Sunday, 11 December 2011

Kezbegi - a mountain and a church in the Caucasus

In Tbilisi the weather was warm for one more day and then, over night, the temperature plummeted and winter had arrived in Georgia. After some snow on the passes a clear but cold spell was forecast, so we decided to head to the high mountains of the Caucasus, before it worsened again. We caught a marshrutka up the military highway, directly north of Tbilisi, towards the Russian border. Riding in the front of the marshrutka so we could get the best views of the mountains, the driver, who lived in Kezbegi, offered us a place to stay. He and his family had a cosy house on the hill with spectacular views of the snow capped Kezbegi Peak.That evening was the first on the trip in which we experienced any form of heating and we slept terribly.

Georgia was the first Christian country we had travelled to so far and, as testament to a long devotion to the religion, churches dominate the sky line from the cities to the countryside. The Georgians have a knack for building Churches in the most spectacular spots. Kezbegi is the most famous of these. A little church perched on a hill, silhouetted against the 5000 m Kezbegi Peak. We walked from the village up to the church, enjoying the crisp air. Our stride was broken at one point when we helped push a Larda Neva out of a muddy rut, to the great appreciation of the driver, who was ferrying an ill prepared Isreali girl in sandels back down the hill.

After looking around the church I was keen to continue on but James was feeling sick. The snow was thick on the ground but the sun was blazing and hot. He managed a little further and then lay down on a warm rock and refused to go on. I left him to walk back to the village and joined two women, one British, one American, both working in London, and we continued until we were satisfied that we had walked far enough. Back in the village, James was pursuaded that he could manage a beer, and we all sat in a cafe together drinking beer and eating khincaly (over-sized dumplings).

The following day James was feeling much better and we got up early to hire bikes. The day wasn't as clear as the previous, and mist hung over the hills. We cycled south and then turned off the main road towards the Sno valley. The road turned into a track and took us through tiny villages.We climbed steadily, resting periodically, until the track steepened and narrowed. Eventually we reached the top where a small village clung to either side of the river banks. Fearing that we would be late returning the bikes we turned around and hurtled back down the track; Kezbegi Peak perfectly framed by the flanks of the Sno valley. We had, however, under estimated the incline we had climbed, and continued to free wheel it all the way back to the main road in no time at all. Arriving early in Kezbegi we decided to ride out the other side of the village on the road north towards Chechnya, and whiled away another hour or so.

Happy hog sleeping in the winter sun

Kezbegi church high above the valley

The church silhouetted against Kezbegi Peak

A crisp autumn morning near Kezbegi

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