From Kutaisi I wanted to go to the next mountain region, Kazbegi. To get there, you first have to go back to Tbilisi, but it’s quick and uncomplicated. I even had a very comfortable Marshrutka, where only half the seats were occupied, and a fast driver (on the right) who quickly took us to the bus station. This bus station is already very special, market stalls, booths, small snack bars are arranged confusingly with marshrutkas and taxis. It was too warm and I looked for the departure point to Kazbegi. On the way there, a shared taxi driver intercepted me and enticed me with a very nice car, 2 stops incl. and an acceptable price. There was already a Polish couple waiting and we were not supposed to leave until the last two seats were occupied. He tried hard, but no one came. We then arranged an additional payment and drove off. Interestingly, we were still below the price of a Bolt taxi (a local Uber), which are very very cheap. But I guess for him it was still better than losing the 3 of us as well.
The decision was not bad at all, I was allowed to sit in the front, it was very comfortable and so I could see really well. The road is super interesting. It is called the Georgian Military Road and is the only good road connection to Russia. This route has been used by traders and soldiers for thousands of years. From around 1900, the road was also used by cars. The road runs through the mountains and is of enormous importance economically and militarily. From Tbilisi, you first drive past a huge number of shopping malls, etc. The road is very busy.
Then you are wished a good journey and it becomes more rural and mountainous.
The first stop was the Ananuri fortress and church. This is situated on a reservoir. The road used to be further down, but with the reservoir it was then put up. Actually, on certain excursions you have to pay attention to whether it is the weekend. There are always a lot of people out and about – and that Saturday was no exception. The fortress was overcrowded with people and we just had a quick look around. I was pleased to see the bride and groom and took a few pictures.
Why the bride and groom wore sunglasses on this very cloudy day is a mystery to me.
Then we came to Gudauri, a town at 2,200 m, known for winter sports and heli-skiing. It seemed almost a bit absurd with large spaced hotel buildings. In 1980, an expert paper was made, which said that it would be good to build a winter sports resort here. And so mainly people from Austria and Sweden invested and built accommodation, ski facilities and other recreational amusement places. There are only 19 kilometres of ski pistes, but the possibilities for heli-skiing are immense, which attracts a good international crowd. In summer, it seems rather dead.
Shortly afterwards we reached our second stop: the Monument to Georgian-Russian Friendship. This was erected in 1983 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Treaty of Georgievsk (East Georgia (Kartlien-Kachetien) came under the sovereignty and protection of the Russian Empire on 24 July 1783) and the diplomatic relations between the two countries (both of which, however, belonged to the Soviet Union at the time). Various themes and scenes of Georgian-Russian history are depicted in a semicircle. From this place you have a very good view of the absolutely spectacular landscape. Despite the clouds, it looked spectacular, but unfortunately I didn’t manage to take any spectacular pictures.
But what I found most interesting was the traffic. Since it is the only road connection with Russia, the road is quite crowded, especially with trucks. About 80% of them have Armenian licence plates, followed by Turkish, Georgian, Belarusian and occasionally something like Kazakhstan. Private cars, on the other hand, have quite a lot of Russian licence plates. I’ll have to ask what they all do here. In my mind there are several possibilities. It started to rain and I was glad to have seen the monument in the dry.
Then I arrived in Kazbegi. It is now called Stepantsminda, or used to be called that after a Saint Stephan. The Soviets named it Kazbegi in 1925 and even though it was renamed back after the Soviet period, it doesn’t penetrate the common vernacular. On the marshrutkas it says “Kazbegi” and the taxi drivers call it that, etc. So I’ll stick with that then.
Kazbegi is at 1,700 m and popular because of the most picturesquely placed church in Georgia, the Gergeti Church. They often place their churches quite nicely, but this one tops everything and is also photographed most often. Visually, it’s the Taj Mahal of Georgia. My first visit was to the hospital there for the 3rd rabies vaccination. It was empty there, but it took me a while to finish because of the bureaucracy. Then it was evening, the rain had made me grumpy and I was homesick for Indian food and paid way too much for it:
These two things actually cost almost 14 Euros! It tasted good, but was far from a culinary revelation. No more Indian food in Georgia!
The next day started better. I had a room with a view of the 5,054 m high Mt Kazbek. And on the left, on the green hill, is the church.
To the church one can hike easily by foot and that’s what I did.
In Soviet times, a cable car was built between the site and the church, but it was dismantled at the end of the 1980s because believers felt it desecrated the place of pilgrimage.
On the other side, halfway around the church, you could climb another hill and get a better view. Tours to Mt. Kazbek also start from here and you can do a day tour to the glacier. I was amazed at what people carry.
The area was super beautiful, the people dispersed (except in the church, there they clustered and I peeked in too, but you weren’t allowed to take photos inside and outside I didn’t feel much like it) and it was a joy to be there.
I noticed that I was not really well physically. Sensitive as before a fever. I don’t know if it was the rabies vaccination or the wound healing. In any case, I was limp and descended a slightly different route. And then the rain came again straight away.
The sun was supposed to shine the next day, Patrick had been here before and told me about the glacier hike – and I thought I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t go for it. And so I got up early the next day….