Religious Survivor - Hiking on the Georgia / Azerbaijan Border

Davit Gareji Travel Blog

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Road in the Kakheti Region

Rob was up and ready before the alarm went off.  He went out and found yogurt and cereal for my breakfast.  While I got ready he went to breakfast downstairs.  He had a political conversation with Jerry and Olga, the collage professors form the night before.  They were joined by Judith a broadcast journalist from Arlington, Virginia.  When he finally tore himself away to get me the “guide” was already 15 minutes late, but had called to say he was stuck in traffic.  While we waited I was given a pastry that was the consistency of sand stone and an egg that was so salty a cow could have used it for a salt lick.  The glass of orange juice was so watered down it was barely orange colored.  It is sad that you can’t get a decent glass of orange juice in a country whose main export is citrus fruit.

Looking down into the tower of the Church of St Nicholas
  The bright spot was talking with Judith about travel.

 

Our “guide”, Beka arrived and we headed out to Davit (David) Garedji.  It is a holy site that is very sacred to Georgians.  It is on the boarder of Azerbaijan.  The drive would take about 2.5 hours.  There is no public transport to the site so from Tbilisi you normally take a marshrutka to a small town and then hire a taxi to take you out and wait.  We were not so excited about that so we hired Beka.  He was recommended by the girl at the hotel.  He had worked there a few months ago, but stopped to play basketball on the Tbilisi Pro team and go to university.

The place of martyrdom of Garejeli fathers (the church of St. martyrs
  He is a nice 22 year old guy with decent English skills. 

 

 It is a good thing we hired Beka.  The place is in the middle of NO WHERE!! We made it out of Tibilisi and discovered that driving here is a defensive game of chicken.  We started winding our way through the kakheti (wine region).  The roads went from paved to barely paved to gravel to dirt and back again.  The pot holes were AWFUL!!!  SOmeof them could have been recreational swimming pools.  The roads here rival Albania for the worst roads in Europe.  To deal with this Beka rode in the middle of the road swerving occasionally and slamming on the breaks to creep across gullies.

I'm looking out at Georgia's neighbor.....Azerbaijan, only 10 meters away.
  There were points when we were heading directly at another car and both moved at the last minute to avoid the craters.

 

Along the way were the most breath taking views of the countryside. There is green a far as the eye can see, a consistent green. I felt as like I was a  child being shown the color green for the first time..  There is a gently undulating landscape that creeps up to the lower mountains with the majestic, snow capped Caucasian mountain ranges behind them.  In fields we saw animals grazing.  The further into the rural area the more we saw.  At first it was mostly cows with an occasional donkey or horse.  A couple of herds of goats and sheep began to appear accompanied by their shepherds and their dogs.  Some of the shepherds were on horseback like cowboys.

Fresco in cave
  At points the herds were in the middle of the road and we had to drive through them.  The car was literally in a sea of animals.  A couple of the dogs were very serious about their jobs and came of after car.  One was as larger a s a sheep and a breed specific to Georgia.  Beka told us they are very aggressive and dangerous.  He also told us the shepherds moved with their animals and would sleep out overnight with them, being out for days at a time.  They have to protect them from wild animals and other threats.  This is the life of open range grazing.

 

In the north they have large bears and wolves in the wild.  Apparently they have a problem with the wolves.

Dark fresco in The Church of Annunciation
  They also have long eared rabbits.

 

The geography gradually became more barren and the trees got smaller and then disappeared along with the green of the fields.  We had transitioned to a more dessert like typography.  As we approached the Davit Garedja site we were able to overlook the valley we have come from.  They land had dramatic canyons with stripes of red and gray rock running along and jutting. It was a spectacular and such a contrast.

 

Once at the site Rob put his pants on over his shorts so he could go into the church.  Beka asked if he had other shoes to wear that were closed. Rob said he didn’t and Beka said he would go in from and watch for snakes.

Azerbaijan - A river runs through it
  Rob absolutely hates snakes so this didn’t make him happy, but we had come a long way.

 

We were out of the car and started up the hill to see what this place was all about.  We got to the top of a hill and looking down saw the monastery and church that make up the Davit Garedja complex.  It was nestled in at the base of the mountain.  Beka explained that we had to go up to the top and around to get to the caves and then back into the complex.  No problem, so we thought. 

 

Beka was up the hill like a mountain goat at a brisk trot.  Just to be a 22 year old basketball player again, the energy and stamina.

