|the transfer between minibus and coach|
at Hotel Royal Batoni
|crossing the river Iori south of Sagarejo|
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|
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|