Somewhere deep in the Caucasus mountains, I sip a glass of fine Georgian wine, watching the clouds playfully swirl around the snow-clad Mount Kazbeg and my gregarious Georgian hosts lovingly tending to their vegetable garden below. I’ve spent my days indulging in the country’s sumptuous gastronomy, drinking mineral water right off the spring, lounging in my remote mountain home as though nothing else in the world matters. The mist descends on our postcard village of Stepantsminda, a woman in a traditional black dress carries fresh lavash bread from the neighbourhood bakery, the valley echoes with the laughter of men, children and horses. This isn’t the Hobbiton trail in New Zealand, but the closest you can get to life in the Shire (Lord of the Rings style) – where people live beautifully, eat well and be merry.
Two weeks ago, I landed in Tbilisi, Georgia’s photogenic capital city, with a friend, a one month visa and no fixed plans. The rugged mountains, chilled out locals, Soviet-era homes, underground wine taverns, artsy cafes and quirky cultural vibe instantly cast a spell on me.
I remember strolling along the cobblestoned by-lanes of Old Tbilisi on our first evening, admiring the decrepit Ottoman and Soviet-styled architecture, watching farmers sell fresh produce from their garage, marveling at opulent ancient churches, catching a glimpse of locals peeping from their ornamental balconies, and having our first tryst with the complex Georgian language. We settled at an outdoor cafe for a meal of badrijani nigvzit (eggplants with walnut paste), pxali (vegetable pate) and Georgian wine – a burst of deliciously fresh flavors that might be ruining my palate for life! The symbolic statue of the “Mother of Georgia” – holding a wine glass in one hand to greet friends and a sword in the other to ward off enemies – towered above us from the Sololaki Hill as we ate.
At first, it was difficult to tell the locals apart in Tbilisi. There were hints of Russian and Slavic tones now and then, but to our unaccustomed ears, it sounded much the same. Then we realized that outside of the two popular streets of Old Tbilisi, almost everyone we met was a local. Initially reserved, I’ve discovered Georgians are helpful, full of warmth and humor. One of our cabbies began singing “ichak dana, beechak dana” when he heard we were Indian. In the Raj Kapoor days, Georgia was part of the Soviet Union and the older generation grew up watching and weeping with black-and-white Bollywood! His good-humored and eccentric ways convinced us to drive with him to Kazbegi, on the Georgian countryside, at a meagre amount – and we realized just how blissfully inexpensive this country is; Western European quality at almost Indian prices.
The road to Kazbegi led us into the stupendous beauty of the Caucasus mountains, and if I didn’t know better, I could think I was in a Lord of the Rings movie. We stopped along the way to meet women knitting traditional thick white Kazbegi hats and fill mineral water from springs in the mountains. We crossed road signs going towards Yerevan (in Armenia) and Tehran (in Iran). Over lunch, Akaki, our cabbie, toasted every sip of wine to our ancestors, health and good fortune.
Over a surreal week, we hiked amidst mist-laden valleys and snow-capped mountains, to an isolated church in the backdrop of Mount Kazbeg, cycled to Georgia’s (undisputed) border with Russia, indulged in mouthwatering Georgian dishes cooked with the freshest vegetables, got invited by an Orthodox monk to his monastery in the mountains, and even landed up in a little family-run resto where the hosts sang and danced to “Tum hi ho” from Aashiqui 2 on hearing we’re Indian!
Now my friend, who is interning in Tbilisi, has rented a loft by the river and I’m totally making it my base this month too. The supermarket in our neighborhood is incredible – selling everything fresh from herbs like basil and oregano, to homemade cookies and chocolates, to raw pasta, to vegetables that smell and taste like they’ve just been plucked from the fields. I’ve never taken a cab ride in the city that cost more than 5 lari (150 rupees), and that includes cars like Mercedes Benz! Last night, we found ourselves at an open air Georgian folk and wine concert on the outskirts of the city.
I think I may have finally found my Shire.
[Update 2018] Georgia E-visa is now available for Indian passport holders, but unfortunately several Indian citizens have been deported from Tbilisi airport, despite fulfilling the official Georgia visa requirements. Read about the Georgia E-visa hassle and how to make sure you don’t risk being deported back.
What were (are) your impressions of Georgia, the country?
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Welcome to my blog, The Shooting Star. I’ve been called a storyteller, writer, photographer, digital nomad, instagrammer, social entrepreneur, solo traveller, vegan, sustainable tourism consultant and environmentalist. But in my heart, I’m just a girl who believes in the transformative power of travel.