Rob with Azerbaijan in the background
  We had to remind him we are old enough to be his father and although we try to stay in shape this is not our normal routine and the altitude was higher than normal. There was some serious incline going on!  We continued on up the and views just kept getting better. After what seemed like a test of shear will, we reached the top. Wow, we could see the great canyons and beyond to even a bit a the green from where we had come. This was only the beginning.

 

We walked across the peak to the south eastern facing view. There is a steep drop several thousand feet to red and brown desert like terrain for quite a distance. This view is Azerbaijan. From where we stood Azerbaijan was 30 meters east. There were two problems to achieving setting foot on Azeri soil the several thousand feet down and the military base that was just within the Azerbaijan border was surely watching us.

A little green in the desert plains of Azerbaijan
There would not take kindly to our tourist desires.

 

We climbed along the rock face literally clinging to rock and praying at points that my shoe wouldn’t slip. We climbed up and down along the Azeri facing cliffs to the many caves created for the monks to live in. There worn frescoes 1600 years old that still make their impact on the devoted that come here in this modern time. Beka, several times, took a moment to pay his religious respects to these most holy of places. It was very moving to see the devotion from someone so young. Oh, just to remind you …..Beka told us to watch for snakes…..poisonous ones. Also, he mentioned scorpions too. I felt like the journey was part survivor and part holy pilgrimage. Hey, I like to spice things up. No granny tours for us!!! Anyway….I move on, after several spine tingling, hair raising hours of crawling and climbing along the mountain we reached the eastern end of our journey and climbed to the peak to go back down the other side. We briefly stopped at the mini Georgian military station (They keep their eyes on the Azeri military.

The common view form the west part
The Azeri military keep their eyes on the Georgians), we start down a much easier path towards the church and monastery from which we came. We climbed down and into a valley and then back up the other side. There was much brush to walk through so nerves were on edge as we keep listening for snakes as we paid attention to our climbing and trying to watch Beka as he was way ahead of us. It really became a bit much to multitask as all of this plus the blazing sun and the fuel tank’s light was on and dinging!

 

We finally made back to the monastery and the church where Davit Garedja (the man, the myth, the legend) is buried.  It was a lovely little chapel with some fascinating elements.  We took photos while Beka prayed and kissed all  the icons.  At this point we were ready to go.  A quick stop in the gift shop (yes even in the middle of nowhere at the boarder of Azerbaijan, and a military presence in sight) there was gift shop selling holy items.

Cell on the north-east part of the monastery
  We got a guide book, postcards, an icon, and Rob bought honey.

 

Back on the road we once again did the swerve, break, dodge, and Georgian drive for your life routine.  We also encounter more animal on the road.  At one point we were coming up on a large flock of sheep so fast I though we would plow into them and have mutton.  Thank God for good breaks.  We thought Beka would never stop for food, but he finally did at a country roadside restaurant.  We had our own little house to eat in.  Instead of a large dinning room they just had individual cottages.  The bathroom was smelly and if you had to anything other than urinate you were squatting.  The food was good and we discovered that lemonade is not lemonade but a brand.

Beka praying in The Church of Transfiguration
  What we had a delightful carbonated pear drink.  During our lunch conversation we learn more about Beka and his 17 year old girlfriend and religious beliefs.  He asked Rob if he has a wife.  I immediately responded that “WE” are married.  Beka seemed to take it fine after processing it and even mentioned knowing a gay French guy in Tbilisi.

 

Once back in the car it seemed like he was hell bent on getting us back as fast as possible.  I thin it was a really smart thing we still owed him half the money.  He really terrified us a couple of times on the final portion of the drive.  But we made it back safe and sound.

 

We relaxed at the hotel for a little bit and then wondered into the other part of old town.

Brian and Beka talking as we drive out of Tbilisi
  We found another restaurant recommended by the book and were sorely disappointed.  The experience was so bad, I don’t even want to write about it.  On the way back, Rob consoled himself over the food he sent back with an ice cream.  The ice cream place had a chalk board for people to write on.  I left a nice big “Hi Y’all”.  We made it back to the room and called it night.

