Day 10: Kazbegi written in Georgian (Kazbegi)

Continue reading: →Day 11: Akhaltsikhe

Light and shade in the Caucasus near Kazbegi
Light and shade in the Caucasus near Kazbegi
Today we want to go to Kazbegi, a small village right in the middle of the Caucasus Range, north of Tbilisi. Kazbegi itself is only a couple of kilometers away from the border to Russia - and, by the way, quite close to Chechnya. Personally, I'm a big fan of mountainous areas, so this tour to Kazbegi is going to be my personal highlight. There are only a few people that have never heard the name "Caucasus". Still, people know much less about the Caucasus than about the Alps or the Rocky Mountains. The Caucasus is just one mountain range among many others, but culturally it's much more important. This mountain range marks the border between Europe and Asia. It's a salad bowl with numerous nations and countless languages. Eversince, the entire area is a battlefield, with the most recent wars being fought in Abkhazia and Chechnya. Georgian legend says, that God had shared out the beauty all over the place when he created Earth. The last part to be created was the Caucasus, and he had lots of beauty left, and so he poured out all the beauty remaining over the small Caucasus area.

I'm very interested in how natural the Caucasus area still is. As with the Alps, there are towns and villages in every valley; everything is cultivated and somehow developed. The mountains themselves do not change, but everything below the summits has been changed. Tourism, everywhere. But what about this rather remote moutain range?

After telling Nasi, that we are planning to go to Kazbegi, she told us that she knows a place to stay there, and provided us with an address and a short description of how to get there. When I asked about the price, she just said "not much". And she gave us a letter for that family in Kazbegi. First we say goodbye to Nasi - thanks to her, we've had a great time in Tbilisi and learnt a lot about the country and the people. We take the subway to the fourth stop, Didube, the biggest bus terminal in the capital. Even inside the subway, children are running around selling things like biros and matches to earn a few tetri. Shortly before Didube, the subway leaves the underground. The bus terminal itself is attached to a large open-air market and offers pure chaos. It's a tangle of microbuses, buses, kiosks and countless people.

Every sign is written in Georgian only, except for the microbuses heading to Russia, and so it takes a while until we find our marshrutka. It's already 10 in the morning, and there are many empty seats left in the marshrutka. And so we have to wait for over an hour until the marshrutka is full and the driver starts the engine.

Kazbegi in the heart of the Caucasus
Kazbegi/Gergeti from high above
Finally we leave the chaotic bus terminal and Tbilisi itself to the north. The road runs along a river, and after a while we drive along a large, turqoise lake - the water reservoir for central Georgia. Behind the lake, we're steadily gaining altitude. We cannot see any really high mountains, but the mountains around and the valley itself are getting more and more alpine. The road is partially under construction or simply not existant, and so it's quite a rough ride. The path runs along a clear white water river. After a few kilometers, we leave the river and follow a serpentine. Halfway, clear water gushes out of the rocks. A favourite place with passers-by to refill their bottles. Locals know about this, and so some of them sell food and drinks as well as the typical, furred top hats and other traditional clothes. We soon find out that the area is indeed very natural and untouched. Lush grass covers the steep slopes, with deep grooves washed out by water breaking the green and large alluvial fans. Some of the few villages are definitely threatened by landslides, but there are no preventive measures.

We continue along the so-called Georgian Military Highway, a historical road crossing the mountain range from Russia to Georgia. We are still getting higher. We cross the small village Gudauri, with the construction site of a new heliski tourist centre. To jump out a helicopter and ski in remote alpine areas was once popular in the Alps, but now it's forbidden. And so, the scene is moving to the Caucasus to spoil another wildlife area. Great! First the Alps, now the Caucasus. I'm sure the Austrian entrepreneur doesn't care a lot about that, but I hope the heliski centre won't prosper.

After passing the village, we come along a big, round panorama with a large picture and a stunning view. Nearby is the Jvari pass, with 2,395 metres above sea level the highest point of the Military Highway. The clouds are deep and it's getting chilly. From there, the street runs downhill, partially protected from avalanches through galleries. But the galleries are quite old and crumbling - the question is which is more dangerous: the avalanches or the galleries.

Self-made map of Kazbegi & Gergeti
Map of Kazbegi & Gergeti
The road leads to the ground of a 2 to 3 km wide U-shaped valley, flanked by huge mountains. Here and there we can see a few clouds, but huge Mt Kazbek remains hidden. The air is quite cool and very clear. Around 2 pm we arrived in Kazbegi. The small town itself straddles a small river and is surrounded by massive walls of rock.

We leave the bus, cross the bridge and enter the village of Gergeti, to find the address Nasi has given to us. The village itself is quite small, and so it doesn't take long. Vano lives with his family in a normal two storey detached house. Vano comes out and welcomes us. He speaks excellent English - thinking about the hole trip so far, he's the first we've met that speaks very good English. A few minutes later we meet his mother and his sister (?), both of them are very nice people as well. Somehow they give us the feeling as if we would be old friends of the family, who have just returned from a long journey. We are not alone - there are other travelers from Japan and New Zealand, and the room we are going to sleep in is full of backpacks.

