Georgia - Caucasus in Summer 2015.

#1 Dec 31st, 2015, 00:40
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#1
So Shiver me Timbers' photopost on this forum was when I startedd thinking about going to Georgia. Things worked in favour of the trip, managed a 2 week off in August this year, got a good ticket..and so on.
So here's my blog post with more details and pictures : https://ashwinbahulkar.wordpress.com...s-summer-trip/
It took me a whole school semester to complete writing the page.
And surprisingly little information is available about Georgia, other than the major destinations like Svaneti..still managed to go a little offbeat, but using plenty of expensive private transport.

First of all,why Georgia?
Pretty much everyone asked me this question,even in Georgia ! My answer to this is, the evocative landscapes, the high and mighty Caucasus mountains, the fairly unique Georgian culture and ofcourse a good ticket and great value for money. Georgia certainly met my expectations, infact even exceeded them.

My itinerary:

Tbilisi – Svaneti(Mestia,Ushguli) – Kutaisi- Vardzia and Sapara – Shatili – Kakheti ( Telavi and Signaghi).

Highlights:

Ushguli! Staying overnight was a great experience, especially the walk to Shkhara early in the morning.
Shatili: Simply beautiful, especially the way to Shatili through the high mountain pass.
Vardzia and the area around it, especially the high tableland around Lake Parvani.
Views from the ridge above the Mestia cross.
Motsameta monastery and Satplia caves in heavy rain, mysterious and beautiful.
Alaverdi monastery and Signaghi town in the evening.
The homestays and people.
Baths at Tbilisi and the Sameba cathedral.



#2 Dec 31st, 2015, 00:55
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How did I travel?

Tbilisi to Mestia was by the marshrutka, not too bad, but avoid it and spend some more time in Mestia itself. It seems flight tickets get booked early in the high tourist season,and I wasn;t sure if I could get a train ticket,but these options are worth exploring.

Got a taxi from Kutaisi to Vardzia stopping at Sapara and Khertvisi, and continuing to Tbilisi on the same day. I believe this route is certainly possible by public transport, itís just that I had to do it in a day, given the time I had.

Again got a good 4*4 for Shatili, there is a marshrutka twice a week, but then getting your own car is worth for the photostops you can make.

Kakheti was done in 2 days from Tbilisi, largely by public transport.

Costs:

Pretty cheap, 10-15 Gel was enough for a meal with a salad,a khachapuri and a lemonade. Homestays were generally around 50 Gel for full board, very good value in my opinion. Dorms in Kutaisi or Tbilisi cost 15-25 Gel. Bus to Mestia from Tbilisi was just 30 Gel. The taxi cost me 180$ for the Shatili trip, which was pretty much worth it, and about 220 $ for Kutaisi-Vardzia-Tbilisi.

Tbilisi

Reached Tbilisi on a fairly warm evening, the visa process was quick and you get a complimentary bottle of wine. Now taxi drivers will try to rip you off, even the official ones, but since I knew the price and insisted on it. View from the hostel was pretty good, but you know youíre in a foreign and very unfamiliar land when you have a hard time communicating even with fellow travellers. Dinner was Seidabadi Restaurant in the old town, decent food and prices.

The Old town is certainly a noisy place to stay, with loud music running late in to the night,so consider that while deciding to stay there. Woke upto a beautiful morning, went up the Narikala fortress, explored the churches of the Old Town, walked upto the Sameba cathedral(the roadside stalls had good fruit, the figs were particularly nice), had a good Georgian lunch at Samitkino. Then, hot afternoons are always for a small nap, went through the musuems on the Rustaveli Avenue, which were ok, did a small walk through the Botanical Garden and then got a good bath at a bathhouse(20 Gel for the bath,10 Gel for scrubbing) at Abanotubani, the sulphur smell was annoying at first but then you get used to it and the bath experience was pretty good refreshing, although a little bit tiring(make sure you have a lot of water with you). Bought a lot of churchkhela, which is a georgian snack, walnuts covered with fruit jam or honey and dried.

The "main" church in Tbilisi






Churchkhela, a georgian snack.


Tbilisi bath houses


Buildings from the commie era.


Restored Old Tbilisi

#3 Dec 31st, 2015, 00:59
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Svaneti

Off to Svaneti: 13 hours in a bus,but no regrets at all.

