Everything was supposed to look completely different. I was planning to visit David Gareja on the first day just after arrival to Georgia. After visiting the monastery and we were planning to go to Ganja in Azerbaijan. The biggest problem in organizing a tour to Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan was the car. Armenia and Azerbaijan are at war and the border between them is closed, but that it’s not a problem because you can get to both through Georgia. The problem is finding a rental car company that allows going to these two countries.
Finally we managed to find one, it had good rates and response was immediate. Before leaving, having in mind the temperament of Georgian drivers, we decided to buy full insurance. After arriving, we went straight to take a car. We received a rental agreement according to which we would cover the full repair costs and the car didn’t have any damages. As a matter of fact the car was actually dented and scratched from every side. The assistant explained that she was only responsible for printing the agreement and in order to explain this situation we should call the boss. After a long discussion, we received corrected agreement and we started reading. After a while some Georgian guy came in and started making a fuss that he needed to rent a car, the assistant started to hurry us… It didn’t make any impression on us, we guessed what’s going on and we’re reading the contract even more carefully. Obviously, it had been corrected, according to the new version, the scope of our liability was defined in the annex, but nothing like that was attached. We asked for the annex, the assistant responded that it was their law… What law? So we asked her to print “their law”. She wasn’t able to do this, but she told us we could always call the boss again. Actually, that was the end of negotiations for us. When leaving we heard that we had to pay for permission to use a car in Azerbaijan and Armenia, good joke! We laughed and left. We were left holding the bag. According to my itinerary we were to drive around 3000 kilometers in 10 days, everything was fixed up except the car. We had a slight chance to find a car to rent in the season not to mention that we needed 4WD car and permission to go to Azerbaijan and Armenia. At that moment, we had nothing else to do but save the trip and use option B, which was a ride by a night train to Baku in Azerbaijan.
The station was full of people and unfortunately there was an unbelievable queue to cash desks, I knew this route is very popular in the season. We approached timidly to a ticket box; I wanted to know if there were any tickets left. I must admit that we were so tired after a flight and negotiations with the car rental company that I hoped to jump the queue. The lady in the window didn’t hide that checking the seats was a huge favor for us. There were only 6 tickets left, yeeesss we did it! We were soooo close to buy them, but then we heard THIS question: Where is your number? We didn’t have this piece of paper with number in a queue written on it. Judging by the tickets seller’s appearance there was no use asking her to sell them. We were waiting a few hours, during this time several people were shouting for joy, as they managed to buy the tickets. We were convinced that they bought OUR tickets. We didn’t have a plan C, so what else we could do but wait?Finally it’s our turn, we couldn’t believe it, there were last 2 tickets!!! Yeesss we were going to Baku!!!!
In perspective, I’m glad this happened because the train journey itself was an unforgettable experience, which I wrote about here. The”emergency plan” for the rest of the trip was prepared on the way. In addition to exploring Baku and surrounding areas, we were looking for a rental in Tbilisi, which would have a 4 x4 car to rent. I had no illusions, I knew that it was almost impossible in the high season. I was so angry that only way to calm down was going to explore the capital of Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Lukas did the impossible, he found a car!
Two days later, we were at the starting point, we got off from the night train from Baku to Tbilisi very early. According to the new itinerary we had to rent a car and go to Armenia to Sevan, located about 240 km from the capital of Georgia. After completing the formalities, we hit the road.
I had lost hope to see the Dawid Gereja complex. However, my travel companion said that since the spot was planned previously, there was no other option than to see it. I had doubts, it was already afternoon and we were a little tired after the night trip and emotions of the last few days, I realized it would take us 2 hours to drive to Gereja, including time to explore and drive to the Armenian border so another 3 hours, from there we had 150 kilometers to cover in order to get to Sewan. We didn’t know how much time it would take us to wait on the border and how the road in Armenia looked like.
I must admit that the photos of David Gareja didn’t impress me much, this place wasn’t on my must-see list. However, my arguments weren’t convincing enough, Lukas told that it was only 300 km. I thought to myself… if he insisted so? We had to go there!
When we passed Rustawi the asphalt on the road was gradually diminishing, until it finally ran out and we found ourselves on a dirt road.
The weather gradually started to deteriorate. I thought that all the effort was for nothing before we got to Gareja there would be a huge storm. However, I didn’t realize at the time that the storm itself would make this trip unforgettable.
As it was getting darker and darker, the landscape became more and more desolated. We felt like we were at the end of the world.
There was an endless emptiness around us. Amazing feeling, especially when living in a civilized world, you can rarely see an empty space to the horizon.
The views on this road are fabulous. The area looked like Mongolian steppes seen in the movies. A rugged terrain seemed to be painted in the shades of pink and red, that was something amazing, unbelievable.
The heavy clouds on the far horizon matched perfectly to the whole picture. I can see it now as if it were yesterday.
The monastery itself seemed to be just an addition in this amazing setting. Who would have thought, it was supposed the be the main point of our trip 😉
David Gareja monastery remembers the times of 6th century. At that time, the Syrian monk David decided to settle in one of the natural caves, that’s how the first monastery was created – Lavra. Over the time, hermit lifestyle attracted other monks.
The complex began to expand; its biggest bloom took place between the 11th and the 13th century. The next years were unpredictable, it was invaded firstly by Mongols in the second half of the 13th century (1265), followed by Persians in the 17th century.
Nevertheless, David Gareja continued to operate until 1921. During the Soviet Union, the monastery was closed and the area was used as a military range. Only in 1991 after Georgia regaining independence, it was re-opened.
Currently, there are only a few monks in the monastery. During our visit, a large part of it was off limits due to ongoing renovation works.
It didn’t matter when I had such views in front of me. Actually, the amazing landscape around David Gareja is located in Azerbaijan basically. Just 200 meters from Dawid Gareja is the border with Azerbaijan. The area of the complex is the source of conflict between both countries. Due to the high historical value of the complex, Georgia offers Azerbaijan other areas in exchange for Gareja. For Azerbaijan, these areas are of particular military importance. This conflict seems to have no end, especially since it’s fueled by another country – an influential player in this region.
How did our farther journey look like? When we reached Rustawi, it was getting dark.
We still had around 240 km to cover. It might seem that not much, but at the border we had a big delay because of the fight between the Russians and Armenian customs. On the other hand, the Armenian road from the border to Sevan village practically did not exist.
We got there at 2 am. It was an exciting day and what’s more our itinerary got back on tracks. Further posts soon.
Transport from Tbilisi
There is no public transport to David Gareja. Besides, renting a car, there’s also a possibility to take a taxi, the cost of the rturn trip should be around 100 lari with a stop for sightseeing, when you split the bill it will cost only 25 lari. In addition, every day at 11 pm, a bus “Gareji line” leaves from Freedom Square. It’s a special sightseeing line for tourists. Private transport is often offered by hostels and guesthouses.
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