot of fun and laughed together.
    I can highly recommended Devi Adventure for individual travelers with little demand for comfort..
    I am happy to met you, thanks a lot!!

  • Charlie R.
    Reply

    Devi was a great tour guide for the Pankisi region. I also recommend her as a fixer for journalists, freelance or otherwise. She speaks Georgian, Russian, and Chechen (amongst many other languages) and is incredibly helpful. Her local knowledge is unparalleled and she has lots of crazy stories. All in all, highly recommended.

  • Lukas
    Reply

    We had 3 very special days with Devi in the mountains of Kacheti and the Vashlovani-Nationalpark.
    From the snowy mountains to the heat in the springtime down in the vashlovani “desert”, Devi showed us some unique places of Georgia.
    Besides the wonderful nature, Devi knows tons of people in Kacheti, for example we were able to meet the shepherds in their cabins, completely remote from civilization, also we cooked khinkali with Devis friends and their families and hat a really special time with her.
    We saw very special places, met very nice people and would definitely recommend Devi as your guide. We did a lot by car, because the Kacheti mountains and vashlovani are not that easy to get to, especially in spring with the snow, but Devi also knows excellent remote hiking trails, so she definitely can offer something that fits with your plan, no matter what they are. If your looking for a good guide, get Devi, it’s absolutely worth it. Thank you Devi!

  • Caroline Mortlock
    Reply

    My partner and I recently spent a few days living with Devi and a lovely lady teacher in the Pankisi valley, north of Akhmeta. We had been on a tour of Armenia and Georgia and were looking for a country experience in contrast to hotels and tourist hotspots. Thanks to Devi’s cultural knowledge and social network we got a deeper insight into this Chechen speaking area.
    Devi is a linguistic wizard, switching from Chechen to Georgian, to English (or German). The people are not used to tourists but it was easy to make contact thanks to Devi’s humour and their curiosity. The sincere hospitality of the villagers was touching (we were invited for coffee and lunch by strangers, given lifts in cars, guided through a forest, with no payment accepted). There were some great photo opportunities but we held back in respect for their reluctance to be photographed.
    On the first day Devi met us in Tbilisi, we traveled together by taxi to Akhmeta, stopping on the way to explore a ruined fortress (no extra fare!). Devi’s help was essential, to find the right taxis on the edge of Tbilisi, to defend us from desperate drivers pulling at our bags, and negotiate the fare. But once your driver is chosen, he becomes a decent human being!
    In Akhmeta Devi shopped in the market, most fascinating being the butcher’s shop (not recommended if you work in “health and safety”). Then on to Pankisi and a walk up the valley to see bee keepers, herds of cows and horses.
    Devi knew about a ruined citadel so the second day she sensibly decided to take a taxi over the river to cut out the road walking. The locals looked at us as if we had landed from Mars but with a few words from Devi the village “chief”, who was renovating his house, dropped tools and sprang up an almost vertical grass slope to show us the way. After over an hour of puffing and panting in the beech woods and admiring spectacular views, we reached the citadel gateway. That was enough for me, but our “chief” wanted my man to see more. An hour later they were back, my man white in the face, having climbed around the outside of the fortress, hanging by his fingernails, above a 30m drop! But the fortress was huge, they had been in a ruined church, and it had been worth seeing. On the second night the weather broke in a spectacular 12 hours of thunderstorms and drenching rain, so we stayed home and rolled meat dumplings by torchlight. The final day we had to give up our attempt to find a German cemetery when the thunder rolled in. Then back to Tbilisi with a stop on the way to check out a nunnery.
    We were sorry we didn’t have time to explore more into the mountains. I hope more people visit but on a scale that doesn’t diminish the people’s genuine welcome! Thanks Devi, and thanks to the villagers of Pankisi!

  • Serkant Hekimci
    Reply

    Devi is not just a great travel guide, she is more than this..She belongs to the mountains, plains, roads! She is an extraordinary character. I spent more than 4 days with her in some villages in Pankisi and Tusheti mountains. She arranged all for my trip, places, cars, people, foods and more.

    She knows mountains with each parts, also she has a great communication with locals, so that she arrange everything easy for you.

    i am planing my next trips to area with Devi again.

