Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Davit Gareja

Davit Gareja, Georgia

The plan for the day was to see Davit Gareja, one of Georgia's most famous historic and religious sites. It abuts the Azerbaijan border. It is a place of hermetic monks.

Pam, Kate, Sandy, and I met at Didube market. It was crazeeeee there. A massive snarl of taxis, marshrutkas, buses, people, vendors. Horns honking. Tempers flaring. It was the day before the Orthodox Easter.

We negotiated with a taxi driver to take us for the day to Davit Gareja for 100 lari. He spoke no English and, of course, my Georgian is minimal. Before we sealed the deal, Sandy and I talked on the phone, as she was en route from Gori, to make sure she was OK with this plan instead of taking a marshrutka to Gardabani and then finding a taxi there. We awaited her arrival at the market before we could take off. The taxi driver wasn't sure if our answer was yay or nay, though I'd told him yes, so he and I had a minor set-to at Didube's roundabout island, while I tried to explain that I was expecting Sandy any moment and yes, we intended to use his services, while he tried to explain ... I don't know what. He came very close to the line where I would have felt justified saying, "Bicho, ra ginda"? (Dude, what do you want?) but he didn't quite cross it.

Eventually, we were off. Really, what a madhouse Didube was!

There are a couple of approaches to Davit Gareja, and our taxi driver chose the Kakheti route.

We stopped in Sagarejo, Kakheti, for picnic provisions before turning off on the barren road to Davit Gareja: Skewered barbecued pork, tomato and cucumber salad, bread, apples, and cookies.

Davit Gareja, Georgia.

The topography transformed into a land I hadn't seen before in Georgia. Knobby-kneed foothills with a green veneer, traversed by large flocks of sheep and shepherds. At Davit Gareja itself, red-and-cream straited cliff formations. All of it striking.

As soon as we arrived at the site, we sought out a picnic spot. This took a little searching, as there are no picnic tables, not much shade, and inconvenient cow flops distributed throughout. But we did find a tree and set up shop for our lunch. (One insurrectionist among us argued for exploring the site before eating, but the rest of us wrestled her to the ground and beat her into submission.) We had a gorgeous view.

Davit Gareja, Georgia.

Davit Gareja, Georgia.

Once fed and watered, we packed our stuff away in the taxi and climbed up to the hermitage itself. (By the way, the taxi driver was fasting because it was the day before Easter, which could explain his occasional grouchiness and also the madness of the Didube market. Put hundreds, more likely thousands, of hungry people together in a traffic jam and things ain't gonna be pretty.)

I felt a little disappointed in Davit Gareja. Blame it on the LP hype and the lovely photos of the complex I've seen. Or the seductive, glossy brochure I had. I don't know. Since I don't bring any religiosity with me, that aspect is lost on me, so I have only my sense of beauty, history, and place to provoke my reactions. Unfortunately, quite a few nooks and crannies were signed off with "no admittance," and we didn't know where or how to access some of the locations of the most intriguing brochure subjects. This kind of disappointment can also be a direct result of not having a knowledgeable guide.

(Note: It's alternatively a function of not having easy access to printers in Georgia and not having a kindle or ipad with us where we can re-consult a guide book about a site. I bought the electronic LP Guide to Georgia, and it's on my laptop, but I had no access to it onsite, a situation I intend to rectify when I return to the U.S. this summer, when I will buy an e-book reader. That'll be super-easy to carry around with me in my bag, always.)

So, frankly, I felt more taken with the unique scenery than the site itself. I felt the same at Uplistsikhe (cave city) near Gori. This has palled my interest in going to Vardzia, the third of the most famous cave communities.

I was glad we could step into the small chapel where a service was taking place.

More photos in the slide show below:


On the way back to Tbilisi, the taxi driver and I engaged in a non-conversation in our respective languages while Pam, Kate, and Sandy snickered in the back seat. The wenches.

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