Woke up early and reached the bus station at 5.15 AM, there was a marshrutka waiting with quite a few people already on board. So I though we would leave soon. I was wrong, we left at 8.30 AM. So began the long long journey to Svaneti. But then there were interesting people on board, which made it much more tolerable. One should note that not all seats are the same, some have more leg space than the others, some have windows that open, some windiws donít open, so think about that while choosing a seat.

The lunch stops however were pretty good, with my standard preferred Georgian menu, khachapuri, salad and lemonade. We passed through Zugdidi which looked like a lively tropical town with a lot of melons and bananas on sale. The scenery changes significantly as you leave Zugdidi, you finally enter the mountains. As we approached Svaneti, the blue backwaters of a dam looked pretty awesome. The views of the Mount Ushba were phenomenal. Blueberries on the roadside tasted good. And the water from the springs was refreshing.

Reached Svaneti well in the evening. I think itís a good idea to have accommodation booked, especially in the peak tourist season, since all those who hadnít booked in advance had some trouble finding accommodation. Although I was booked with Ekaís guest house, I was transferred to her neighbors place, I was quite ok with it, since the rooms were good, the lady was supposed to be a good cook(and she was), and their house was located in a nice apple orchard. Dinner was a sumptuous salad,cheese,fried potatoes,a couple of vegetable preparations and bread. And fruits and tea later on. Tired from the journey I went to bed early reading a book, it was so refreshing to have a room to yourself, I almost decided giving up on staying at dorms.

All from Mestia.




#4 Dec 31st, 2015, 01:03
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More Mestia

Mestia and Chaladi Glacier

Woke up to a fresh morning, a lavish breakfast(khachapuri, stewed vegetables, cheese, bread, fruits) and then set off for the Chaladi glacier. I had really had no idea how far it was, almost a one and half hour walk away from Mestia. A part of the journey was fairly scenic, you could see the entire town of Mestia with all itís towers. But then later on the route turning boring and there wasnít any shade. Fortunately I got a lift and I got dropped to the beginning of the hike. The hike was certainly a very pretty one, going through forests and later close to a massive roaring stream. And then the road opens up near the glacier, the landscape suddenly changes to a rocky one, and then you see blocks of ice crash and melt into the stream. Was quite a dramatic place. Got a lift back to Mestia with some interesting people. So, the point is excursions from Mestia do require a taxi, and taxiís not that cheap. So for all those who want to save some bucks, either hitch-hike which is fairly easy in the tourist season, or try sharing a vehicle with people.

Came back to Mestia, had a good lunch at Cafť Leila, Badrijan-nigzit(aubegine cooked with walnut paste) and a variety of hot khachapuri and some tarragon lemonade.

After a nap(it was quite hot outside), headed to the museum on the other side of the river, which for some reason was closed, tried searching for a spring ,but in vain. So I finally headed to the Ethnographic museum. So here you can enter a Svan tower and go right upto the top. You climb up the tower through steep staircases and wow,the view from up the tower is phenomenal. I wish I had got a guest house close to the tower, but the climb up is grueling, most people come with taxis.

Came back to my guest house, was treated again to a dinner of lobio, an aubergine preparation, a soup,salad, cheese, bread and khachapuri, and fruit soaked in water, so that the water completely absorbs the fruit and gets a wonderful taste. So ended another great day.




Chalaadi Glacier




That's where I lived.

#5 Dec 31st, 2015, 01:08
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Ushguli

Ushguli

Now the most awaited destination of the trip was calling. Had a booked a 30 Gel seat in a cab with Cafť Leila. Important tip: donít do just a day trip, most cabs want to begin the return journey before 4 PM,and Ushguli is tremendously beautiful in the late afternoon, and the Shkhara glacier is best visited in the morning.

The journey to Ushguli was fairly uneventful, except some Svan towers on the way. Now the first view of Ushguli was breathtaking! The village, the towers, the peaks behind, instantly transported to another world. ďThis is what Iíve come all the way to GeorgiaĒ was the first thing that came to my mind.

So I checked in into Ushguli guest house, the first guest house in Ushguli youíll come across. Good rooms, excellent food, but then the owner and the family donít speak very little English,so things can become a little difficult. But anyway I was quite used to the scenario, so it didnít bother me. Post a good lunch, the entire afternoon and evening were spent wandering around the village ďtaking it inĒ. The wind, the sun peeping in and out, the farm lands, the grazing cattle, the towers(most importantly) ,the horses, all contribute in creating a evocative atmosphere.