travelmantra says:
sounds like you took your lives in your hands to visit this place !
Posted on: Jun 08, 2009
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Road in the Kakheti Region
Road in the Kakheti Region
Looking down into the tower of the…
Looking down into the tower of th…
The place of martyrdom of Garejeli…
The place of martyrdom of Garejel…
Im looking out at Georgias neigh…
I'm looking out at Georgia's neig…
Fresco in cave
Fresco in cave
Dark fresco in The Church of Annun…
Dark fresco in The Church of Annu…
Azerbaijan - A river runs through …
Azerbaijan - A river runs through…
Rob with Azerbaijan in the backgro…
Rob with Azerbaijan in the backgr…
A little green in the desert plain…
A little green in the desert plai…
The common view form the west part
The common view form the west part
Cell on the north-east part of the…
Cell on the north-east part of th…
Beka praying in The Church of Tran…
Beka praying in The Church of Tra…
Brian and Beka talking as we drive…
Brian and Beka talking as we driv…
Georgian roads
Georgian roads
Out in the country
Out in the country
Heavy traffic
Heavy traffic
Rob, me and Beka in the country si…
Rob, me and Beka in the country s…
Interesting rock formation
Interesting rock formation
Me in the desert landscape
Me in the desert landscape
A working donkey
A working donkey
Kakheti region rolling landscape
Kakheti region rolling landscape
Little lake in the distance
Little lake in the distance
Bright blue sky
Bright blue sky
Rolling hills
Rolling hills
Windy peaks
Windy peaks
Whispy clouds
Whispy clouds
Brown hills
Brown hills
Desert strips
Desert strips
Arid landscape
Arid landscape
The watch tower
The watch tower
Courtyard of the monestary
Courtyard of the monestary
Constrasting landscapes
Constrasting landscapes
Baren lands
Baren lands
Admiring the view
Admiring the view
Entrance to the Chruch of Transfig…
Entrance to the Chruch of Transfi…
Rolling desert
Rolling desert
Me with Azerbaijan in the backgrou…
Me with Azerbaijan in the backgro…
Painted sky
Painted sky
White speck is the Azerbaijan mili…
White speck is the Azerbaijan mil…
Azerbaijan backdrop
Azerbaijan backdrop
Rob with Azerbaijan
Rob with Azerbaijan
Solitary monks cell on the top su…
Solitary monk's cell on the top s…
The church of Our Savior. Supplica…
The church of Our Savior. Supplic…
Details in the Refectory
Details in the Refectory
Beka and me dicussing the history …
Beka and me dicussing the history…
TView of the church of Our Savior.…
TView of the church of Our Savior…
Damaged fresco
Damaged fresco
Fresco of an angel
Fresco of an angel
Azerbaijan plains
Azerbaijan plains
Red and black ants, an all in one
Red and black ants, an all in one
blue sky peaking through
blue sky peaking through
Refectory, The Last Supper
Refectory, The Last Supper
Fresco in the Refectory
Fresco in the Refectory
Frescoed arch in the Refectory
Frescoed arch in the Refectory
Details of the frescoed arch
Details of the frescoed arch
Refectory, St Father David Garegel…
Refectory, St Father David Garege…
Navitve just hanging out
Navitve just hanging out
Cells in the cliffs
Cells in the cliffs
Looking into the Church of Annunci…
Looking into the Church of Annunc…
Interior of the Church of Annuncia…
Interior of the Church of Annunci…
Rear of the Church of Annunciation
Rear of the Church of Annunciation
Alchove of the Church of Annunciat…
Alchove of the Church of Annuncia…
The main part of the monastery
The main part of the monastery
Detail of the main part of the mon…
Detail of the main part of the mo…
Corner of the main monastery
Corner of the main monastery
Ceiling frescoes
Ceiling frescoes
Angels
Angels
Horses
Horses
Script on the wall
Script on the wall
Angel on the ceiling
Angel on the ceiling
Looking to get away
Looking to get away
Walkign the trail
Walkign the trail
Cave entrance
Cave entrance
Border of Gerogia and Azerbaijan
Border of Gerogia and Azerbaijan
Contrasting landscapes
Contrasting landscapes
Desert in the background
Desert in the background
Hidden caves
Hidden caves
The Church of Easter Day
The Church of Easter Day
The gate of the monastery
The gate of the monastery
Georgian script
Georgian script
Lower part of the yard
Lower part of the yard
Beka, me and Rob with the row of g…
Beka, me and Rob with the row of …
Cross in the wall
Cross in the wall
Icon in the Church of Transfigurat…
Icon in the Church of Transfigura…
Icon of the Last Supper in the Chu…
Icon of the Last Supper in the Ch…
Flowers in the courtyard
Flowers in the courtyard
Stick in traffic
Stick in traffic
Hippy sheep
Hippy sheep
Horning their way in
Horning their way in
Roaming the range
Roaming the range
Georgian cowboy
Georgian cowboy
Entrance to restaurant
Entrance to restaurant
Private rooms in restaurant
Private rooms in restaurant
Bathroom in restaurant
Bathroom in restaurant
Davit Gareji
photo by: delsol67