Vipers, Wolves and sheepdog - more wonderful animal encounters....
Davit Gareja Travel Blog› entry 447 of 658 › view all entries
People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia)
What can i say, I'm a fool. Having been vomited on by a camel, spat at by an orang-utan, chased by Komodo dragons and a bull and hunted by a bear, i swore my days of stupid excitement were over, and that “It just wasn't worth it anymore”. So why the hell are we stuck in the middle of butt fuck nowhere with two sheepdog going crazy at us, steadily edging in with their teeth showing? I'll tell you why once again - because I'm a fool. Anyway, we'll get back to that in a short while.
The day started as most do, a high pitched alarm in the ear that had me fumbling around in bed for my watch, like a 16 year old about to lose his virginity. With the sheets becoming tangled and anything within touching distance getting clattered around, the alarm inevitably switched itself off, just as i found the bloody watch.
By 08.00 we were in the deserted Tbilisi streets and i had to check that my watch was right, as there were so few people out and about. At this time in most countries, the place would be buzzing with dreary eyed folk looking forward to another day in the rat race, but Georgians presumably have a delayed kick off to their day. The metro whisked us across town to Didube bus terminal and soon we were boarding the 08.40 bus to Gardabani.
Davit Gareja is a set of famous cave monasteries, located on the Azerbaijan border in the South of the country, and supposedly makes for an easy day trip from the Capital.
Fingering through the pages i found today was no different, we would need a taxi from Gardabani, although the price was quoted at 60GEL ($37), which sounded a little steep. Checking on the ever reliable LP map, it appeared that the distance was no more than 30kms each way along a decent road, so surely it couldn't cost so much.
When the marshrutka pulled into Gardabani, the driver dropped us off at a lone taxi driver, who immediately pounced on us asking for 70GEL ($43) to make the trip to Davit Gareja. We shrugged him off and asked around for a marshrutka to Udabno, and managed to find where it left from pretty easily. As we walked to the stop, another taxi driver began to pursue us, but we kept insisting that we just weren't interested. As he could see our custom slipping away, he slashed his price to 50GEL ($31), which cleared it in my head that he would only do this if he knew that we had sussed out a cheaper way to reach our destination.
Now we stated clearly that we wanted to go towards Udabno and get off at the turning to Davit Gareja, there was no misunderstanding, so I'm baffled as to where we were dropped off. Our map showed that the road went for about 30kms from Gardabani and then forked left to Udabno and right to Davit Gareja. So why were we been told to get out after no more than 10kms and head left??? I have three suggestions for this, firstly the LP map is a useless sack of crap, secondly the marshrutka driver wanted to screw us, or thirdly both of the above.
Now was the time to make a decision, do we head back to town and just pay for a taxi, or do we walk into the wilderness? Something told me heading back was the only sane option, but i was not paying money to that driver who had been pestering us, as i was pretty sure he was in on getting us dropped where we now found ourselves. In fact, having originally been dropped in town where there was a lone taxi waiting for us, it seemed like the marshrutka and taxi drivers were in on a big rip off scam together. Again, i can't prove this, as i can't track down any reliable map of the area, but unless there are 2 Udabno's in the space of 30kms, something wasn't quite right.
Fifteen minutes passed by when a car full of aging men stopped to ask where we were going. The four of them were out hunting for the day and took pity on us, so agreed to take us towards the monastery of John the Baptist, which was meant to be 3kms from Lavra Monastery, the main one in the Davit Gareja complex, or so they thought. It took 20 minutes along unsealed roads to get within view of our destination and this gave them plenty of time to scare the wits out of me.
Poisonous Vipers are no-ones idea of fun, but luckily it wasn't the main season for them, so although we should watch our step, it was by no means guaranteed that we would get injected with a deadly dose of venom.
Watching the Lada Niva disappear into the distance wasn't the most comforting of sights, but we could see John the Baptists Monastery a couple of kilometres away on a hill, so this offered a little peace of mind.
Seconds later two angry looking dogs came to a halt a couple of metres in front of us, showing their teeth, snarling and barking. They were eying us up, working out what to do, whilst we were praying they would come no further. The white one making most of the noise was clearly up for some bother, whilst the black and white one just behind it seemed to be covering its back.