    So if you need some ordinary trips then it s easy to find ordinary guides!
    But If you need extraordinary things, then you need Devi!

    Dont miss this chence..

  • Dave Saunders
    Reply

    So you want to go into the mountains of Georgia? OK. So how you going to do it because its not the Everest trail. What’s so different? Well, before I get into that let me explain how I met Devi, what we did and why Devi is important to you. I encountered Devi on the Tours by Locals site. “she sounds interesting I thought!”. So I got in touch, and we spoke, a lot. We spoke about mountains, our travels and what I hoped to achieve. As a keen photographer and not a lover of tourists Devi suggested an off the beaten track walk. It was tough, basic and never short of twists and turns. The twists and turns are why you need someone like Devi. Those mountains are tough, remote and you will find not just Georgians up there. You will encounter Azeri and Chechens as well. Devi can communicate with all of them and command their respect in what is probably a very male dominated world. I was lucky enough to spend some days before the trek with her family in Pankisi Gorge. A fascinating insight into the world of the Chechen community. Whilst there I was privileged to watch the women chant in their mosque, attend an Islamic funeral and interact with people from a world very different to mine. Following a shashlik with her father and his friends the night before we set out. I knew the walk would be tough. I didn’t plan too much for strange weather, trails that suddenly disappeared, the urgent need to use a horse for transport, meet crazy shepherds with crazy dogs, be given hospitality in the most basic of conditions, and spend time with tough shepherds. Be warned – there are dogs in them there hills and you don’t want to be in the position where your inexperience causes you an issue. With Devi not only does she speak all the requisite languages but she actually knows the people.The dogs are trained to protect the flock from wolves and bears. It’s best to have someone that can shout way ahead to get the dogs called off.Devi knows the path, the people and the mountains. She loves the mountains and trekking in Georgia offers something for everyone. If however like me you want to venture off the beaten track and come home safely you shouldn’t venture up there alone. I’ve trekked to Everest BC and I’ve walked in Georgia and believe me the trekking in Georgia was tough. Take a good guide and I’d suggest you take Devi.

  • Ben Scott
    Reply

    I had never used a guide before, but am very happy that Devi was able to show us around Khevsureti. If you are interested in getting access to places and people in the most off-the-beaten-track parts of the Georgian mountains, then you’d be wasting an opportunity by not using her services. Devi knows anyone and everyone in the regions she specialises in, and as such is ideally placed to help you get the most out of your mountain experience. Whether you want to hang out with Chechen shepherds in the high passes or stay the night in remote villages, Devi can- and does- make it happen.

    Speaking Georgian and Chechen, and with her great knowledge of Georgia, it’s like having a local with you to show you the sights. At the same time, being foreign, she can show you Georgia from a different perspective- and listens to what you want rather than just showing you what she thinks you want to see. As an added bonus, she’s great company to have around! She gets things done, listens to your requirements, tells you what is doable and what isn’t realistic, makes conversation and is just generally a pleasant and funny person to be around. It’s like travelling with a friend, but one who’s useful to be around. As someone who prides themself on travelling independently in remote and less-visited regions, and who emphatically does not ‘do’ guided trips, I would me more than willing to hire Devi again to show me more hidden corners of her beautiful adopted home and to give real insights into them.

    If you want an introduction to the people and places of the remotest parts of the Georgian mountains, look no further than Devi.

  • Daniele Pescatore
    Reply

    Devi is a great guide.
    She’ll try everything she can to make yourself feel comfortable.
    We arranged visits to the local families in the infamous Pankisi valley. Definitely a great experience. Her mom is so sweet and a great cook!

  • Shomel
    Reply

    We really wanted to go Pankisi. We searched every were on the net about information. All came back saying how we shouldn’t go into places like this and its no access for foreigners. After finding Devi contact details on a blog, we contacted her straight away. From the first word we exchanged I knew she was passionate about Pankisi. She was our first hope into Pankisi.

    This tour not your average boring information overload tours. This guide actually allows you to contact with local people. This is the main key to travelling. Devi is integrated well into the community and understand the locals. You can tell by the amount of respect the local have for her. As you walk down the road, people inviting you into there house for tea and biscuit. The local are really friendly & really interested to communicate with you.

