Davit Gareji

Posted on May 6, 2012 by


Sunday was the TLG excursion to Ninotsminda and Davit Gareji. I’ve wanted to hit up Davit Gareji for like a year, mostly because I like archaeology and anthropology and think caves are wicked cool. For me, this trip was the last in the Cave City Trifecta: Vardzia, Uplistsikhe, and now Davit Gareji.

Davit Gareji is in a “desert” which consists of rolling hills covered in lush grass and scrub. I asked our tour guide why people called it a desert, and he seemed confused by the question (I still think of “desert” as consisting mostly of sand dunes) and we worked out that compared to most of Georgia, this land was not particularly useful for cultivation. There are also apparently tons of snakes there, but they must have been hibernating or something because the only wildlife we saw was a medium-sized lizard doing pushups on a rock on the Azeri border.

Oh, yeah, did I mention that we got to go to Azerbaijan? Apparently a small portion of the Davit Gareji complex – consisting of 12 main and 4 subsidiary churches, mostly made of caves cut into the side of a mountain – is currently located in Azeri territory due to a line drawn on a map in Stalin’s time, and apparently the Azeris regard this area as strategic because it is near the Georgian and Armenian borders.

So we got to sit on the mountain and look out over some Azeri territory and scope an Azeri military base. I took pictures and we made jokes about Azeri snipers taking me out, which evidently didn’t happen. Yay!

The hike up the mountain was fun, as was hopping back and forth between Georgia and Azerbaijan, but honestly my favorite views were from the main church which is nestled below the mountain peak, well into the Georgian side. Hiking down the mountain was also an interesting challenge because the path was made of sand and loosely packed dust, which required a good deal of care to navigate especially in the steep areas.

I think that of the three cave cities, Gareji had me favorite hike but Uplistsikhe still has my favorite views.

Ninotsminda was also pretty cool (backtracking here, because we actually went there first) – basically a nice new church and an old collapsed church inside a keep with a view of the surrounding lush, green mountains over the fortress walls. I think the Green Monastery was in a slightly better location, but Ninotsminda was still a really nice, peaceful place.

But perhaps my favorite part of this excursion was getting to socialize with a lot of new people. I only knew two people on the trip well, and another few people I had seen around or met once or twice; the rest were new faces. We laughed and joked the whole trip. We enjoyed a picnic of delicious sandwiches (I love these sandwiches – it’s like a little taste of home) and I brought chocolate chip cookies for the group (which were quite well received). At dinner we had more sandwiches, plus veggie salads, and then we played a round of Psychologist, which was (as usual) good for some laughs.

I feel like this group of volunteers just got along really well. 25 is a good number of people, the guides were good, the volunteers were from various groups and various placement locations (two came from as far as Guria) and everyone seemed friendly and happy to be on a nice excursion on a nice day.

The TLG van is really nice (and has air conditioning!). I spent most of the ride to Davit Gareji in conversation with the people sitting near me; we talked about teaching, about our teaching books, about U.S. vs. U.K. English, about the Georgian language, and generally about language and education on a level that I found really intellectually satisfying. I think that last year, most conversations among TLGVs amounted to “my kids are crazy, my books are awful, and my coteachers have no idea what to do with me”; I find it really gratifying that in such a short time – less than two school years – the tone of conversation has changed completely and now reflects the solutions that TLG and the MES have put into place. Our new books are really good and our coteachers are getting used to working with us (maybe our kids are still crazy, but even that just seems so much more manageable now that the other problems have given way).

All in all it was a great day – beautiful weather, lovely scenery, and excellent people. Like I said before – if you have a chance to go on a TLG excursion, drop everything and sign up.

Here are some pics from the day:


Davit Gareji