Gmadloba Gorgeous Georgia
Sunday, November 13, 2016
The title Gmadloba (as told to us by our guide, Ms Eka) means “Thank You” in Georgian language. And thankful I am indeed for the wonderful time we had at such a beautiful country. The holiday at Georgia was one of the most exhilarating experiences I have had in all my life and I have travelled to many countries on a vacation including London, Paris, Barcelona, Munich, Berne, Austria, Sicily, Rome, Amsterdam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Egypt, US, etc. I will try to jot down my travelogue to this Gorgeous Georgia starting from our take-off on September 10 to landing back in Kuwait on September 16
Start of trip :
SEPTEMBER 10, 2016 :
Four families took off to explore the highly recommended country of Georgia with an open mind. We were a little apprehensive about the place because it is not a very popular destination yet. (But not for long, I am sure). What lie in store for us was beyond my wildest imagination. A country SO SO BEAUTIFUL ! Breathtaking locales ! It borders the Caucasus Mountains in the east and the Black Sea in the West with Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan being the neighboring countries. An experience worth undertaking.
The flight to Georgia (Tbilisi Airport) itself was rather routine, nothing to write home about. The moment we landed at the airport, things changed dramatically. At the airport, the airline staff were so friendly. The immigration procedure was “just a breeze”. All over and out in less than 5 minutes. No biometrics, no serpentine queues, no inquisition by the officer, simple process. One stamp on the passport. That’s it ! VOILA! What is even more surprising was that when I put my hand in my pocket to take out my wallet for the Visit Visa fees, the officer smiled at me and said “NO FEES” ! I was stunned. Never have I experienced such warmth at the airport immigration and that too getting my visa in 5 minutes, without paying a penny. THAT WAS THE BEGINNING OF OUR JOY !
Outside, our guide, Ms Eka Gontsadze was waiting for us with a broad smile and a placard with our name. She was so courteous and friendly that it seemed as though we knew her from ages. A minivan was waiting exclusively for us with driver Mr. Giorgio at the wheel. The drive to the hotel was about 40 minutes, but we never felt the time fly. Eka was already in command giving us a brief about Georgia : its history, its location, its people, education, currency, population, healthcare, factories, ethnicity, food, what have you. The children in the group and elders had many questions to ask her and she was prepared to answer all of them. The hotel “Hotel Coste” was located at Kostava Road, Rostaveli, an important centre of Tbilisi.
The entry into the hotel was another pleasant experience. The reception clerk was so well behaved, so were the ground staff. Rooms were very comfortable. We settled in and were free for the day. Our guide said she would arrive at 9 AM the next day for the start of the tour proper.
All excited, we had a sumptuous breakfast and set off for our first day like a schoolkid’s first day at a new school , not knowing what to expect. It was a day of Tbilisi city tour. This city is full of churches, it also has a synagogue and a mosque. A very religion-tolerant country is Georgia with Eastern Orthodox Christianity being the majority religion. There are churches all over the city with a few on top of hills and mountains. Worth mentioning are Metekhi Church which is atop a hill, a classic example of Orthodox Church and A Catholic cathedral “Tbilsi Sioni” which is named after a place in the Holy Land. There was also a fortress called Narikala Fortress which had some simply beautiful sceneries to present of the whole city. Among other places of interest that we visited that day was the Sulphur Bath which is at the bottom of the fortress and has some natural sulfur springs. Belief has it that the water has therapeutic capabilities curing many illnesses. Nature at its best. We also visited modern glass bridge called “Bridge of Love” across the River Kura (called by a more complex name, Mtkuari in Georgian ). Lunch was at a typical Georgian restaurant where we had the favorite Georgian dishes : Khinkali and Khachapuri. Khinkali has a very special way of eating, first biting into the round Modak-like dish (also resembling the Malayalee Kozhakutta) and then sucking the juice from it and finally tucking into the delicious meat. Very tasty. Khachapuri was very much like our own stuffed Khubuz ! We even tasted the traditional Georgian sweet “Churchkela” which is made of walnuts, hazelnuts, raisin dipped in honey and grape juice. Very popular sweet found all over Georgian streets.
