Davit Gareja

I was up early again next morning, though it was to find the terrace occupied by two couples who seem to have been there all night, and were listening to loud music. But they were pleasant enough, and my two cups of coffee came up one after the other, and this morning the sunrise over the hills was quite special.

I went down early enough to pack, and then we were served breakfast well on time, as good a meal as on the previous day. And then, after a last cup of tea on my balcony, we were off with George on the long drive down to Davit Gareja, reaching after a couple of hours a very different sort of countryside to the verdant forest elsewhere. These were grassy undulating hills, with a profusion of flowers.

Access to the first monastery there, Lavra, was easy, up a short path to a decorated gateway, through which you  came to intricate stairways going down two stories to a courtyard with a range of caves which monks had occupied in the 6th century. But the other monastery, Udabno, was some way up the hill, and Vasantha decided that was not for him.

After a strenuous climb I came across a couple of soldiers, who conveyed that they were there because the border with Azerbaijan was at the crest of the hill. They seemed wary of my going further, but in the end let me proceed to a celebrated spring, which was however inside a cave occupied by a monk. He would not let anyone in, but he did fill water bottles, very essential for I had finished the tea with which I had filled mine in the morning.

Then I walked back to get into the monastery which I could see spread out below me, but it turned out there was no way in. I gathered from one of the soldiers that to get there one had to go higher, and then down, and this was forbidden. He gave me a sweet as consolation.

Lots of other visitors also came up and were also disappointed. One suggested that there was a way in round the hill from Lavra, but when I went back and asked George to check he drew a blank and with Vasantha worrying about his PCR we set off for Tbilisi.

In fact we were back well before 3 pm, dropped back at our original hotel which George found with the help of a friend from his university days whom he picked up in the city. There Vasantha contacted Alex who said he could get the text down at a van near the metro, so he set off to investigate while I rested my poor aching feet. But he was advised to do the text late at night, given that he was only leaving a couple of days later.

The pictures are of that fabulous sunrise, and then the very pleasant drive to Davit Gareja, and then many of that exotic setting, including from high above of the monastery I could not enter.