Post sunset it became very chilly, and dinner served was piping hot and delicious. This was easily my best day in the entire trip. Later in the night it rained very heavily, and there was a power outage. But I kind of enjoyed all of that, it all added to the ďfeel of the placeĒ.


A Georgian vegetarian course.


Ushguli!


Svan Towers


Scotland-ish landscape









On the way to the Shkhara Glacier

#6 Dec 31st, 2015, 01:12
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#6

More hiking from Mestia

Hiked upto(almost) Koruldi lakes way above Mestia, views of the Caucasus are absolutely stunning. But non hikers need not worry, jeep roads lead you up there as well(almost).




The Ushba mountain.


Mestia cross




The Caucasus

#7 Dec 31st, 2015, 01:17
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Kutaisi

The journey to Kutaisi was great, the weather had changed drastically, it was raining quite heavily, the clouds were low and the winds were chilly. Reached Kutaisi at about 1 PM(After a 5 hour journey). Got a taxi at the bus station, who would take me to Gelati and Motsameta monasteries and drop me at my hostel, Kutaisi International Hostel for 40 Gel. Again, I believe I could have got a better price.

It was a cold, chilly, rainy afternoon, the rain got worse by the time we reached Gelati. Most of the exterior is under repairs, but the interiors are magnificent. I didnít see anything like this later on in any of the monasteries I saw, the style of paintings you might see in some of the caves in Cappadocia, Turkey, but on a much grand scale.

Motsameta was the star of Kutaisi, located above a cliff, surrounded by forests, it was the ideal location for a monastery. I could have stayed here a lot longer. I think the Gelati Ė Motsameta hike might be a good hike.

Came back to the city, got a bus to take me to Satplia caves(you need to change, ask the tourist information centre for details). Reached the caves, the place was quite beautiful, the rains had created a different atmosphere in the forest. You need to follow a guided tour(there was no English speaking guide), you get to see different evidence of dinosaurs inhabitation in the region, then you go inside the caves, which are pretty beautiful and well-lit. Then you can roam around in the forests using several trails. It was really beautiful, but I wanted to get back to the city so that I could see the Bagrati cathedral as well.

It turns out there was no bus to go back! Fortunately I got a ride back with the owners of the souvenir shop at the park. Walked upto the Gelati cathedral, was very beautiful. The views over the city were good too. The entire neighborhood was pretty interesting, the oldish Georgian houses , bylanes and small churches, I liked it more than old Tbilisi. Dinner was at an Italian restaurant(I wanted a small change from khachapuri-khinkali), it was fair enough, but then I couldíve just had Georgian food.













Cathedrals in Kutaisi. Simply beautiful.
#8 Dec 31st, 2015, 01:22
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Vardzia and surroundings

I had booked a taxi to take me from Kutaisi to Tbilisi via Vardzia. This was going to be a long long drive, literally driving all across the country. But then I would get to see more of the country as well. So we began quite early in the morning, driving all the way through the hills of Borjomi area and the huge plateau land of Akhaltsikhe to reach Sapara monastery. The views of the Rabati fortress and of the entire countryside looked amazing from up the mountains which led to the monastery. The landscape was massively different from all other places in Georgia, definitely looked more like East Turkey. Sapara monastery was certainly interesting. For some reason forests around monasteries have an early autumn(fall) , everything was almost red in august itself.

We proceeded towards Vardzia, the landscape changed from brown to green as we entered the river valley near Vardzia. You are wow-ed by Vardziaís first view, itís a huge cave-monastery complex. I had a quick Ė good lunch at the cafť outside the complex. It was late afternoon and plenty of day trippers were leaving in their buses, I was happy I could get the entire site to myself(relatively). Climbed up to the caves, and wow, the place is brilliant. Iíve been to Cappadocia in the past, but this was something more exciting. The view from the top, the vantage points in the monastery and the general lack of tourists made the place very special(you need to stay well into the evening to enjoy the site). As we were leaving Vardzia, there was a huge downpour that accompanied us till we reached Tbilisi.

