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Published: June 21st 2017
This is my guide and a strange priest
He looks after Juari monastery and it seems he has taken a shine to my guide
Geo: 42.6567, 44.6433
Every mountain I have seen on the trip so far, with the possible exception of Mount Ararat, just pales into insignificance, and these pile peak upon peak - even on an overcast day.
We left Tbilisi at 9 headed first for Mtskheta, the religious and spiritual capital of Georgia, with its large cathedral built in 1010-29 on the site of a much earlier church that dated back to the 4th century. This one was considered to be so magnificent that they chopped off the architect's right arm so he could never work on anything else (scant reward for doing a good job, I say)
Then we headed north on the Georgian Military Highway, this has existed as a route through the Great Caucusus since the first century BC, turned into a carraige road by the Russians in 1783. Pushkin, Lermontov, Gorky, Tolstoy and Mayakovsky were all inspired by travelling along it. It was the only route from Russia to Georgia until they built a railway along the Black Sea coast but following the Abkhaz war that railway no longer runs and this is again the only through route.
The road reaches its highest point, 2379 metres, just north of Gudauri - a
major ski centre first established by Austrians. It is also at this point that the road degenerates from a good fast road to a broken track that it is hard to take at more than 10mph because it is so badly damaged by snow and ice each winter, it has not long re-opened after last winter. From this point one is also surrounded by towering cliffs and peaks with ample snow still in evidence.
At one point we caught up with a huge flock of sheep and goats being driven up to the high pastures for the summer. I never saw so many (pics coming) and it probably took us 15 minutes to hoot and nudge our way through.
Upon arriving in Kazbegi where we spend the night (only about 15 kms from Russian Border) they pointed out the church that I had the option to walk to, or hire a 4x4. It was miles up! No contest - the 4x4 option came out tops.
Now the surprise bit, I only planned to go through Abkhazia (the break-away republic) to Russia because I understood this border post to be closed. That situation has changed, this border post is open to all travellers so
See that monastery on top of that hill?
They wondered if I wanted to walk up to it!
rather than the uncertain entrance to Abkhazia and the illegal exit from Georgia I shall be returning this way to make the crossing into Russia (to Vladikavkaz to be precise) from whence I shall take the overnight train to Rostov-on-Don and subsequently on to Kiev.
An exciting day, in the travelling and the making new plans.
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