Perhaps one of the highlights of my trip to Georgia was visiting the town of Stepantsminda, which is more known as Kazbegi. This small town is located near the end of the Georgian Military Highway, linking Tbilisi with Russia. Hence, it is very close to the Russian border, right in the midst of the mountains that make up the Greater Caucasus. And together with that, Gergeti Trinity Church. This is perhaps one of the most spectacular views I have seen in this trip. And yes, the weather was quite cooperative, so my hiking boots had a workout.
I reached this town by taking a cab from Tbilisi. I originally wanted to take a minivan, as that was cheaper, but I couldn't find which minivan headed to Kazbegi, and there were several pushy taxicabs. The good thing, however, was that I was able to haggle, and so I brought down the price for a cab for 60 GEL, for a two-hour ride in perhaps one of the most spectacular highways I have been on.
I reached the town around noon. I had lunch, and filled my backpack with water and some snacks. I had about 6.4 kilometers to hike. It isn't long, but it definitely is steep. On my way, I was approached by a few drivers asking me if I wanted a cab to go to the top. But obviously, I declined. Why would I take a cab when it was for this purpose I actually went to this place? And as you can see from the pictures above, I can even hire a horse!
For the next three hours, I huffed and puffed, going up and up. There were several tracks and trails one can follow, depending on how steep you want to go. The steepest track was the most straight-forward, but I opted instead for the less steep track. It was a little longer, but at least it was easier. I followed paths going through the backs of houses, and sweating, I pushed my boots forward little by little. On the way, I bumped across a young French traveler, we chatted for a bit, and then later we split up. And after some more hiking, after going through a clearing, there it was, the church, standing on the peak, facing Mount Kazbegi.
There it was, the Gergeti Trinity Church, standing at the peak of the mountain facing the valley and the town below. Georgians believe that the higher one is, the closer one can be to God. Hence, they built these amazing monasteries and churches as high as possible. It was a very welcome sight, after hiking for three hours, finally reaching the top.
I entered this church. Modest dress is required, so women need to put some sort of head covering when they enter, which is readily available at the door. Photography inside is not permitted. But perhaps what fascinated me the most was the fact that the monk I saw had a mobile phone! He was there, talking with someone, while looking at the ledge and staring at the valley below.
Finally, it was time to return. I took the steep route this time. The path is seen on the two pictures above. And while I was descending the mountain, rain fell. It was bizarrely, and wonderfully, a euphoric moment, to the point that I found myself weeping. I have no idea why, but perhaps because it was spectacular, it was a dangerous trek, knowing that a couple hours north was Chechnya, and a couple hours west was South Ossetia, two active war zones. And yet I was still there.