Day 43: Stunning mountaintop church

Kazbegi Travel Blog

 › entry 63 of 260 › view all entries
Marshrutka station in Tbilisi
People I met here and/or travelled with: Verena (Austria)

I checked out of my hostel and took a marshrutka to the northern border of the country. While most of the border region is closed for visitors (especially after the 5-day war with Russia of 2008), the Georgian Military Highway thankfully remains open. Well, it is a dead-end these days, as the border with Russia is firmly shut (not that I had any desire to go there, at the other side of the mountain lies Chechnya, not the most stable region either). So the end of the line is the small town of Kazbegi.

Like the buses in Turkey the marshrutkas in Georgia are pretty much the lifeline of the country. Apart from a means of public transport they also double as postal and freight transport between the villages along the route.
the road to Kazbegi
People regular flag a passing marshrutka, only to give a parcel to be delivered a few villages down the road.

The ride to Kazbegi constitutes as both one of the most scenic and one of the most scary journeys I have ever made. The views as we crossed the 2379m high Jvari Pass were breathtaking. At the same time, the road was in a very bad condition and the driver had to swerve around pot holes all the time. He constantly did this at the valley side, the left side of the road, so not only was he constantly driving on the wrong side of the road around blind corners, he also drove dangerously close to the steep drop. As I looked down to the valley floor hundreds of metres below, I wondered how many marshrutkas would have dropped off the ledge through the years. I decided I didn't want to know.
Tsminda Sameba church at the top of the mountain, with Mt Kazbek in the distance


We made it to Kazbegi safely though. As the marshrutka pulled up at the tiny bus station (basically a small square at the edge of town) I was greeted by Reza, the owner of a guesthouse. Dodo had phoned ahead from Tbilisi to tell him I was on my way. I figured his guesthouse would be as good as any, so I went with him.

The town of Kazbegi is actually called Stepantsminda, but everybody still knows it as Kazbegi, after Georgia's most famous writer Alexander Kazbegi. The reason why I was here was the small Tsminda Sameba church. Not that the church in itself is all that interesting (I lost count of how many churches I had visited this past week), but its setting certainly is. Perched high up on the mountain, in the shadow of the mighty Mount Kazbek, the highest mountain in the country, this church is one of the best known icons in Georgia.
on the way up (I could still smile back then)


The walk up wasn't even so far. It only took about an hour and a half to walk up along the steep road to the top (yes, you can also take a car, but where's the fun in that?). On the way up I didn't come across many other people. Apart from the odd car it was just me and some cows on this road.
It was not an easy walk, the track was pretty steep in sections, and I was glad I had opted for the longer walk along the car tracks, rather than the shortcut which involves a 500 metre steep climb. The panoramic views all around were absolutely stunning. The mountain range at the other side of the valley reminded me a bit of the Remarkables in New Zealand, whereas on this side the snowcapped Mt Kazbek, a 5047 metre high extinct volcano, looms overhead like a guardian. Quite a fitting image, considering the mountain marks the now-closed border between Georgia and Russia.
Tsminda Sameba church


The 14th century Tsminda Sameba church itself is a very pretty little church with a separate bell tower. There is a small, still working monastery up here as well, which was currently being renovated. Fortunately the presence of builders at the site did not deter from the calm and serenity of this beautiful place.
As often when I visit a building at such a remote location I wonder just how did they get it up there? And not only that, imagine having to walk up there every week for Sunday prayer!

Once down in Kazbegi I treated myself to some cold beer and snacks. I think I deserved it. I was back just on time, because no sooner was I back in the guesthouse and it started raining.

On the way down I'd bumped into an Austrian girl, Verena, who had also been staying at Dodo's in Tbilisi.
Tsminda Sameba church
She was staying in the same homestay in Kazbegi. She had wanted to climb up to the church, but when it started pouring she came back. She was a very nice girl, with a very interesting style of travelling. She'd taken a year off work, like me, but instead of doing some trip around the world, she was only going to visit four countries. She's picked a different country for each season, staying 2-3 months in each of them: Spring in Georgia, summer in Portugal, autumn in Scotland and winter in Iceland.

