From Tbilisi we traveled to Kazbegi in the Caucasus Mountains. The route goes up the Georgian Military Highway, which is the main route north to Russia (Chechnya). It’s several hours of driving, and we hired a driver to take us there. There were some fruit stands along the highway, and we asked our driver Gaila to stop. We first stopped at a watermelon stand on the outskirts of Tbilisi.
Gaila and the vendor had some discussions in Georgian.
Ahead were more fruit vendors. We stopped by a stand and bought cherries and raspberries from an old lady.
I wanted to pay for the fruit, but Gaila insisted on paying. Gaila was a super nice guy, and we got along really well.
We stopped at Ananuri Fortress, which overlooks a reservoir.
In the mountains we came upon a festival. There were a lot of cars and people around, and traffic ground to a standstill. This allowed me to get out of the car to take a few pictures.
Families were gathering for a feast, and roast meat was on the menu. Shepherds had come down from the mountains with their flocks and they were selling their animals to the festival-goers.
In the meadows, sheep and cows were being slaughtered.
There was a festive atmosphere. People were talking, mingling, and having a nice time.
We made our way through the traffic jam and continued on.
We stopped at a viewpoint overlooking some huge grassy slopes. These slopes give the Caucasus Mountains a particular look about them. Landscapes like this were featured prominently in the movie The Loneliest Planet. That movie was one reason why I wanted to come see these mountains for myself.
Up the road is another viewpoint, at the Russian-Georgian Friendship Monument, a semicircular wall with interesting artwork.
There is a nice view overlooking a deep valley, and there are views towards the high Caucasus as well.
It was windy, cold, and a bit of rain was coming down. But still the views were impressive.
We managed to find guesthouse Gogi Alibegashvili, and settled in with a glass of wine.
The owners of the guesthouse were very kind and friendly. We didn’t have any languages in common, so we tried to communicate by gesturing. We tried to give them our watermelon, but they sliced it up and gave the whole thing back to us. Eventually we succeeded in giving some of the watermelon to our hosts.
The view from our balcony was really nice. We could see Stepantsminda in the valley, and the mountains above. Mount Kazbek, however, remained hidden in the clouds.
In the distance we could see Gergeti Trinity Church on top of a grassy knoll across the valley. This church, and the meadows above it, was going to be the objective of our hike the next day.
Mount Kazbek is one of the tallest peaks in the Caucasus Mountains. At 5047 m it’s taller than Mont Blanc in the Alps, and far taller than anything in the Rocky Mountains. Kazbek is a dormant volcano, and has a beautiful conical shape draped by glaciers.
During our two days of hiking Mount Kazbek hid in the clouds. But, after coming back from our last hike, in the evening, the clouds started to part.
We could see Gergeti Trinity Church lit up.
Later at night the mountain was bathed in moonlight, but some clouds had rolled back in.
The next morning the mountain was clear again. We snapped pictures while waiting for our ride to Telavi.
We organized our ride to Kazbegi through our guesthouse in Tbilisi. We thought it was worth the money. It is also possible to take a local bus (Marshrutka), which will cost less. I suppose it’s possible to self-drive, and some tourists do just this. Be aware that Georgians are kamikaze drivers, and traffic in Tbilisi is very chaotic. I’m pretty comfortable driving in foreign countries but I’m glad I chose not to drive in Georgia.
Many tourists “do” Kazbegi as a daytrip from Tbilisi. That’s a lot of driving in one day. There is just enough time to take a Jeep up to Gergeti Church before one has to go back again. We were glad we had a few days to explore. Speaking of exploration: there are a lot of grassy ridges around that would offer very nice hikes with spectacular views. One would have to ask around locally.
There are a few restaurants in town near the river. Avoid Shorena’s. There is a decent place beside it, by the big parking lot. It has big glass windows. I think it’s called Stepantsminda Restaurant. Nearby are also a few basic groceries where you can pick up snacks and supplies for lunch.
Kazbegi is about 150 km north of Tbilisi.