    Home staying with family was really good. Food always on point, very delicious.

    We didn’t get the chance to go hiking but mountain about this place is breath taking. Really highlight of our trip.

  • Caroline Juler
    Reply

    This is a post from my blog, Carpathian Sheep Walk, https://carpathiansheepwalk.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/to-the-caucasus/

    In August 2014 I went to Georgia in search of Romanian shepherds. This is an extract from my notes from the trip.

    So far, without much luck: all I’ve got to go on is a book called ‘Oieri margineni in Crimeea si Sudul Rusiei’, a collection of memories, documents and photos charting some of the adventures that befell shepherds from Marginimea Sibiului, an enclave in the southern Carpathian Mountains, when they migrated east with their sheep.

    One of the maps in the back of this great little publication has a big yellow stain marking the diaspora. It began in about 1870 and lasted until Stalin put an end to any aspirations of prosperity the Romanians might have had. Their move to the east was only one example of Carpathian shepherds’ long-distance transhumant journeys, but while it lasted, they not only used the winter pastures available on the northern and eastern coasts of the Black Sea, but settled there as well, establishing farms and families in Crimea, eastern Ukraine, southern Russia and Georgia. Some of them went further afield, reaching Astrakhan, Azerbaijan and even Iran.

    I first heard about the phenomenon in 2007, and I’ve become rather obsessed by it, as though those particular pastoralists were heroes of some kind. It’s a tricky argument to maintain. Shepherds are usually pragmatists: they’ll go where they can find better, cheaper pastures, following economic principles not romantic ones. There’s a difference between sheep owners and hired shepherds, and nowadays the latter often live like dogs. Yet talking to transhumant shepherds in Romania has revealed something else. Masters and employees often relish the freedom and fellowship of the road and they have a relationship to their animals that belies mere functionality.

    Over the past two and a half weeks, I’ve been travelling through Georgia following some of the clues in Toma’s book. There aren’t that many, in fact the only concrete fact I have lighted on is that Stefan Nanu of Tilisca went to Georgia at some point, either while he was working as a hired shepherd, or afterwards, when he became some sort of fixer, or a businessman. We know he tried to intercede on the Romanians’ behalf with Kalinin, pleading the shepherds’ cause so they wouldn’t lose their hard-won wealth to the steely Soviet state. We also know he wrote letters home to Tilisca, and they are still in his family’s possession. But when and for how long he went to Georgia is a mystery.

    Helping me in my quest has been Devi Asmadiredja. Half Sundanese (Indonesian), half German, Devi deserves a book to herself. She’s been living in Georgia for the last three years, during which time she’s learnt to speak Georgian and Chechen and has established herself as an intrepid mountain guide. Devi loves the shepherding life, and thanks to her, we’ve been chasing up any leads we can find – names of people and villages mostly – to justify that yellow stain leaking into the space between the two chains of Caucasus Mountains. (Since Tara Isabella Burton wrote about Devi for the BBC magazine, Devi could well become a household name, so I’ve added some photos of her here – they may not appear alongside this post, so if you can’t see them, try scrolling up or down.)

    Our best hope on this trip was finding out that there are two villages with names exactly or nearly the same as margineni ones. Both are in Javakheti, south-central Georgia, near the Turkish and Armenian borders. Hearing the word ‘Tilisca’ made me jump out of my skin: it was one of Devi’s friends who mentioned it casually, as a place near the town of Akhalkhalaki. Devi and I hot-footed over there by marshrutka (minibus), a journey of 15 minutes costing roughly 50p each way. Consusingly, the windscreen bore the name ‘Dilisca’ in Cyrillic letters: I still don’t know which is the correct spelling.

    Letters apart, I could hardly contain myself, but everything went rather flat when we met a 70 year old farmer from the Georgian Tilisca, or Dilisca. He was said to know everything about the place but told us he’d never heard of any Romanians there. On the contrary, it had been an Armenian village since Armenians were expelled from eastern Turkey in 1830. Before that, it was a Georgian one, with a history leaping back to a misty past that didn’t seem to have room for Transylvanians. A family of Armenian folk singers that runs the Cultural Centre in Akhalkhalaki told us that Tilisca comes from ’tiliscari’ which is a Georgian word. It means ‘the door of the morning’. If only it had opened.

