The Road to Kazbegi, Georgia
I’ve never had a thing for churches, just this one. I remember seeing it for the first time on a ‘10 Reasons to Travel to Georgia’ blog, and being a content marketer that gets majorly sucked in by things I read online, straight away I knew that I just had to go there.
The Gergeti Trinity Church - more than anything else - motivated my trip to Georgia.
But before I tell you how wonderful it was, let me just explain how difficult it was to get to Kazbegi.
First, you’ll probably take the three-hour, once-daily flight from Dubai into Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. And from there, you’ll wander aimlessly around one of the train terminals until you find a minibus that says Kazbegi on the front, in Georgian, mind you. Now, conveniently, there’s no set timetable to the Georgian minibus network. In fact, there’s no network at all, as the busses are all run by private drivers, and they come and go whenever the bus is full. If you miss out, trying again tomorrow is the only option.
And once you’re on the bus, you’re in for one hell of an adventure. These minibuses, called marshrutkas, aren’t exactly well maintained. Our minibus - a fifteen seater, mind you - had twenty-two passengers squeezed into it. It also had an enormous crack running through the windscreen, and because the air conditioning wasn’t working, our driver - bless his cotton socks - decided the best form of ventilation was to leave the van’s side door open for the entire four-hour journey.
Soon, I discovered that once you get outside the capital, Georgia doesn’t really have roads, nor speed limits. So sit down, buckle up, and hold on tight, because the next few hours of your life are going to be fingernail-biting stuff as the driver swerves, slides and darts around other cars, broken down machinery left on the highway, and cows… so many cows.
Fortunately, there was a brief moment to catch our breath, when the driver pulled over at one of the mid-point mountain ranges to buy a packet of cigarettes. Taking a deep breath, what was pretty extraordinary was looking out over the snow-capped mountains, an unusual sight considering it was still well over 35 degrees from where we were standing. I’ve seen some pretty neat things, but snow-capped mountains in the middle of summer was something special.
Back on the bus - and back to cow dodging at 130 kilometres per hour - we successfully (just, mind you) arrived at our destination, the small town of Stepantsminda, Kazbegi just before lunchtime. With a fixed population of just under 2,000, the tiny municipality of Stepantsminda offers a guesthouse, a few budget hostels and well, that’s about it. Aside from this giant mountain and a church, of course, but I’m getting to that!
I’m no seasoned hiker, but being pushed for time, I decided to take the steepest of three options up the mountain, which can take anywhere between two to three hours, depending on the weather and quality of the trail.
Unlike the drive, climbing the mountain was refreshing, enjoyable and seriously a dream run. The sun was beaming, the track was dry, and there was a nice breeze drifting across the mountains. And like most of Georgia, the mountain ranges have yet to be hit by the tourism bug, so beside the occasional Russian tourist wandering back down the opposite direction, I more or less had the track to myself. Aside from cows. Why are there so many cows in Georgia?!
Getting to the top was quite the accomplishment, as the last 500 metres of the trek seemed to be less like a mountain climb, and more like a ladder! But once the summit was in sight, it was hard not to power through.
Finally, after about two hours of disciplined climbing, the Gergeti Trinity Church, 2,000 metres above sea level, made its divine appearance.
Built in the 14th century, the church was off limits for hundreds of years as Georgia passed through the soviet era and Russia banned all religious services.
But despite the ban, the church remained a key part of the local community, as elders from local townships would visit the church and use its four walls to store their precious relics, treasures and religious artefacts.
The church is delightful inside. It’s dark, but you can light a candle and wander through. There were birds chirping in the ceiling, and everything about the interior appears to have been left just how it might have looked seven-hundred years ago. There’s a bit of history here that you just have to appreciate.
And when you’re done looking at this fine church perched on this stunning mountain, you can motion your eyes downwards and gaze out over the town below. The view is simply out of this world.
Navigating to the remote Georgian countryside, all the way to the southern Russian border, isn’t something for wimps. Absolutely nobody here speaks English, it’s incredibly out of the way, and the minibus ride might just kill you.
But if you’ve got balls, and you don’t mind a challenge, then the climb to Gergeti Trinity Church might just be one to add to the bucket list.