After lunch, which was around 3:30 PM, we had a ride of the city Cable Car. It was a joyride like most cable cars, nothing too special about it. And we ended the day early by about 6 PM. Evening was spent leisurely visiting some nice spots by the river and enjoying the night lights before we had dinner at an Indian restaurant “Hollywood Hotel” and crashed to bed. Talking of food, what is a notable feature is the free-flowing wine (both white and red) and Vodka (including the local Drink Chacha) and this must be a great attraction to those who would’nt mind indulging in a few drinks before and after food.
This day also started at 9:00 AM with Ms Eka reaching he hotel at sharp 8:45. This was also a tour of countryside Tbilisi. Started with the picturesque fertile region of Georgia, Khakheti which borders the Caucasus range. The Alazani valley where we went has summits of over 3000 metres. This place is supposedly the place where viticulture, the science of grape production and wine-making originated. Every place is full of grapevines which presents a marvelous scenery. Fruits of varied nature are grown here, all very sweet and appeared to be organic in nature without use of fertilizers.
Next was a visit to the Nunnery where Saint Nino, the female priest responsible for the spread of Christianity in Georgia was buried. Before that, this place was known for the Pagan following. This was followed by the visit to the heavenly Sighnagi , which is a fortified town famous for its wine-making and carpet weaving. Along the way the sights of Kizhiki area was simply awe-inspiring. Finally, before sunset, we visited the family estate of the Tsinandali family where the wine cellar was just too good. A taste of the best Tsinandali wine awaited the thirsty mouths of the tourists. The estate itself was full of natural beauty, all of 12 hectares. That brought us to a close of Day 3, a very long drive back to Hotel Coste. This was the best part of the tour : We did not change hotels or final locations at all unlike most tours where one has to pack up, go to the next place, unpack again and waste a lot of time and energy in the bargain.
This was the day which we were all waiting for : A visit to the Caucasus Mountains. We were forewarned of the impending cold atop the mountains by our guide. So we were all well protected with sufficient warm clothing. The long drive along the Georgia-Russia Highway was very pleasant and scenic. En route, we visited the Ananuri Complex, which used to be the residence of the Dukes of Aragvi Region. The complex overlooked the Jinvali Reservoir which supplies water to the region. A refreshing break to the long drive was the unscheduled stopover at a beautiful waterfall on the way and experienced the pure pristine flow of water as we climbed the slippery waterfall hill. We also stopped on the way for a quick-bite lunch and commenced on our way, reaching the foothills of the range called Kazbegi, which is a small town with the view of Mount Kazbek : the Seventh highest peak of the Caucasus Mountains. As narrated by Eka, there is a myth associated with Mt Kazbek : Prometheus, the Greek God who stole the fire from the Gods for the benefit of mankind. As a punishment, he was supposed to have been chained on the Mount Kazbegi. At Kazbegi, we got off from our van and shifted to two specially designed four-wheel drive vans, DELICA of Mitsubishi make. The drive to the top of Mt Kazbegi was ardous and tricky with the path being very narrow and road untarred and rocky. A sort of dirt-track drive for about 40 minutes each way. Once on top of the mountain, Nature and its unlimited beauty unfolded itself in all its glory to the human eye. A sight which can never be washed away from the mind. OUT-OF-THE-WORLD in every sense of the term. The valley below and the BLUE skies on top were the ideal setting for paragliding. And there were so many paragliders in the skies, which in itself was a joy to watch. We did not muster sufficient courage to attempt this adventure sport and do regret for not having tried it. As mentioned earlier, yet another church, the Holy Gergeti Trinity Church was located at the mountain-top. On asking the reason why there were so many churches on hilltops, Eka told us that this was done to protect the church and religion from the many invaders like Taimurlane who plundered the place at various times. Even though there are a few spirited youth who do venture trekking up the Mt Kazbegi, we chose the easier drive, which itself was quite difficult. The trek takes anything between 2 to 3 hours apparently. There were many overnight campers also who had pitched tents to experience the night beauty and clear skies. But we did not halt. Reaching base camp, we had a refreshing cup of tea and heavy snacks to last us through our ride back home. Incidentally, this is the last prominent town on the Georgian side with Russian border being just about 35 kilometers away. Before reaching our hotel, we drove into a Macdonald’s and stuffed ourselves with burgers.