    We didn’t make it to Vale, the other place with an identical name in Marginimea Sibiului, but a Georgian historian agreed with my hunch that the direction of influence could just as well have gone in reverse, with Georgian names being taken to Transylvania, not the other way round.

    Both countries have a strong Orthodox Christian tradition, and in the late 17th century, Bishop Antimos, a Georgian from the southern region of Samstkhe, was invited by Prince Constantin Brancoveanu to visit Wallachia.

    In 1694, Antimos was installed in Snagov Monastery, in the forests near Bucharest. He founded a printing press and commissioned a lot of other monasteries, before being exiled to Mount Sinai for fomenting trouble. Antimos supported Wallachia’s struggle for independence from Ottoman Turkey and the Greek Phanariots who had a stranglehold on Romanian politics after Brancoveanu and four of his sons were murdered by the Sultan in 1711.

    If there is a wider connection between Georgia and the Romanian principalities, Antimos could well be one of the keys. But there are other links: eastern Romania and the Caucasus were once part of Cumania, a Turkic polity that ruled a large area to the west and east of the Black Sea for several hundred years after the Roman empire ended. Cumania gets its name from the Caucasian Kubans, whose forebears came from Syria. There is a fortress called Cumania on the northern slopes of the Caucasus Mountains. Coman is a well-known Romanian Christian name. One of the Romanian sheep farming families I know in Marginimea Sibiului traditionally gives the name Coman to one of its boys in each new generation.

    Why start with Georgia, when there are more definite accounts of Romanian shepherds settling in the northern Caucasus, Crimea and eastern Ukraine? Maybe it’s just about the name, because St. George is the patron saint of England, because George comes from the Greek word for farmer, and my quest was about farmers.

    And now it’s nearly time to leave, saying goodbye not only to the first stage of what I hope will be many other Georgian journeys, but also to the other travellers I’ve met here: adventurous young things who have been stopping off in Tbilisi for a few days – or sometimes weeks – while crossing entire continents on cycles, motorbikes, by hitching, on horseback or in a tuktuk (that one was Romanian!). Fearless of political or psychological propaganda that might persuade others to stay at home and cover their heads, they’ve made me want to get up and go even more.

    And then there is Devi: her story, and her struggle, are for another time, and would be told better in her own words. Without her help, I’d have got nowhere, without even the small progress made so far. I wouldn’t have met Kists (Chechens of Pankisi), Ossetians and Svans in their own homes, I wouldn’t have shared chips and onions with the shepherds of Patara Khanchali, or met Ani, a German woman who’s working with destitute villagers to give them new ways of making a living from their land and their skills.

    Without Devi and her self-confidence, humour and survival skills, I wouldn’t have hitched lifts with Turks and Georgians, spent nights in an abandoned workmen’s cabin surrounded by scented shrubs and a tremendous river. I wouldn’t have found myself sleeping on a verandah which felt like a private viewing platform for nightly lightning storms that reverberated around a natural amphitheatre of soaring mountains, wooded valleys and orchards. If not for Devi, I would have missed meeting the young eco-warriors who are fighting to save Tbilisi’s much-needed lung, Vake Park. And perhaps it’s unlikely I’d have spent a few crazy hours sitting in a carpark with nobody but stray dogs and boy racers for company at one moment, and at the next, lounging under a lime tree sipping wine and nibbling delicious sausage with its producer who copies the ancient Georgian fermentation method in which huge ceramic pots are buried two metres in the ground and the wine is made by chucking everything into the mixture, including grape flesh, skin, seeds, and stalks, and leaving them to ferment all winter long.

