Georgia

Weekly Photo Challenge : Heritage

Georgia, my adopted country, has a rich religious heritage. Georgia was the second country to adopt Christianity as the official religion, after Armenia. Religion is important for the majority of the population, despite Stalin and the communists attempts to eradicate religious practices in the Soviet years.

An Excursion to Dashbashi Canyon

route to Dashbashi

We assemble at 8am by Marjanshvili Metro, a group of 29 of us with Hiking Club Adrenalin, too big for one minibus, so we will ride out in an additional vehicle, a seven seater Honda Stream. On the map Dashbashi Canyon doesn’t look too far but the roads are twisty and uneven.

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Banners unfurled

It will be a long day. First stop along the route is Manglisi Sioni, an important Georgian architectural monument and one of the oldest Christian centres in Georgia. The first church was built in the 4th Century, today’s cathedral dates back to the seventh century, renovated in 1002.

Arriving around 11am, there was a church service being celebrated but in Georgian churches it is not unusual for people to amble in and out of the church during a service.

Next stop on the journey was Lake Tsalka.

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Lake Tsalka

Near Tsalka lake we visited “Fathers Region a Monastery of Three Priests” with its trout and holy water.

A second lake, Paravani Lake is located 2,073 m (6,801 ft) above sea level and has a surface area of 37.5 km2.

Near to the lake was the Convent of St Nino in Phoka village with a small shop selling artisanal cheese, jam and liquor.

Finally at 6pm we reached our main destination, Dashbashi Canyon. A canyon carved in the volcanic rock by the river Ktsia.

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Dashbashi Canyon

We descended to the river where we gaped at the waterfall and had some fun splashing about in the river.

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waterfall

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No Georgian excursion is complete without a supra (Georgian feast). Having climbed out of the canyon, we gathered around a fire, where Georgian Mtsvadi (Sashlik) was grilled and consumed.

We got home at 1.45 am!

Bakuriani 2017

This might become an annual trip, last year we visited Bakuriani (A Trip to Bakuriani ) and this year too.

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Bakuriani 2017akuriani

Bakuriani is one of three Georgian ski resorts (the others are Gudauri and Mestia). We left Tbilisi on Friday morning  with some of Khato’s colleagues and 3 children, in a Mitsubishi Delica dependably driven by Dato.  I don’t ski, but I can still enjoy the snowy landscape of Bakuriani.

We took Ana, our granddaughter; Bakuriani has a park with numerous activities, Ana liked being flung into the air on an aero-bungy maxi trampoline thingy…

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Ana in the air

Bakuriani has three ski lifts, last year we went up to the first level, this year we went to the top for the inevitable photo opportunity.

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Group photo

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at the top

Back in Bakuriani, Ana had a lot of fun descending a small slope on a snow sled.

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We had fun walking in the snow, breathing the fresh mountain air and taking lots of wintry photos.

On the return to Tbilisi on Sunday, we made a detour to visit Zedazeni Monastery, located on the Zedazeni mountain in the hills of Saguramo overlooking Tbilisi. The monastery dates back to the 6th century.

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Zedazeni Monastery

It was a pleasant break, a chance to see some snowy vistas and have some rest, away from the daily hustle and bustle.

Sunday in the Village

“Sopelshi” (in the village) is a word I hear a lot. Many of the residents of Tbilisi have a village in the country, where they rest and have their roots. My wife’s mother came from a small village near Gori and some of her relatives are still there. In early autumn there is an abundance of fruit: tomatoes, apples, plums, pumpkins, grapes etc… ready for picking. We are driven out of Tbilisi by Khato’s brother for a day in the  village.

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Aunt Gulo’s yard, a hen wandering about

In the village even lunch is a feast.

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lunch

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Married to Khato, I am now part of a big Georgian family

Georgian tomato fields; the tomatoes might not look as attractive as the intensively farmed Turkish tomatoes in the supermarkets, but the taste is far superior.

In the evening we have a supra with barbecue. Eating a lot of local produce, washed down with homemade wine from local grapes and the inevitable Georgian toasts to everyone and everything.

After the supra we head back to Tbilisi, just over an hour away.

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sunset in the village

 

A trip to Racha: Day 2

This post follows on from A trip to Racha: Day 1

Because some of our group were enjoying the previous night’s supra (Georgian feast) until 3am, Sunday didn’t get off to an early start. After we’d breakfasted and got everything ready,  we finally left the guest house at 1pm. The weather on the Saturday had been hot and dry, on the Sunday it was cooler and  more overcast with some rain.

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Khvanchkara, a rich red wine said to be Stalin’s favourite

Stalin’s first wife, Ekaterina Svanidze, was born in Racha, tragically she died of typhus at the age of just 22. Stalin reputedly said ‘This creature softened my heart of stone. She’s died and with her have died my last warm feelings for humanity.’  Stalin allowed her funeral to take place in an Orthodox church despite his atheism.

Our first visit would be to another church, the chapel of the Virgin at Barakoni in the village of Tsesi built in 1753.

The grass around the church is still cut with a scythe.

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gardener

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Barakoni Chapel (Interior)

The church was closed and desecrated under the Bolshevik rule. It suffered further damage, though not serious, in the 1991 Racha earthquake, but was quickly repaired.