We had some very interesting conversations over dinner. She's a psychology teacher, so inevitably we had to discuss and analyse my reasoning for travelling. Somehow she wouldn't accept “because I like it” as a reason.
Dinner was a bit of a disappointment. Georgian home-style cooking is renowned and I'd been looking forward to this.
Mt Kazbek
The macaroni and potato filled broth we got served wasn't overly exciting though. It may have been traditional, it also came across as a little cheap.

At night it was bitterly cold. At first I had welcomed the cold after the humid 28 degrees in Tbilisi, but I soon regretted this. I was lying in bed wearing my thermal pyjamas, underneath two blankets and still I was cold. If this was any indication for the cold that awaits me in the Himalayas, then I might need some warmer clothes.

The next morning all the clouds had lifted and Mt Kazbek was finally visible in all its glory. Verena and I had breakfast together (a very strange menu consisting of bread, cheese, pasta and french fries  - I guess you could do with the extra calories when you're hiking in this region).
Verena set off to climb up to the Tsminda Sameba and I took the 10 o'clock Marshrutka back to Tbilisi.
HORSCHECK says:
Okay, thanks for the info. I even thought about staying two nights, but that might be too much. What do you think?
Posted on: May 05, 2014
Biedjee says:
Hi, the drive up to Kazbegi takes several hours, the hike itself can be done in an hour either way. So I did it in a day, then travelled back to Tblisi the next day. Theoretically you can do it all as a day-trip, but I would recommend staying overnight so that you don't have to rush it.
Posted on: May 05, 2014
HORSCHECK says:
Great travel blog with outstanding photos. From your description I understand that you stayed only one night in Kazbegi. So it seems tobe dooable to travel to Kazbegi from Tiblisi and hike to the church in the same day without rushing?
Posted on: May 04, 2014
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Marshrutka station in Tbilisi
Marshrutka station in Tbilisi
the road to Kazbegi
the road to Kazbegi
Tsminda Sameba church at the top o…
Tsminda Sameba church at the top …
on the way up (I could still smile…
on the way up (I could still smil…
Tsminda Sameba church
Tsminda Sameba church
Tsminda Sameba church
Tsminda Sameba church
Mt Kazbek
Mt Kazbek
the road to Kazbegi
the road to Kazbegi
short pit stop on the way to Kazbe…
short pit stop on the way to Kazb…
the road to Kazbegi
the road to Kazbegi
the road to Kazbegi
the road to Kazbegi
the road to Kazbegi
the road to Kazbegi
the road to Kazbegi
the road to Kazbegi
the road to Kazbegi
the road to Kazbegi
the road to Kazbegi
the road to Kazbegi
Walking up to the church
Walking up to the church
Thats my goal, up there...
That's my goal, up there...
...this is how far I have to walk
...this is how far I have to walk
absolutely stunning panoramas on t…
absolutely stunning panoramas on …
absolutely stunning panoramas on t…
absolutely stunning panoramas on …
Finally made it to the top
Finally made it to the top
Mt Kazbek covered in clouds
Mt Kazbek covered in clouds
Tsminda Sameba church
Tsminda Sameba church
The clouds above Mt Kazbek lift fo…
The clouds above Mt Kazbek lift f…
Bell tower
Bell tower
Main chapel
Main chapel
I could continue on this path, if …
I could continue on this path, if…
I can see your house from here
I can see your house from here
a little break before the walk down
a little break before the walk down
some old cars in front of the gues…
some old cars in front of the gue…
Mt Kazbek the next morning
Mt Kazbek the next morning
Tsminda Sameba church and Mt Kazbek
Tsminda Sameba church and Mt Kazbek
Our very unusual breakfast
Our very unusual breakfast
Kazbegi
photo by: Biedjee