Shrill whistles suddenly drifted in from the distance and the black and white dog galloped off, but whitey wasn't having any of it. This was his territory and intruders needed to know that! It took several more whistles and calls before he eventually began to back off, albeit rather slowly. Julia and I also edged off at the same time, creating as much of a gap as possible. Once again i was left thanking my lucky stars at been left in one piece and for once Julia had got to sample that terrified adrenalin rush! “Never again, its just not worth it” we both muttered.
By now John The Baptist Monastery was only a few hundred metres away up a hill and we were grateful to enter the safety of its grounds. One apprentice monk pointed us in and said we could take photos, then when he heard where we were from, he asked Julia why Russia had been bombing them. Oh God, from dogs to angry religious characters, which would be worse! Julia calmly answered that it wasn't her doing anything personally, which brought a smile to his face and he waved us onwards. Thank God, quite literally!
The caves that make up the monastery had been hugely damaged over the years, with offenders including the Mongols, Uzbeks, Persians and Soviets, so most of the splendor had somewhat disappeared.
The Father was a nice guy, who instantly began discussing politics with Julia and explaining about the History of the site. After some time he invited us into the Church, which had been chiseled from the rock. Whilst most of the frescoes had been destroyed by invaders, and later a Bolshevik bomb, there were still the legs of the apostles that could be made out, and a very faded drawing of Queen Tamar. Not only did we receive a full guided tour, but the Father then let us look through his 200 year old bible, written in ancient Georgian and then showed us some of the objects that they had discovered around the site.
It was already gone 13.15, so we kindly thanked the Father for showing us around and asked for directions to Lavra Monastery. “About 12kms that way” was the reply.... “how far”... “12kms give or take”. Oh bollocks, so much for the 3kms that the hunters had told us! Father Neofit told us not to worry, as he was sure the good Christians in the area would give us shelter if we were in need, but the problem was that there were barely any people in the entire valley and if we got stuck in the middle of nowhere when it became dark, the Wolves would no doubt have a feast!
However much we insisted that we must be on our way, the Father kept trying to keep us there, i guess it must be a very lonely life out there.
It was nearly 14.00 when a truck driver pulled up carrying what i can only describe as a type of golf buggy. How peculiar, that he chose this of all days to pay the Monastery a visit to drop this off, which would be used to shuttle the Father and his apprentice to Lavra Monastery whenever the need would arise. Sadly there was no petrol in the buggy, so we couldn't get a lift, but the Father said he would ask the truck driver to take us.
It seemed an awfully long 12kms, as it took over 30 minutes, although we were on little more than a dirt track. I had held out some remote hope that Lavra Monastery may have a little more life and even an asphalt road, but this was misguided optimism as there wasn't a soul in sight. If we got stuck here, we were screwed, so the sensible option was to ask the driver if we could pay him to wait, as he was heading back to Tbilisi after here.
An hour wasn't too much time, so we raced into the 6th Century site, passing through an ornate gateway, which was carved with writing and reliefs. I had seen a photo of the site before and can't say it struck me too much, but now i was there in person, it really did impress me. The 17th Century Church of St Nicholas and numerous caves carved into the cliffs were encompassed by an 18th Century wall, with a watchtower dominating the horizon. The caves spread over three levels and now supposedly housed monks, but there was no sign of them and on every level we tried to enter, we were met by a “no entrance” board on a small wooden gate. It was wonderful to look at the place, even without entering the caves, so we settled for this and went in search of Udabno Complex, located over the ridge of the hill that we were now at the bottom of.
Julia and I raced up to the hills summit and followed a rusting rail that took us to a number of caves that faced out over Azerbaijan. We could see an Azeri look out post and were thankful that the countries are at peace, as if we were on the Armenian border looking at Azerbaijan, we would probably have been shot! Whereas Lavra's outer appearance had really stunned me, it was the interior of the Udabno caves that took your breath away.
Wonderful frescoes adorned a selection of the caves, with some in far better condition than others. We spent 20 minutes poking our head into as many as we could, before heading to a small stone chapel on top of the ridge. From here it was a steep descent to the cave of Davit's tears, named because there is a spring inside.
The driver returned us all the way back to the centre of Tbilisi by 17.30 and it felt like the Gods had been smiling on us all day. I wonder if we would have had such luck if we had been visiting a non-religious site!? Nana had a lovely Dinner of Borsch, noodles and sausage waiting for us when we got back to the house and i spent the remainder of the evening updating Travbuddy.