Tuesday, September 11, 2007


What with Ham here, we took a trip up to Kazbegi, in the far north of Georgia, close to the border of Russia (North Ossetia which contains Beslan). Kazbegi is almost the last town in Georgia, with the district having a population of under 8000, though you would not think it, looking at Kazbegi itself, which looks and feels like a very small village.

This was a 'live life like the Georgians' trip, so we took the marshrutka fromDidube station in Tbilisi (8 laris, about 5 USD) for the 3-hour trip up and over the mountains, with the highest pass at 2300 m above sea level. As we approached Kazbegi the marshrutka filled up with people from the surrounding villages wishing to go to the district capital, either buying or selling stuff. Interesting moment on the trip - at one moment the driver drew up outside a little shack, a woman popped out of the house next door and dragged out 2 huge cans of petrol from the shack - it was the local petrol station!

On arrival in Kazbegi two women crowded the bus, looking for people to stay in their homes. (Apparently someone has been told never to go with the women who try to pick you up off the bus, but we did not know that!). This seemed like a good idea, so off we went with the more organised-looking one along the road, up another road, round a corner, passing the pigs, up another road to find her house.

Homestays in Georgia are not like your English bed and breakfast; here a number of narrow beds are crammed into rooms and you share or don't share with strangers. The condition of the houses, certainly in Kazbegi, probably would not meet your English bed and breakfast standard either, what with cracked and plastered walls etc - and that's just the decor. One of the two homestays we used on the trip only had water at certain times; the early morning it was not, so I showered and washed my hair with one litre of water the following morning....But it's ok; people in Kazbegi live like that all the time, so a couple of night's won't hurt us. Cost was 15 laris for the bed plus food.

Oh yes, food. We went to lunch at a small cafe (the only operating cafe) next to the Stepantsminda hotel (which did not do food) and if we'd been really hungry, we would still be chewing their shashlik. Apparently it's notorious for being tough. Doing it in a frying pan probably does not help either.... The food in the homestays was so so; the first one was overpriced for a dinner of sausages and scrambled eggs, and in the second one we would have had more choice, had we chosen our food in the morning before going out, rather than in the evening. (In a place with frequent powercuts it's not really ideal to have a freezer, so people buy food as they need it.) Other homestays are reported to do very good food.

Kazbegi is in the shadow of Mount Kazbek, at 5033 (or 5047) m the highest mountain in Georgia, and definitely not one for climbing by amateurs. It's rare that you can see all of it; often it blushingly hides its little face with a cloud. You can, however, approach a good bit of it, and we hiked up to the glacier which is at the side of the mountain. I'd never seen a glacier up close! It was amazing how much water was pouring out of it, at the height of summer.

The path to our viewing point was quite manageable, though there was a chilly wind. At one stage we nearly gave up, at the risk of being blown off, but shortly after that it recovered and
became much more manageable again.

We found loads of gentians (two different kinds), a dog who followed us faithfully (apparently he follows everyone), and masses of scrumptious blueberries. And about 7 hours later we were back in the village, where, in the absence of planning, our dinner consisted of a pie filled with potato and some cheese (plus bread and the usual salad).

There was no problem getting a marshrutka back to Tbilisi the following morning, even though many internet correspondents talked about the need to get a taxi back to town.

We found a couple of young ladies from Estonia and Latvia in Kazbegi who are doing a survey of tourist impressions and expectations; I felt a bit sorry for them - they really are at the back of beyond, and even in the food stakes the range is quite limited. But it's only for three months, and probably a good experience for them.

Recommended homestays:
Stepan's next to the Lomi hotel; has permanent running water, indoor toilet and electricity; pre-ordered food good, nice people
Other people recommended Bella's (in Gergeti, just across the river), toilet through the chicken shed, but with lots of good food, and Nati's, also possibly in Gergeti. There's also one called 'Vano's' which everyone talks about on the internet. There's also a nice looking guest house, in Stalin Street 5 (though actually it's in the street parallel to it, up the mountain, opposite the little mountain museum. Belongs to Iago Kazalikashvili - looks good, but when we went we found a little old lady at the door who did not seem to feel empowered to give us a room. Might be a higher class of accommodation than the homestays. And then there is the Stepantsminda Hotel, which is new and modern.

(Fotos by Ham)


varske said...

Sophie is planning a similar trip for me and her after finals next year. I will make sure she knows what she is in for.