I had planned a trip to Stepantsminda or Kazbegi on the second day and fortunately I found three interested candidates to share the experience and the cost. We hired a tourist taxi for $120 and with it came an amazing Georgian man who would be our guide. His English was very limited but there wasn’t any problem. Driving in Georgia is chaotic and I mean it. You will find both left-hand drive and right-hand drive cars on the road and once you are out of Tbilisi, the roads aren’t in that great of a condition. So my advice is to leave the driving to the experts and just enjoy the views.
And so our drive to the Georgian Military Highway began at 9am. The weather had drastically changed since the previous day. It was raining and quite chilly. We first stopped by the side of the road to have a view of the Zhinvali Reservoir on the Aragvi River and I was taken back by the mountains and felt great as the clean, cool air caressed me. It brought memories of home.
Not far from Zhinvali Reservoir is Ananuri Fortress (17th century), a postcard worthy castle on the Aragvi River. It is about 2 hours drive from Tbilisi, depending on the traffic. There was quite a crowd there and all that to get to the back of the castle for a view of the Aragvi River. This castle is in ruins and there is no access to any part except a small chapel that is open to the public but I still thought it was worth going there. There are vendors outside the fortress selling handmade souvenirs that can be bought at a cheaper price in the city but I still went ahead and bought two small hand-woven bags. There was a coffee stall and most importantly pay and use toilets for both men and women.
Our next stop was at a small restaurant on the highway called Narikala where we stopped for Khinkali and a drink. Not wanting to let go of the scenery, we sat outside in the cold and miraculously, the sky cleared up and the sunappeared.
By 11 am we were in Gudauri, the ski resort town. We were all excited to see snow-capped mountains in the horizon. The patches of snow here and there and even right next to the road in June made us wonder how it must be in winter. We stopped at the Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument for some photos and the wind was battering (it got better later on). A company offers paragliding to those who are into extreme sports.
An hour later, in Kazbegi, we found that there isn’t anything much to do here other than hire 4×4 jeeps and going for further excursions. Our driver quickly fixed us up with an old cheerful local man and his jeep. To our disappointment, he instantly informed us that the road leading to Gergeti Trinity Church (Tsminda Sameba) has been closed because of the weather conditions. So he instead suggested going to see Gveleti waterfall and then for a drive just above the town. We didn’t feel the waterfall so we asked him to just take us to the spot above the village and wow! what a spot it was. It didn’t take us even 5 minutes to get to this serene place.
We spent an hour just lying on the grass, barely speaking to each other. When we descended from the mountain, this generous old man took us to his home (much to our surprise) and offered us the notorious home-brewed Chacha, local soda and snacks.
He dropped us off at the parking spot where our other driver friend awaited us. I just gave a last look at the Gergeti Trinity Church on top of a mountain and we all got back inside the car to leave for Tbilisi.
On the way back we stopped again at Gudauri for a few more chacha shots and the next thing I was back in the hotel. It was around 7 pm. Enough time to take get ready for Tbilisi nightlife.