The return journey was one of my most memorable experiences. First we passed by the Khertvisi fortress, the rain was so hard I could barely get down for a few moments to click a picture of the fort. Next, we passed through the tableland area Javakheti. Vast open lands, with mountains at the end, huge lakes, pastoral villages, herds and herds of cattle returning back home, simply beautiful. However the rain prevented me from taking good pictures. But the area deserves a re-visit. We returned late in the night, I was staying at Tbilisi BHM hostel, a place right near the Freedom Square, very reasonably priced, the manager was pretty awesome and helpful. Dinner was at one of the cafes closeby, khinkali and khachapuri.


Sapara monastery










Vardzia Caves







Khertvisi Fortress
#9 Dec 31st, 2015, 01:28
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Khevsureti

Now comes the 2nd most awaited destination(After Ushguli). I was picked up by the same taxi, this time we had a good 4*4 to get us through the rough roads. Now Khevsureti is a well isolated region deep inside the Caucasus. Sparsely populated, itís a different world altogether. When I first saw the pictures of the towers of Shatili, I immediately decided, ď yes, this has to be my top priorityĒ. Itís difficult to reach, the roadís bad, itís barely a jeep track, itís accessible only during the summer and thereís a bus just once a week.

So we began our journey, a long one. The first stop was at the farm of my driverís friend. Next were several photo stops all the way. It was raining hard again, the clouds were again low and it was beautiful.

A winding road took us up a mountain pass, the views we got after were among the most beautiful Iíve ever seen. It was green, green, virgin and wild. Pretty much out of the fantasy fictions. We reached Shatili after a good 5 hour drive. My agent had booked a room in a guesthouse, Nana Gogochuri, which was right infront of the iconic towers of Shatili.

The towers were amazing, and gloomy dark weather increased the mysteriousness associated with the place. Had a good lunch at the guesthouse and set off to explore the village. Explore the ruinous tower complex, was pretty amazing. Had small talks with some locals who could speak English. Walked along the river, was so peaceful and beautiful. Relaxed a bit, had dinner, went to sleep reading a book.


On the way to Khevsureti








Towers of Shatili





#10 Dec 31st, 2015, 01:33
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More Khevsureti

Khevsureti and back to Tbilisi via Ananuri Fortress

Woke upto a fresh morning, the gloomy dark skies were replaced by bright blue skies. Shatili looked great under the sun, but nothing can beat the gray, cloudy, rainy feel. Had a hearty breakfast, went into the tower complex again. Went for a long walk on the road towards Mutso with another tourist, the road was very beautiful, you can see the road to the Chechen border(thereís a ďno entryĒ sign from where the border is just a few miles away). Mutsoís not too far away, but I really wasnít in the mood for a drive, there was a long 5 hour journey to Tbilisi waiting.

Came back at almost mid-day. The return journey was certainly exciting. The mountain passes and the river valley looked really beautiful under the sun, very different from the previous day. After quite sometime the metaled road replaced the jeep road, such a big relief! Visited the Ananuri Fortress on the way, which is a massive monastery Ė fortress overlooking the backwaters of a dam. Very picturesque and very Caucasus-y in nature. Late evening is a great time for photography. Next was the Jvari monastery. Located up a hill, with great views of the Mtshekta town, this place is great. But then the sun was shining with all itís might, so it wasnít the best experience(plus no photo-ops). But this would be a great place early in the morning or late in the evening. Came back to Tbilisi in the evening.






Close to the Chechen border.








This is like the Lord of the Rings landscape.


Ananuri Fortress

#11 Dec 31st, 2015, 01:37
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#11

A little of Kakheti

Did a small trip to the more gentle wine growing ,agricultural parts of the country, very interesting indeed.


Alaveradi monastery


A typical marketplace.



The town of Signaghi







#12 Dec 31st, 2015, 02:49
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#12
Inspiring! Thanks for posting that.
#13 Dec 31st, 2015, 12:42
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Very interesting report and beautiful photography. Thank you so much for sharing this journey with us !
#14 Dec 31st, 2015, 13:43
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Thumbs up Vah re Vah

Wonderful. I have missed so many of the Georgian places that you have touched upon. Lovely country indeed, the countryside and villages are still unspoilt.
#15 Jan 1st, 2016, 11:03
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Thanks! There are soo many unspoilt areas in the country, even the touristy ones are pretty good.

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