My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Monday, 18 August 2014

Our journey to the David Gareji (Garedzha) monastery complex

the transfer between minibus and coach
at Hotel Royal Batoni

crossing the river Iori south of Sagarejo
We wake up to a wonderfully sunny morning and enjoy breakfast on the terrace - looking down on the lake, now slowly filling up again! I find the food choices better at breakfast than for supper - being a wheat intolerant vegetarian can be tricky sometimes (!) - and so I make the most of the breakfast spread, refuelling for the long day ahead of us with salad, eggs and the fabulous Georgian Sulguni cheese. Because today we are off to the very isolated David Garedzha Monastery complex, founded by another of the Syrian Fathers, St David, and his disciple Lukian. It is all carved out of the sandstone in a stark semi-desert landscape close to the border with Azerbaijan and it will be hot!
This is one of the holiest Christian places of pilgrimage in Georgia. There is stone here transported from Jerusalem in the 6th Century, and three visits here by Christian Georgian pilgrims is said to be equivalent to one pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
This hotel we are bidding farewell to today, the Kvareli Royal Batoni Hotel, was only reopened a year ago, in July 2013, at the site of an old castle. It is truly an amazing place, with wonderful views, superb rooms, horizon swimming pool, and pleasant ambiance inside. It was a great shame for us that the lake was temporarily empty for our short stay. The photos on the hotel website do it full justice and I will certainly want to stay there again when I next visit Georgia.

typical concrete irrigation channel

a salt lake in the desert
typical large herd of cows in the desert
We have Morning Prayer on the bus as usual - today, 31st May, commemorates the visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth, and we hear the reading of the story from the Holy Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 1 vv. 39-56, including the wonderful Magnificat, "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit exults in God my saviour…" I simply love singing this at choral evensong. In some ways this is a social activism song, imagining a social transformation, bringing an end to poverty and hunger and the huge injustices of the world, as relevant now as then. Mary sings of God filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich empty away, of pulling down princes from their thrones and exalting the lowly. But this song is not Mary's alone. About one thousand years previously, Samuel's mother Hannah prayed a very similar song, as given in the First Book of Samuel in the Old Testament, Chapter 2 vv. 1-10.
Prayers over, we settle back for the long two and a half hour journey, due to arrive about midday, the hottest part! We are driving south towards Azerbaijan, and its neighbor Armenia to the West. The Georgian Military Highway, which we traveled on the other day, is a vital trade route between Armenia and Russia to the North of Georgia. We now climb up into the Gombori mountain range, entering a thickly wooded region and through this onto a high and extremely fertile plateau, where wheat and maize is ripening and plenty of water melons and other cucurbits are being grown and harvested. There is a solitary man in a huge field laboriously watering his crop of what looks like cucumbers, with buckets of water he has brought here in his large white truck. There are two ladies hoeing between the rows by hand. A car overtakes us with its roof rack loaded high with crates of bright red tomatoes, clearly heading for a market somewhere. Back in the plain to the south of the mountain range, and just before we turn off the main road at Sagarejo, there is a comfort stop at a petrol station, with untypically luxurious loos! Here we also have the opportunity to stock up on essential water, and to buy a ice cream.

Soon we're on to an altogether different kind of road. It's a single width track really, the surface of which steadily deteriorates as we drive ever further into the desert towards David Gareji. To start with all is green, with the now familiar crops of grapes, sweet corn, barley, green beans and so on. But it is getting ever hotter and drier. We cross the River Iori as it meanders its way through the landscape. Horses and cows struggle to find shade under high pylons at an electricity sub station. A large herd of goats has better luck, huddled close together among a thicket of trees and shrubs. There are isolated homesteads in the distance and the occasional lone man keeping watch over one of the animal herds, or leading them to a water reservoir for a drink. Sometimes these keepers are on horseback. Some herds know when to come in for milking and need minimal tending during the day. There is a large salt lake, where the salt is collected for the cows; an essential part of their diet. Levan tell us that the trees here were felled in huge quantities for industrial purposes and that is why there is now this desert. The main source of income in this desert is cheese and milk which is sold in Sagarejo. There is minimal public transport here and life must be tough. A minibus goes to the town in the morning, returning at the end of the day. A lone man, elderly and weather-beaten, is walking along the road seemingly miles from anywhere, shovel on his back. I guess he is filling in some of the potholes on this ever deteriorating track….we are nearly there...
the track across the desert

for the highlight experience of our pilgrimage...with just so many fabulous photos of the day I shall have trouble choosing which ones to show here...

scenery close to the monasteries

first views of the monastery complex - promise of wonders to come

1 comment:

  1. "the trees here were felled in huge quantities for industrial purposes and that is why there is now this desert."
    And this is the effect humans seem to have everywhere!