Русская версия Mount Kazbek is famous due to Russian literature: schoolchildren in the Soviet Union and some post-Soviet countries learnt by heart poetic pieces by Jury Lermontov or read books by Ilf and Petrov, all describing Kazbek. To this well-known dormant stratovolcano and one of the major mountains of the Caucasus, we came from Gonio through Batumi, Tbilisi, by Georgian Military Road. Here we will tell about multiple sights and adventures we encountered on our way as well as about Stepantsminda – Georgian town (which used to be the village of Kazbegi) at the foot of Kazbek.
We took a night train from Batumi to Tbilisi, and since the tickets were quite cheap, we bought the compartment ones, but regretted it later. The compartment was tiny, with two snoring men. The economy class berth (platskart) at least has smells and sounds disseminated, people do not smoke there (but do smoke in compartment corridors in Georgia), and the feeling is not so claustrophobic.
Getting to Tbilisi, we went straight to Didube station and immediately found marshrutka to Kazbegi there (20 laris per person, the driver also offered to visit St. Tamara church for additional fee). The road was very picturesque:
It went through the so-called Georgian Military Road, connecting Vladikavkaz and Tbilisi, along the Terek river. Its construction had started in 1783, and it was opened in 1799. It was also planned to build an intercity Vladikavkaz-Tiflis tram line along the road in the beginning of the XX century, with the power supply from several minor hydroelectric power stations. The plans did not come true, interrupted by World War I.
We reached Stepantsinda in the middle of the day, and marshrutka was immediately surrounded by people offering accommodation. We went with Mitya, who brought us to his house with a room for rent (20 laris per person). The room was not too good, but he made some snacks and coffee for us. The only problem was the rain outside and cold in the room.
We walked a bit around Stepantsminda.
By the way, we advise to have cash with you: the only ATM there is up on the hill, not so easy to reach. There is a casino in the center though:
The taxi driver asked for some huge sum to get up the hill, and when we refused to go with him, he said to Vitya: «Feed the geese then». It must be the part of some Georgian proverb or other piece of wisdom 🙂
In the evening, our hosts fed us with borsch soup, and we went to sleep. That night we were drying our socks putting them under the our sheets: nothing was drying otherwise. We hoped that the weather would improve.
Next morning, we realized that we hoped in vain. This region is generally very rainy in August and September: for instance, later in 2014, the Georgian Military Road was closed for some time due to landslides and mudflows. Taking into account, that it is the only reliable road connecting Northern and Southern Caucasus (the connection between Abkhazia and Georgia is closed due to the war), it must have been quite difficult for people who live there.
Anyway, having understood, that famous Kazbegi will not show up in such weather, we went to the church of Gergeti on foot. This is the church with Kazbegi on the background – famous landscape we never saw (this is a picture of a local guest house buisness card) .
It is possible to get to the church by jeeps on the 6,5 kms road; we chose a short pedestrian 2,5 road: the locals showed it to us.
The view of the church from Stepanstminda:
The view of Stepansminda while getting to the church:
After we walked half of the way, the path brought us to the road crowded with the caravans of cars, bring tourists towards the church. The feeling of natural treck was spoilt.
Finally, we could see the church and the road to it, too muddy because of the cars. Many of them drifted and slipped, or got stuck. This is quite strange that even thought the relics are advised to be reached on foot in most of the religions, and the church was so close, the tourists preferred to get stuck in the mud.
Gergeti church is a Saint Trinity temple, founded in the XIV century. In the Soviet times, the church was closed, but remained a popular tourist attraction; at the end of 1980s a cable road was even constructed here, connecting the station at the church and on Kazbegi. Talking about the tradition of reaching the church on foot, it is important to remember that the locals perceived the cable road as desecrating the temple and destroyed it.
On the way back to Stepantsminda, we were collecting mushrooms. There were quite many of them, but when we brought them back home, our hosts were reluctant to take them: they eat only champignons, considering all other mushrooms “not noble enough”.
On the same day, we hitch-hiked from Stepanstminda to Nalchik through Vladikavkaz. A car stopped in about 20 minutes after we came to the crossroads; this was a new BMW driven from Tbilisi to Vladikavkaz for sale. It turned out to be an important business in the region. The driver boasted how skillfully he passed the Georgian Military Road without wasting his low car.
On the border, he left us in the car for about an hour, not even taking his car key with him – that is how they trust people. The line on the border was huge, but thanks to him we passed it in about 5 hours. He just drove to the beginning of the queue in spite of the others’ protests, saying: “They are so many and we are so few”.
There was another funny thing, When we passed passport control at Russian side and were waiting for our car, we found a lot of border guards around BMW. The car was very powerful (another sport engine had been installed), so everybody wanted to see, and some of them even to try it.
By the way, the border cannot be crossed on foot: the distance between the stations is about 2 kilometers and it is not equipped for pedestrians.
We came to Vladikavkaz in the evening, and the city did not seem too hospitable. At first, an elderly taxi-driver who took us to the bus station was violating the traffic rules in all possible ways, and when he was finally stopped by the police, he started to yell accusing us (probably for the fact that we existed) and demanding money for the fine from us. At the bus station, the people – from policemen to locals seemed quite angry and suspicious. We were glad to finally leave. Late in the evening we got to Nalchik, the city which in spite of its bad reputation (due to the terrorist attacks) we liked more than Vladikavkaz and from which we departed for Elbrus.