In the morning, we drove to the ancient capital of Mtskheta which is located at the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari (Kura River, as the visitors call it). Prior to that, we visited Jvari Monastery which is built on top of a cliff and overlooks the above-referred confluence of the rivers. The sight of mountains and rivers and a small little town alongside is another postcard visual. The mind is still replaying all these scenes. The photo-op at this location was a true photographer’s delight. Water, hill, sky, housing – ALL IN ONE ! A true painter’s imagination ! A REAL WOW FRAME ! We then drove down to Mtskheta, which is essentially a small town now with simple, well-laid out bungalows and a lot of shopping area. A Shopper’s Stop essentially. The evangelist Saint Nino, about whom it was mentioned earlier, erected a large wooden cross at the site of the pagans at the Svetitshkoveli Cathedral. The cathedral is like a fortress and quite ancient. It is a very sacred place and “The Robe of Christ” is believed to be buried underneath in the cathedral. A very pious and holy site.
We then proceeded to the last leg of our tour : To the centre of Kartli region – GORI. This place has gained prominence in the history of Georgia and USSR, being the birthplace of one of the tallest leaders of the Bolsheviks, STALIN ! His real name is Josef Jugashvili, but became world famous by his nickname STALIN, which means STEEL in Georgian language. A Truly MAN OF STEEL he was ! A great leader for the Russians, liked by most old people but not so much by the younger generation Georgians because they believe Stalin never did anything for Georgia even though he was the Secretary of the Communist party. They think he only cared for Russia. However, in memory of their leader, the Georgians have erected a Museum in his honour. The STALIN MUSEUM at Gori, next to his birthplace and house is a place of Historical Importance. It gives us a good picture of how great a leader he was and a good insight into his life. The museum is well maintained and has many photographs and articles depicting his life. Outside the museum is the railway coach in which Joseph Stalin used to travel all across the world. It is a well equipped 7 compartment FIRST CLASS rail bogie complete with office room and dining hall, reflecting the fairly comfortable life style of the man. His original house, which is just at the side of this coach is a very old hut-like structure, which shows how poor his family was and how from such a humble background, he rose to be the BIGGEST LEADER of the USSR. One could’nt but admire the character, whether or not you agreed with his political philosophy. That brought to an end our dream tour of the unforgettable country of Georgia. We returned to the hotel by 9 PM and started packing for our return back home to Kuwait the next day. We had our dinner at another Indian Restaurant, Hotel Maharani to wind up our day.
We left for the airport at around 10 AM after having our last breakfast at Hotel Coste. When we got off from the van, we bid an emotional goodbye to Eka and Giorgi . They had become a part and parcel of our group. Truly wonderful people. ADIOS GEORGIA !
BRIEF SUMMARY OF GEORGIA :
COUNTRY : EXTREMELY BEAUTIFUL
PEOPLE : VERY FRIENDLY, LOVEABLE
VISIT VISA : NO FORMALITIES; SIMPLETO GET; FAST CLEARANCE AND ABOVE ALL FREE OF CHARGE
FOOD : VERY GOOD; DELICIOUS; WHOLESOME; CHEAP VEGETARIANS COULD FACE SOME PROBLEMS
HOTELS : VERY GOOD, CLEAN, COMFORTABLE
RESTAURANTS : PLENTY INCLUDING INDIAN restaurants like Hotel Hollywood and Hotel Maharani
FRUITS/ VEGETABLES : PLENTY, FRESH AND TASTY
LANGUAGE: YOUNGSTERS KNOW ENGLISH; OTHERWISE LANGUAGE IS A PROBLEM
COST : VERY CHEAP
PLACES TO SEE : PLENTY, BEAUTIFUL LANDSCAPE; UNFORGETTABLE IMPRINT
CLIMATE : VERY NICE DURING AUGUST-SEPT 25° C MAX; 12°C MIN
OVERALL RATING : HIGHLY RECOMMENDED;
VERY GOOD PLACE FOR A VACATION
HEAVEN ON EARTH !!
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