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

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Pilgrims on a journey; Our stay near Telavi - in Caucasian Georgia

First view of our hotel across a meadow
alongside the dried up lake
So we climb back into the coach again for our drive to our hotel which will be home for the next two nights. We are to stay near Telavi, at the Kvareli Royal Batoni Hotel. Our first glimpse of this place is amazing - perched high up on the wooded hillside, a mock castle complete with crenellations, not to mention a very welcome looking terrace with sun umbrellas and horizon swimming pool. These pilgrims are enjoying their creature comforts!

view of the dried up lake from my room!
But hang on a minute; there is a problem! Our driver has to pull up at a barrier at the beginning of the road up to the hotel. There is much discussion and remonstration and eventually it is made quite clear that we must all disembark and await smaller mini bus transport for the final half mile or so to the hotel itself. It soon becomes obvious why. There is no way that the coach could have continued up to the hotel. It looks as if part of the road has collapsed. In fact we later find out that excessive rain fall has over time brought quantities of sand down into the lake, and they have decided to dredge the lake and build a new road at the same time. They assure us the lake will be full again in 3 days. We leave in 2!

The transfers from the coach to the hotel are very efficient though. They have this well sorted! And any frustration at the delay in getting these tired and hungry pilgrims to their rooms is soon forgotten when we pick up our keys and climb the spiral staircase or queue for the tiny lift. Our rooms here are wonderful. Mine is huge, with a super view across the swimming pool to the (dried up!) lake. Others look over the woodland at the back. There is an outside terrace on the first floor and here we celebrate our Ascension Day Eucharist, with far reaching views through the crenellations to the town and countryside beyond - as far as the eye can see.

beautiful wild flowers - vetch
There is a film crew in residence, here to produce a series popular on Georgian TV not unlike the UK TV "I'm a celebrity get me out of here" which seems to involve snakes in the swimming pool among other horrors ….. but our hymns manage to drown out their exuberance below…

Sadly our guide Maka has been feeling quite poorly for a few days and has been gradually losing her voice. Struggling to do her job and explain all the sites to us, which she has done admirably, she has to give up the struggle and we give her a warm and sincere send off that night. We are so sad to see her go but it is even more important that she does not compromise her health by struggling on.

There was a very bad electrical storm apparently in the night. I really do not like storms, but although I noticed the loss of electricity a few times and a dodgy TV signal, I managed to sleep through the worst of it without hearing or seeing the thunder and lightning!
There is a full program ahead of us for the next day. We have a new guide, Levan, introduced to us by Maka. He has a youthful enthusiasm for his country, of which he is justifiably enormously proud, and on the coach in the morning on our way to the churches and monasteries of the Kakheti region he regales us with many facts about the Georgian wine industry, including the fact that every family in this region makes and drinks 20 tons of wine each year, and the wine is exported throughout all the world's continents. There are 18 varieties of grape endemic to this region he tells us. I read later that these are just a small proportion of the more than 500 varieties grown in Georgia, of which 38 are in common use. It seems that every spare piece of land is used for vineyards here, or for growing many other crops. There is no space for the large recreational gardens so many of us enjoy - and we learn that the valley is so fertile that two harvests are possible here - a fertility and productivity clearly reflected in the larger and better standard houses in this region. The only other place I have visited with such fertility is the Portuguese island of Madeira, where again two crops can be grown each year on the same land.

vineyards in the fertile valley
Levan also explains a little about the toast/meal ceremony or supra which is a Georgian tradition of which they are very proud; it seems to be a marathon of eating and drinking, for men only, in which four liters or so of wine will be drunk by each man, accompanied by twenty or more toasts over a very long evening, of perhaps five hours or so. There is a definite order to be followed for these toasts, controlled by the toastmaster or tamada. Levan tells us that the first and last toasts are dedicated to God, then they toast to peace and love, friendship and family, with a special toast for women and mothers for whom they have a special respect. I'll drink to that!

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