25.06.2017 - 25.06.2017 28 °C
Day 32 Sunday June 25 2017
Davit Gareja to Tbilisi / 78 km
- Never pack away earplugs & eye blinds. Here we are in the middle of nowhere, not a mosque nor church in sight, no station, no highway - just nature. The menagerie that we met yesterday - the horses, dogs, cats & pigs all start to get on each other's nerves around dawn.
- The travellers that randomly came together for an evening at Xaveri's 'party' house now prepare to go their separate ways. The Polish lawyers on a photography course. The Polish cyclists who plan to ride 120 km today and who rehydrate with a pint of lager at breakfast. The Dutch family in their Campervan with 3 children under 5 years old & Boyd the Aussie who has just spent a month in Iran, oh and us.
- Xaveri is Polish and came to Udabno about 4 years ago. Hence the Polish clientele but his fame has spread far beyond. He's a great guy and speaks excellent English.
- The ideal time to visit Davit Gareja, assuming it is summer and sunset is 8.30 pm ish, would be around 4 in the afternoon - perfect for photogenic light followed by supper and sleep over at Oasis. It is about a half hour drive in a 4x4 from the village to the monastery. By car it would be longer and by bike tortuous. You can also walk a more direct route but that is at least 8 km one way.
- No pain no gain - you do not just stumble on Udabno village - and you can easily get lost on the myriad of tracks that surround. You need to use navigation devices and plan your route.
- The same applies for exploring the monastery complex itself. Whilst you can visit Lavra monastery with minimal effort, the climb up the hill side to the Udabno monastery requires robust knees & ankles, shoes with ample tread and a confidence for heights. Don't be put off - lots of people manage it. Just be prepared.
- The previous evening we had missed the correct path up to Udabno and our time of daylight hours ran out. We return this morning around 9.30 to find the car park already full. At least it means you can ask way. Basically at the watchtower from where you get great views of the Lavra monastery, take the right footpath upwards. Don't be fooled, it looks insignificant. A good 15 minutes scrambling and you will reach railings that you now follow up and across the ridge. This will take you to the Udabno church seen in the photo. A path beliow this then leads to the caves of the Udabno monastery proper.
- If the monks were seeking solitude and peace when they decided retreat to Davit Gareja, they would have certainly found it here by the bucket load.
- The little church of Udabno is crowded with Georgians. We have hit lucky again. There is a communion service being conducted by one of the monks. No choir, no organ just chanting. This is why the car park is full - Georgians have come to a rare service at this very special church in their national psyche.
- A friendly Georgian man who still remembers his excellent school English, tells us that the service is a special event, not a weekly occurance. He also explains that when the Persians arrived in this part of the world in 17C intent on conquering Georgia, the 6000 community of monks at that time lit thousands of candles. This gave the impression that there might be strong counter resistance. Alas it saved the monks for only a few days until the Persians realised that there was no army up here at all. The monks were slaughtered in 1615 on Easter Sunday and their precious monasteries ransacked. During the soviet era the military used the area and further vandalisation occurred.
- It is therefore a miracle that any frescoes survive. But they do and the scramble up to Udabno monastery is highly recommended. Probably the most amazing cave is the one that used to be the Monks' refectory. There is a fresco depicting Christ's Last Supper painted onto the rock wall that dates back to 11C.
- From the top of the Udabno escarpment you overlook Azerbaijan territory. When Azerbaijan & Georgia gained independence from the Soviet Union it was the Russians who drew the lines. Georgia lost some of its presumed territory to Azerbaijan. Indeed the Azeris would still like to include Udabno Monastery within its border. That's why on occasion there may be Azeri military presence within the monastery complex.
- On our drive from Udabno to Tbilisi, the remnants of the Soviet Military era are still visible - abandoned army facilities and military roads which are now in bad repair. The town of Rustavi is a bit of a rust pot with many empty Russian style buildings. It's presumably too expensive to clear up and land is not in such shortage.
- We get to Tbilisi mid afternoon - to our little hotel situated on the river and major network of roads. Thankfully our room is in the attic and to the rear. So maybe ear plugs won't be necessary.
- We walk along the river towards the Metekhi Bridge in the search of late snack to keep us going. Tbilisi has a traffic problem and the poor pedestrian seems to have been overlooked. At least the foreign one who assumes that there will be pedestrian crossings. And maybe traffic lights at junctions that will slow traffic down sufficiently to give you space and courage to run across the road. It's a bit of a nightmare.
- So we see a few of the city sights, that we will get to know better over the course of our visit. First impressions are of a capital city with lots to offer.