Georgia spells surreal beauty and with an old world charm as depicted by the soviet era styled monasteries, this place really has got to be the perfect getaway for relaxation. And since it is not yet dominated by hoards of tourists, this place looks to have ‘that’ divine touch 🙂 your post would make anyone take the next flight straight into Tbilisi 🙂
Thanks Richa; glad my post made you feel that way! Have you already been to Georgia?
That’s a beautiful place. As usual Europe never fails to mesmerize.
It’s such a different part of Europe though, I can hardly club it together in my mind!
That eggplant looks so good! We drink a lot of Georgian wine at home (in Pune!)
That’s incredible! Most traditional Georgian wines are dry, but I was treated to a homemade semi sweet (chilled) red wine yesterday and I’m so in love.
that looks like being in paradise on earth….
Close enough Cornelia!
always good to be close to it….
Oh my goodness. Those mountains and that eggplant!
My sentiments too 😉
At first look, I thought your photo was of Borgo, Italy. Wow, the Caucasus Mtns to hike and explore, super yummy looking/sounding food and wine. Thanks Shivya for opening up my eyes to a destination that I had never considered visiting before. My “bucket list” is overflowing. Cheers and thanks!
Sue in N. California
Amazingly written…So wonderfully described… Have a wonderful stay there and keep us posted with ur every experience
Thanks Priya! And you know I will 🙂
i’ve waited for this! can you elaborate more on the hiking part?
i’ve researched a bit, there are sooo many pretty spots there in Georgia! which spots are recommended?
I’ve only explored two regions so far (I like to take it slow). Planning to come back for another month. Shall share my tips at the end of that.
Great read, Shivya!
But tell me – What made you choose Georgia? (Just curious).
Thanks! The backstory is that a friend of mine scored an internship in Georgia and I decided to pile along. Any excuse is a good excuse right?
Looks like dream-like place. Georgia is beautiful, the mountains, the beaches everything is lovely, did I forget to mention the eggplant! 🙂 Loved your post. I love reading about mountains; they are source of my strength. I have spent days and days working on my freelance project in different places of Himalayan region. You can checkout my blog too, I hope you enjoy it. 🙂
Thanks Kiran! Off to check out yours.
Mesmerizing scenic Beauty and your wonderful writing …I would love be there someday 🙂
Thanks Parnashree! Hope you get to visit soon.
Georgia is a beautiful place and your uploaded images inspire me to visit Georgia once. Thanks for sharing this interesting and beautiful post with us.
Thanks for reading and glad it inspired you!
Wow! Georgia must be like a go to place for Lord of the Rings fans (which includes me too :D)
ahh how I would love to visit this beauty some day…
Finally found some time to feast on your Georgian adventures. You have painted a beautiful picture of the place. The clicks are lively. Thanks for sharing ths.
good one in deed!
I was just discussing with my friends over a coffee… how you are spending your life as an adventure , which remains forever as dream in many minds .. 🙂
I am going to Georgia in September for 8-10 days. I have plans to go to the Mountainside for 3-4 days, be in Tbilisi for 2-3 days and Batumi for 2-3 days. I have to plan my itinerary based on opinions i have to find in the internet. Can you share the names and places of the stays, hikes etc that you had. I will be traveling with my wife and one year kid.
Hi, I’m from Georgia and I think you should visit Tbilisi (capital of the country), Batumi (the second biggest city in Georgia) and Stepantsminda (mountainous place). As I know hostels are good in Tbilisi and Batumi It’s also very cheap. I guess it will be better if you choose a gust house in Stepantsminda. In Tbilisi your hostel should be near to old Tbilisi because it’s the main part of the city. In Batumi your hostel should be near to piazza Batumi and opera house of Batumi. I tried to help you : )
Wonderful post. Have met Georgians here in Estonia through my work activities and found them friendly and intense. Your post has just added another layer of intensity to my desire to visit them country
An interesting read! which month you visited this place?Thanks
check this about the wines :O fantastic
Hi Shivya. You seem to be a thinking tourist with a mature mind and have made your travels almost a spiritual exercise. I like your style of writing and absolutely enjoy reading your posts even though I am not much of a traveller myself. In fact you might be appalled to read my recent post (a cartooning blog on life in general) on why I think travelling is over rated. All for a laugh….
On a serious note , keep writing as I am sure you will and best wishes.
Georgia seems like a quiet serene land without so much tourist. Those mountain has grabbing me.
That egg plant looks so amazing, I think I should grab one soon.
My bucket list is overloading….. I don’t know when will i visit such a place.