    True, I could have done without being marched through the streets of Devi’s favourite village in 40 degree heat, no doubt to tease the supercilious westerner in me and ‘to show to my friends what a tourist looks like’, and I got a bit hot under the collar when she kept ordering me, with mock-Germanic severity, to ‘SIT DOWN’. But Devi knows Georgia from the inside out. She understands what it’s like to go without food, shelter, medical help, and why Georgia’s indigenous peoples are so proud of their origins. She has a passionate interest in those origins and reads prodigiously about Georgia’s culture to increase her knowledge. ‘I’m no angel’, she told me after telling me some of her life story, but I wouldn’t trust anyone who believed that they were. She is compassionate and sensible. Had I not heeded her warnings not take photos or notes in sensitive situations, I might have more accurate records of our conversations with people who were living so precariously on the edge, caught in a no-go area which the outside world regards with suspicion – or doesn’t regard at all – but I might also not be here. Learning about other people’s lives, and understanding their points of view is about listening patiently, not just clicking camera buttons and looking for punchy sound-bites.

    As I think about buying stamps for last minute postcards and packing my gear for my early morning flight, I know that without Devi, I wouldn’t have got nearly so far, and I wouldn’t have had so much fun.

    Sadly we didn’t make it to Tusheti this time, but I’m saving that up for cooler weather.

    For more information on my search for Romanian shepherds in the Caucasus, visit this page and follow the links.

  • Sam Cahill
    Reply

    I spent the better part of a year traipsing around Georgia, and I was always finding ruined churches and castles hidden in the woods or atop lonely plateaus. I was also always finding friends of Devi. It didn’t matter what desolate lonely corner of the mountains I went to. Some old lady with a bucket of fresh milk or grizzled shepherd with a crazy dog would know who she was and smile when I mentioned I knew her. Usually dropping her name was good for a glass of wine or two. It was towards the end of the year when I finally got to go hiking with her, in Lagodekhi, but even there, almost in Azerbaijan, the B&B owner and the soldiers guarding the border both greeted her like old friends. It’s one thing to be a guide when you’re from a place–it’s sort of a default–but Devi chose Georgia, chose these people, these mountains, and a much leaner existence than she might have had in Germany and I feel like the people there like her for having chosen them. She knows the trails better than most of them too and they admire her for that. Also even though she’s become a part of the place, she still knows what it’s like to admire the mountains and the churches and castles with an outsiders eyes. Sometimes when you go hiking with a Georgian, you feel like they’re just showing you something because you’re a foreigner and they figure you like that sort of thing. Devi honestly loves her mountains, and you feel like she’s as into them as you are. It’s a great ride going with Devi.

  • Sigrid Jakob
    Reply

    Devi, thank you so much for an unforgettable adventure, for opening a window on a world we would have not otherwise experienced and for being a knowledgeable, generous and entertaining guide. The trip you guided us on was the highlight of our time in Georgia. I loved how you spent time really getting to know us and how you customized the trip to who we are & what we’re interested in. Can’t wait to do a longer trip next year; we’re already planning …

    Devi, Vielen Dank für ein unvergessliches Abenteuer, und daß Du uns ein Fenster in eine andere Welt geöffnet hast. Du kennst dieses Land und diese Leute so gut wie nur wenige, warst so großzügig mit deinem Wissen und wir hatten so viel Spaß zusammen. Unsere Reise mit Dir war der Höhepunkt von unserem Georgienurlaub. Alles war so schön für unsere genauen Bedürfnisse geplant. Wir sind schon am Planen für die nächste, viel längere, Reise.

  • Karsten Aichholz
    Reply

    Speaking as someone who’s been to more than 60 countries, jumped down the gorge behind the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, couchsurfed in Iran and cruised amongst the Galapagos islands, I can safely say that my hiking trip with Devi was one of the biggest travel highlights I’ve experienced.

    There is ‘off the beaten track’ as described in a tourist brochure and then there is ‘off the beaten track’ in the actual sense of the word. Devi is definitely the latter. She took me among one of the most remote regions of Georgia. Staying with local cow herders we explored our way across mountains and valleys that saw so few outside visitors that the locals seemed to keenly remember most of them.

    I asked for ‘remote’ and I got remote. I’m not sure if that’s everyone’s cup of tea and the lack of comfort and the ad-hoc route planning would have been to everyone’s liking. If you’re okay with that and seek an adventure, Devi is my go-to recommendation.

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