I begin with the new year a new series. On this blog towards the end of last year there were accounts of the last two journeys I made in 2022, to Kerala and then to Italy and Croatia. But the earlier two, to Georgia and to Rajasthan, I had only recorded on my Facebook page, so I thought I would now describe them here. There will be some repetition, which I trust will not be a problem, given that the audiences for the two outlets are not the same. But I will try to adopt a slightly different approach, with the type of detail that the Editor of the Sunday Island thought would make travel writing more interesting.

In Facebook I did not look in detail at my previous visit to Georgia, when it was part of the Soviet Union. That figures in Off the Beaten Track , the last book I published last year, which covered travels in several countries of the former Soviet Union, as also in South East Asia. The section about Georgia I thought worth including in that book for completeness, though I was there just for one night. But I also much enjoyed the journey there by train. And the pictures today relate to that visit, the first two being taken last year, of the Caucasus mountains which I delighted in crossing by train in 1975. The others are of the Tretyakov Gallery and one of its early icons, and then Nirekha Weeratunge whom I was delighted to work with 20 years later.

This time I went to Georgia largely at the behest of Vasantha Senanayake who wanted to see a new country on his way back from the United States in early July. Since I had meetings in Paris in late June, and thought that I should make an effort to overcome the lethargy about travel that had beset me after coronavirus, I agreed to meet him in Georgia, a place I had wanted to get to after I had hugely enjoyed the other two former Soviet republics in the Caucasus, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Those two I had not been to before, but Georgia in fact I had visited in 1975, on my way back to Oxford. Aeroflot provided the cheapest flights between London and Colombo in those days and, having only changed planes in Moscow on the way home, I decided to have a longer stopover in the Soviet Union on the return journey.

And while there I took the train to Tbilisi in Georgia. That had been a magic name to me, more so in its original form Tiflis, from the time I read the Ruritanian novels of Anthony Hope, though his Ruritania was nearer the Balkans. But from then the idea of little kingdoms nestling in high mountains fascinated me, and I was lucky in that contacts in the Embassy in Moscow were able to get the necessary permissions and tickets.

We knew the ambassador, Soma Weeratunge, whose son had married my cousin Kshanika in August. Before that, though I do not recall meeting him then, he had been the partner in medical practice in Kandy of Aeneas Wickramasuriya, the good friend of Hope Todd with whom I spent many happy holidays.

In Moscow Soma and his wife Dayanitha and their two younger daughters were immensely hospitable. The older of them, still a schoolgirl in 1975, Nirekha became a good friend twenty years later after she joined Sabaragamuwa University and together with her husband Ralf Starkloff was a tower of strength in the reforms I initiated. Soma himself was a great lover of art, and I went with him to the Tretyakov Gallery of Russian art which I had I think missed out on earlier where he commented knowledgeably about different styles of painting.