Ten minutes later we're making an Apocalypse Now surge over the Tbilisi rooftops, then clipping tree-tops over emerald green woods beside Telavi. The pilots, smoke cigarettes casually, flick ash out the window, and invite Denise Rocco into the cockpit.
Rotor blades clipping urgently, we're soon lugging the MIL MI8 up to 3500 meters to clear the passes into the high Tusheti grass plateau. With heart in mouth we look down on huge valleys with tiny silver rivers far below, then suddenly vast snow fields, racing by only meters away from the open window. I can see why most Georgians have never been here, and why Paata Shanshishvili wants to include Tusheti into the Protected Areas Program. Traditional farming practices have changed little up here, and sustainable herding migration could easily be re-established Tusheti is the summer range of the sheep herds that winter near Vashlovani, where our colleagues Eleanor O'Hanlon, Russell Sparkman and Pat O'Hara have been pursuing their own itinerary.
Then the helicopter banks sharply. Directly ahead a ragged collection of wood and stone houses perches on a hillside: the village of Diklo (2150 meters). We land to find ourselves inside a staggering panorama.