Almost everyone has a sleeping bag. We seem to be the only one without. Years ago, I always travelled with a sleeping bag, but this time we are only on a short visit in the mountains, so we do not really need one. Vano shows us around. There's a large but cosy room in the first floor, including a picture of Stalin, with an attached kitchen. It's a little bit like in a youth hostel. The mother serves a rich soup and some bread. First, she passed the plate to me. I pass the plate on to my mate, but suddenly the mother is very upset. She takes the plate out of my mates hand and gives it back to me. And explains, that in Georgia it's always the man who is served first.

It's already quite late in the afternoon when we go out to walk to Sameba church, towering more than 400 metres above the valley. It's possible to enter the church, but therefore one needs the key. We've heard about the man who owns the key. His name is Genri Tchiklauri, and he lives in the upper part of Gergeti village. After a while we find his home, but according to his neighbour he's somewhere in the lower part and won't be back during the next hours. Which means that we would have to leave without the key. But actually we are here because of the landscape.

The small road leads through small fields and zigzaggs through a small forest. We take the shortcut, a small path through the thicket. The hill is very steep, but it's worth the effort. Suddenly we stand on a beautiful meadow. From here, we should have an excellent view on Mt Kazbek. Should. We can see all the mountains around us, exept for the Kazbek. Only a few white clouds in the valley disturb the view. But in the direction the Kazbek should be, a very dark cloudbank, pregnant with rain, is standing like a wall.

Kazbegi in the Caucasus: Tsminda Sameba
Sameba Church: A place
which also inspired Pushkin
We can already see the church. Actually it's a small church with a separate bell tower, surrounded by a rather small wall. The stones of the church are of different colours, some of them feature weird symbols and pictures of creatures (see picture...if anyone knows what these symbols mean, please let me know via e-mail !!!). The church itself is fascinating, but even more fascinating is the setting. In the north, the end of the Caucasus can be seen - it's only a few kilometres to infamous places such as Chechnya, Ingushetia etc. As a matter of fact, the Caucasus range is very long, but the distance between the northern edge and southern edge is not very big. It looks like rain (although the cloudbank doesn't move at all), and so we slowly walk back to the village. This time we take another steep path and, accidentally, cross the cemetary. There, we also pass some locals, which is quite awkward - the cemetary is not a place we, as the intruders, are supposed to be.

The village itself is very old, and with its winding alleyways it looks quite medieval. Many houses are dirty and cockeyed, the 20th century (not to speak about the 21st) is completely absent. Animals are everywhere, and so are playing children. It's a beautiful place, but obviously life's hard for the villagers. Strange enough, funny looking tourists from all over the world burst into the scenery. Many villagers look at us quite grimly, but when I nod at them and mutter something like "hello", everyone smiles back. A good feeling.

We slowly walk back to Vano's house, where I want to make a coffee. But it's 6 pm in the evening, and at this time there's no electricity. At more or less fixed times, electricity is provided a few hours only. We ask whether there's a place to eat in the village, and find out that Kazbegi's gastronomy scene consists of two restaurant. We opt for one of them. The place looks like the canteen of a kindergarten. An old couple works there, and they turn out to be very funny people. We order some bread and salad, some grilled meat and cheese. After the supper, we walk back to Vano's, just to see that the family is dining with all the other travelers. We had no clue that dinner would be served as well, but our dinner wasn't expensive at all and quite tasty, so there was no reason to regret something.

At night we all sit together in the large room in the first floor. Vano is among us, and his sister (?), too. She's as congenial as Vano. Altogether I count eight other travelers - from England, Japan and a group from the Czech Republic. We talk a lot while drinking the famous Georgian white wine. I end up talking with Vano about languages for hours. He's a genius. He can speak and write at least Georgian, Old Georgian, Russian, Armenian, Arabian, Farsi, English and also Hindi. At the moment, he's about to learn some Japanese. It's already late at night when we return to our room. The Czechs are still playing cards, and since we don't have a sleeping bag, we have to occupy the only two beds in the large room.

Continue reading: →Day 11: Akhaltsikhe



  • Marshrutkas from Tbilisi start from Didube bus terminal. Next to the terminal is a subway station. The marshrutkas costs around 8 Lari (€ 4) per person, the trip takes around three hours. Since Kazbegi and Gergeti are quite small, there's no public transport inside or between the two villages. Everything is within walking distance.
  • The Russian border is around 5 km away from Kazbegi. Some buses and marshrutkas run to Vladikavkaz (formerly known as Ordchonikidze) in North Ossetia. However, foreigners are not allowed to cross this border. This might change, so it's a good idea to check the situation beforehand.



  • It's not the one and only accommodation in Kazbegi, but definitely the best: Davithet Vano Sujashvili, his phone number is 00995-345-524 18, location see map above, offers private accommodation. It's less than ten minutes away from the bus stop. There are a few beds, but most people carry a sleeping bag. A night in a bad costs 10 Lari only - meals inclusive! Sporadically there's electricity, but no hot water. But who cares - meeting Vano and his family is simply invaluable. Vano is also very helpful when it's about planning hiking or climbing tours.
  • Update on Vano's guesthouse (2009)
  • Now, they have laundry, hot and cold shower, internet and satellite TV etc. Here's how you can reach Vano these days: Davithet Vano Sujashvili, Kazbegi-Gergeti, mobile phone:+99599420414, email: davithet [ at ] gmail [ dot ] com. Use the first part of the email address to find him on Skype.




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