Somehow, we made it in time, but the taxi was not there. Unsure of the reasons, though he said he’s coming, we were offered another taxi by the gentlemen standing across the street near the Working Party headquarters. After some bargaining, we made a deal for 180 GEL, which is 30 GEL higher than our last deal, but the driver has Mercedes, so, maybe, we all can enjoy a long road ahead of us.
The weather finally got back to what it is supposed to be, the skies got cleared and the Sun started scorching. Luckily, after that much of rain, the air feels not as dry as usual.
As we head south towards the Lesser Caucasus mountains on the Azerbaijan border, where David Gareja monastery was founded at 6th century by St. David Garejeli, the driver tells us about WC prices on the road. Locals can use it for 0,5 GEL, but tourists have to pay four times more.
I’ve never been to lesser Caucasus, so I’m actually pretty excited and, also Azerbaijan is one of the countries I really want to visit, so being near it gives me an extra charm for this trip. Hopefully, soon, cheap flights from Northern Europe will open to Baku and I’ll be able to fulfill this dream.
The taxi driver didn’t lie, he increased the price because the road quality was supposed to be very poor and sure it was. The 70 km distance took us more than two hours. As we got closer and closer, the landscape shifted between hills, which look like mini mountains, to round dunes covered by varying flora.
Usually, in the middle of nowhere, you find nothing, but this place is an exception. Being one of the most spectacular places to visit in the region, IT Is in the middle of fcking nowhere.
The first impression: is that it? The whole complex from the outside looked smaller than I thought. While it is still a beautiful place, somehow it felt like it was not worth the long road. One way or another you have to explore what you came for.
To make things worse, the place was under renovation works so part of the monastery was closed for tourists. Nevertheless, it has a lot of layers and is built near a cliff between two rocks with towers on them, with whom they remind of a small castle, still when you enter it and observe the tiny cabins carved out in the stone you understand its main purpose.
When you walk around David Gareja monastery, you cannot help your self, but imagine hermits and monks doing their sacred stuff between these narrow passages. The place is so remote that in the whole panorama surrounding you, you cannot see a single sign of civilization. I can easily imagine how one can focus on their devotion and prayers to God in a place like this. It’s just you and whatever you seek within you.
The monastery is more interesting from the inside than it is from the outside, still, it felt like something is missing. We heard and read many positive feedbacks about the place, it cannot be just it and sure it wasn’t.
Just next to the monastery, there is a small entrance to a hidden path uphill. There must have been one. We could easily see people walking back and forth on the mountain and been wondering how did they get there. The path started not as interesting and was relatively hard to climb, but as we walked up, more and more picturesque landscapes opened. It is hard even to tell how many of same pictures I took from a slightly higher angle, but the crown jewel of it was still hidden on the top of the mountain.
Close to the top, I’ve noticed a post of the border control, three men were staying there observing the land.
When I finally got up on the top of a mountain range, I was stunned by what I saw. I was expecting more mountains, but instead, I saw a desert near a cliff I was standing on. This mountain range, at least, at this point was very narrow. It looked like it has risen just to make a natural border between Georgia and Azerbaijan.
The best part of it was that the Georgian side seemed to be green and the Azerbaijan side looked golden yellow. So much contrast in such a small space really surprised me, but once again it just proves the importance of the mountains to the micro-climate.
As we walked through this golden meadow towards a Chapel, which appears to be a disputed territory between two countries, we made tons of pictures. It is hard to describe how beautiful everything is, but I didn’t want to skip a single meter of this magical place.
There were paths down to Azerbaijan, but after seeing military people leading some tourists back to Georgia, obviously, I decided not even think about it.
The path continued to a picturesque small Chapel with many people around it, just sitting and observing this magnificence.
The road peaked near a monument I’m or just a strange construct, a peak, where the landscape had opened even more in front of us. After enjoying the beauty of it, we went back down to the monastery through another road, where without any warning, a rain struck us.
Without a bigger pause, we set out to the region of Georgian wines – Kakheti. At this part, the Georgian territories become relatively flat and while traveling north, towards Sagarejo town, we could clearly see the Greater Caucasus mountains in front of us.
The skies got clear and again and it became really hot, most of us, after the exciting yet tiresome hike, fell asleep. What we passed during this part of the journey until Sagarejo remains unknown to me…
I woke up once we reached Sagarejo city where we took a turn to the east where small picturesque winery town stands – Sighnaghi. The capital of the region, Telavi, has only 14,000 inhabitants, it seems like in any region where production of goods and agriculture is high, there is no need to settle in one big city. And in this case, in Kakheti lands grows grapes.
Just before Sighnaghi stands a 9th-century women monastery, Bodbe monastery also known as Tsminda Nino monastery is named after 4th century Saint Nino, female evangelist.
Walking around the complex you can easily feel all the love and the hard work put into the garden. There are few simple rules you need to follow, but the entrance is free as anything else sacred in Sakartvelo. Kartvelian people say that every sacred place needs to be open for everyone.
The cathedral of the monastery was closed for reconstruction, but the panorama surrounding it was really breath-taking.
Bodbe monastery is a good example of Georgian devotion to the religion, everything is super tide and clean, the nuns don’t seem to stop working on their gardens.
In Sighnaghi reside only two thousand people, but the town is filled with liveliness because it is a very popular tourist place and probably, for that reason, Sighnaghi is rejuvenated compared to the most places I visited. Not only the locals seem to be not as stressed as an average Georgian, but you can hear music and children laughing across the streets.
Built on a mountain, Sighnaghi provides a wonderful panorama, it is surrounded by the flatlands of Kakheti with Greater Caucasus mountains shadowing the far horizon.
From my own experience, since I already did that two years ago, it is really worth your time to do that. Kartvelian wines are really good and if you are a lover of this drink, it is a must visit place for you. You might not have heard Georgian wines as a top-notch quality, but remember that this country has a still long time to catch up with western marketing and connections.
We started our journey back to Tbilisi quite calmly because everyone was truly tired. But things were soon to change, the driver told us that he knows a good place to buy churchkhela as a souvenir to bring home. We stopped near a small shop in the middle of nowhere, though everything seems to be like this around here.
While we were slowly picking and buying our goods, we were offered to taste some wine with the owner of the shop. Of course, we agreed.
The owner of a shop was a local Georgian language teacher, a really nice woman. Once again we saw a good side of Kartvelian people. We drank a bottle of wine together with some local foods and chacha(local strong liquor). Of course, that made us to buy a bit more than we were planning, but the time spent with smiles is unchangeable. There is a rule here in Sakartvelo: don’t eat everything or you’ll be offered more. It was so hard to leave.
Near a dark road stands a small shop, probably purely on its spirit. Out of all places in the World, here you will find the biggest heart you’ll ever meet.