The Caucasus has always been an inspiration for the most important Russian poets and writers, but at the same time quite unknown to the rest of the world. Maybe this is the reason for which it preserved its mysterious charm as if it were a treasure chest full of secrets, a chest decorated with the gold of the sun and the emerald of the mountain-surrounded valleys, the dark blue of the sea and the light blue of the sky.
I would like to describe our first visit to this region, to Georgia in particular, dedicating special attention to each of its parts separately. That is why I will start from the one that I consider the most special experience for myself – the trip to Kazbek.
The day starts in Tbilisi, the capital. Our group is accompanied by a local guide.
Kazbek is quite distant from Tbilisi if you take into consideration the fact that there are no highways on the biggest part of the Georgian territory. Thus, it might take more or less four hours of a car ride to reach the mountain on the boarder with Russia. But every hour of this trip will be special and precious for those who choose to admire the unique landscapes of the country.
The first stop on our way is on the dam of the river Aragvi and a marvellous fortified monastry overlooking the mirror of the dam’s artificial lake. This is the first treat from the reach Georgian table. The lake gets lost between the hills surrounding it, it hides itself behind their curves and reflects playfully the depth of the sky in its clear waters. The view leaves us breathless: the fortress that protects the church, the church that protects the fortress. The union is very rappresentative of Georgia and the coming trip promises to be full of discoveries.
We proceed into the wild of the Causasus along the serpentine of the road that becomes ever so narrow gradually as the hills grow up into the mountains. The Aragvi runs along the road, the river of an unpredictable temperament as the country and its people themselves: so placid in the valleys and so angry when it has to fall down from the rocks. Its waters run from the snow peaks carrying its cold touch to the sea in the south, the Black Sea. These waters are also the carriers of antique legends and songs, dances full of energy and mysterious looks of dark Georgian eyes. You can’t help admiring this river running forward, determinate and brave.
The road keeps on climbing allowing us to admire the view of the Caucasus. Horses, donkeys and cows are enjoying the green of the grass in the total liberty without any shepherd’s supervision. From time to time some of them block the road but our driver is neither surprised nor annoyed showing notorious respect to the wild course of the nature and proceeding his trip as calm as ever.
Thus, there are many animals along the road, very few villages and houses and even less people. The only activity to be noted is that of small markets as the one we come across at the next stop by a spring of natural gas water that is born in the rock right at the side of the road. The elderly ladies at their stands sell churchkhela – a string of nuts dipped into the red wine syrup and dried up. A gulp of sulfur flavoured water, warm gratitude towards the local producers – and our trip continues.
The last stop before we reach Kazbek is at Gudauri, the famous skiing resort that opens its doors with the first winter snow. Starting from here the mountains around become higher and it is possible to see Kazbek’s snow peak. One more hour and we reach Stepantsminda, the mountain satellite city.
And finally here it is – Kazbek itself – huge, imposing, majestic. It reaches the sky and gets lost there as if trying to hide behind the clouds. When you decide to go to Kazbek you have to be prepared to deal with the disappointment of not seeing its top. Being more than five thousand meters high it undergoes the natural effect of cloud development around its highest point during the day. And even if a day is nice, the peak can be seen only either early in the morning or late in the afternoon before sunset. The mountain is like a young bride with her face under the veil of timidity. It is a mirage that escapes the sight and demands patience from who wants to admire its beauty.
We did not climb Kazbek itself: it does not invite unprepared amateurs like us. But we climbed the nearby hill that carries in its open palm a humble gift to present to the great mountain – the church and the monastry of Tsminda Sameba, the Gergeti Trinity Church.
It is a masterpiece of the Georgian religious architecture with its essential decorations and an arrow-like dome pointing at the sun. It is a lonely diamond in the frame of the wild nature, a symbol of the wisdom to admire the world in silence.
We leave our minibus in Stepantsminda and let one of the off-road cars to take us up to the monastery. It is a kind of experience for those who like or are not afraid of extreme adventures. On the way we start chatting with the driver who shares with us some particulars on the local life. Among other things, I ask a typically “western” question. “Is there at least a cinema around here?” The answer is negative. “So how do you relax and have fun in your free time?”, I continue. He says simply: “Why watch the TV when you have Kazbek in front of you to look at.”
We will certainly have something to reflect upon on our way back: the beauty of the nature so virgin, so untouched, the sincerity of these simple people, their antique traditions handed over from one generation to the other, the delicious smoking river trout cooked on the grill, the only fish dish we had tried during the whole length of our stay in Georgia. And Kazbek, of course, the mountain that remembers the merchants of the Silk Road.
I would like to express my special gratitiude to our friends Zhanna and Lasha for their splendid hospitality and to my husband for the amazing pictures from this trip.