Autumnal colours and moving experiences
22.09.2012 - 22.09.2012
In the building site next to the hotel, are four cute little puppies. Well, they are cute until they start barking at 04:00. Yawn.
As this is the last two-nighter on our trip, we sent a few items to the laundry in the hotel, and it was all there when we got back last night. Still wet and a different colour from it was at the start of the holiday. Oh well, I didn't like that bra anyway...
The bra was white, now a blue-charcoal-grey
On this location in the early 4th century Saint Nino, a female evangelist, erected a large wooden cross on the site of a pagan temple. The cross was reportedly able to work miracles and therefore drew pilgrims from all over the Caucasus. The current church is said to be constructed between 590 and 605, the name is translated as the Monastery of the Cross.
This is one of the oldest cities of the country of Georgia, and the whole area is under restoration (really?), with lots of souvenir shops, hotels, restaurants and even little golf carts to ferry lazy tourists around. The whole old city has been declared a UNESCO heritage site. This is where Christianity in Georgia takes its origin.
The name means literally, "the Living Pillar Cathedral": in the 1st century AD a Georgian Jew from Mtskheta named Elias was in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified. Elias bought Jesus’ robe from a Roman soldier at Golgotha and brought it back to Georgia. Returning to his native city, he was met by his sister Sidonia who upon touching the robe immediately died from the emotions engendered by the sacred object. The robe could not be removed from her grasp, so she was buried with it. The place where Sidonia is buried with Christ's robe is preserved in the Cathedral.
Later, from her grave grew an enormous cedar tree. Ordering the cedar chopped down to build the church, St. Nino had seven columns made from it for the church’s foundation. The seventh column, however, had magical properties and rose by itself into the air. It returned to earth after St. Nino prayed the whole night. It was further said that from the magical seventh column a sacred liquid flowed that cured people of all diseases. In Georgian sveti means "pillar" and tskhoveli means "life-giving" or "living", hence the name of the cathedral. The current building is from 1010 AD and is a very sacred place to the Georgians. It has a very special feel about it, and even for an agnostic like me, the place blew me away. Most other churches we have visited on this trip I have been ready to leave and move on; but here I could have stayed for hours. It surprised me greatly that I actually found it quite emotional.
Georgian Military Highway
From Mtskhete we took the Georgian Military Highway into the mountains. This is a major route through the Caucasus and it follows the traditional route used by invaders and traders throughout the ages . The road runs for 208 kms from Tbilisi in Georgia to Vladigavgas in North Ossetia – it was begun in 1799 and much improved after Georgia was annexed by the Russian Empire in 1801 when Tsar Alexander I ordered improvement of the surfacing of the road (they had restoration even back then!) to facilitate troop movement and communications. The road is said to be one of the most dangerous highways in the world, and I can see how this reputation has been gained.
On the way we stopped at Jinvali, the youngest reservoir in Georgia. Built in 1971, it provides 13.8 million kilowatts of electricity, mainly to Tbilisi. The waters are also used for drinking, as well as being full of trout.
Ananuri Fort, dating from the 16th - 18th centuries stands in an important and strategic location.
The Church of the Assumption, built in 1689, has richly decorated façades with the fine relief carvings featuring human, animal and floral images, including a carved north entrance. It also contains the remains of beautiful frescoes, although a vast number of them were whitewashed on the orders of the Russian Emperor in 1779.
Gudauri and beyond
The area around Gudauri is a popular ski resort, most famous for heli-skiing. The road from here onwards got worse and worse, with more potholes than road at one stage, and enough hairpins for Lady Gadiva.
The dramatic surroundings are wild and desolate, but beguilingly beautiful. The autumn colours are very much more advanced here than in Armenia, and glowing yellow birches appear to cling to the sheer rock face.
Many tunnels line this section, all built by German Prisoners of War during WWII. Nearly all of them are currently under restoration. Of course.
A huge grotesque Soviet memorial stands on a prominent outcrop to commemorate 200 years since the signing of the treaty between Russia and Georgia in 1783. It seems so terribly out of place surrounded by all this pristine and majestic natural beauty.
Jvari pass marks the highest point on the Highway, at 2395 metres above sea level. Just a small obelisk marks the spot, although the graves of the German POW are nearby.
The Kazbegi region is rich in minerals, and a sulphur spring near the road side has become quite a tourist attraction. Very close by is an iron rich spring, whose water is said to be very good for you. With a taste that disgusting, it would have to be miraculous!
Gergety Trinity Cathedral
Our final destination for today, was the 14th century Gergety Trinity Church, impressively situated against the background of the majestic snow-covered Mount Kazbegi. To reach the mountaintop is a 2-3 hour trek or 30 minutes by Jeep. We chose the latter, as it was raining, cold and getting late. Plus we saw how steep is was.
We are jolly glad we did, as the track (if you can call it that – I have seen smoother dried-up river beds) is extremely steep. The so-called crash barriers amused me – yellow plastic tape with the words POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS written on it. I have absolutely no desire to cross it; although I don't think it would do much good if I was so inclined.
It is also a stunning drive, with a sheer drop one side, overlooking the village; and the whole hillside covered in bright yellow trees. At one stage we were driving through a yellow 'tunnel of trees' with leaving trailing down like snow flakes. Salomeh likened it to the road to heaven, and I hope she's right.
At the top the Gergeti Trinity Cathedral greeted us with driving rain (I can't believe we left Tbilisi in sweltering sunshine this morning, and here I was cold in a fleece and rain coat!) and a sign stating NO PHOTO. Our hearts sank. You mean we'd travelled all this way for two-and-a-half bone-rattling hours for this? Our spirits were lifted when we entered and found a baptism taking place – we felt very honoured to be part of such a special event. An extremely frisky dog had us all giggling like school girls as we left. No female was safe from its advances.
The sun decided to make an appearance when we got back down to the 'lowlands' and the car, making for a beautiful drive back to Gudauri for dinner and overnight in a ski lodge. They cheekily charge (and quite expensive too!), for the wifi, so you are lucky to be reading this!