After Barakoni we took a long unpaved muddy track up into the Khikhata range to the church of St George in the mountain village of Mravaldzali. The views over to the peaks of Svaneti were awesome. We passed another vehicle, whose driver suggested we had just another 2km to travel, half an hour later we finally reached Mravaldzali church. Nika’s driving was exemplary.

The interior of the church felt holy. A sanctuary from the outside world.

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Khato prays at an icon in Mravaldzali Church.

We didn’t stay long at the church and returned along the muddy track admiring the view until we came out by the River Rioni.

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River Rioni

Then, as is the Georgian custom another supra, I sat out most of this feast, my stomach is not Georgian.

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Supra by the roadside sheltered from the rain.

We finally got on the road home at 9pm, arriving in Tbilisi around 1 am.

 

A trip to Racha: Day 1

Tbilisi is stiflingly hot in July, it seemed like a good time to head to the cooler mountainous regions of Georgia. This trip was taken over two days with “აბოდიალებულები” (which roughly translates as “the wanderers”) in a Mercedes Sprinter driven by Nika. We met at Marjanshvili for an early 7.10pm start (true to form this was later than the scheduled 6.30pm).

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Welcome to Racha!

Racha is a highland area in Western Georgia. Our first stop was by the scenic Shaori Reservoir. It would be even more scenic if previous visitors hadn’t left their litter.

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Ana and Khato by the Shaori Reservoir.

After a short pause by the water, it was back in the minibus to visit Nikortsminda Cathedral, originally built in the reign of Bagrat III in the 11th Century,  the inner walls are painted with frescoes dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries.

 

 


Continuing the religious theme we went on to visit the ruins of the monastery complex at  Chelishi, which involved a short walk along a very muddy path.


After the monastery we ventured to the source of the Sharaula River. This path involved negotiating some piping; Khato had no problems with this, I managed okay (although I was fearful my legs might start shaking, like on my third failed driving test)  but some of our party needed a helping hand.

The source of the river proved a photo opportunity for some of the group to pose with the “Adrenalin Hiking Club” banner. You can check out their Facebook page here : Adrenalin Hiking Club Facebook Page

After the source of the Sharaula, it was time to find an ice cave, which was cool in both sense of the word.

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Ice Cave

We finished the day with a dip in the reservoir for the brave.

Khato takes a dip in the reservoir

Khato in the Shaori Reservoir (photo by Ana Xurcidze)

Then made our way to a guest house in Ambrolauri for the obligatory Georgian supra (feast).

 

I left the supra at 11pm, but many of the Georgians more conditioned to such feasting, continued toasting each other, eating and drinking until 3am.

Continued: A trip to Racha: Day 2

A Trip to Bakuriani

P1390588Located at 1700metres above sea level in the Caucasus Mountains, Bakuriani is one of three ski resorts in Georgia (the others being Gudauri and Mestia). I don’t ski but went with Khato and her colleagues to see some snow and breathe the pine fresh air.

 

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our group

Nine of us went from Tbilisi, including the driver Dato. We went in a Mitsubishi Delica, ideal transport for nine in areas where 4 x 4 is a boon. We arrived on Friday evening and in Georgian style we began our stay with a supra (Georgian feast).

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Friday Night Supra

On Saturday morning we went to the slopes in town, where Ana had fun sledding.

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Ana sledding

Tamuna had a go at skiing.

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Tamuna on skis

Khato drove a snowmobile, an experience  she described as “magaria” (Great). After a circuit with her instructor, she took me around riding pillion.

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Khato drives a snowmobile

In the afternoon we ventured higher, where it was Ana’s turn to ride a snowmobile.

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Ana rides a snowmobile

The snow was deep, it was a pity we didn’t have rackets on our boots.

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Trudging through deep snow

We took a cable car up to yet higher slopes, where there was a cafe and a great view.

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mountain view

We could also watch the experts descending the slopes speedily on their skis.

 

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ski slopes

The day finished with the inevitable supra. The following day it was snowing.

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Our group in the snow

Ana was ready for some more experiences and had a ride in a snow buggy driven by Tamuna and then a ride on horseback.

Then it was time to venture downhill to the monastery at Timotesubani.

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Khato in front of Timotesubani Church

Timotesubani Church was constructed during the “Golden Age” of medieval Georgia under Queen Tamar (1184-1213). Unfortunately the church was closed.

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Ana, Oxana, Tamuna and Khato at the bells of Timotesubani Church

From Timotesubani it is a short trip to Borjomi, where we tried the famous waters. The Borjomi springs were discovered by the Imperial Russian military in the 1820s. They were made famous throughout the Russian Empire, making Borjomi a popular tourist destination. The history of the brand is closely associated with the Russian imperial dynasty of Romanov. By the 1890s, Borjomi was bottled in the Georgian estates of Grand Duke Mikhail of Russia. After the Russian Revolution of 1917 and subsequent Soviet takeover of Georgia, the Borjomi enterprise was nationalized and the water was made into a top Soviet export. It was Stalin’s favourite mineral water.

 

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Drinking “Vahkhtanguri” Style

 

Before heading back to Tbilisi we found a restaurant for an over-long supra, where we met some Filipino tourists. They had seen snow for the first time in their lives earlier that day and were excited like small children seeing snow for the first time.