Gamarjoba from The Caucasus Mountains,
The Caucasus Mountains is where the bucolic rhythm of life is slow, where the hay is cut by groups of men bearing scythes, where the cows bring themselves down from the mountains with the first fall of snow and where the horses run with that staccato gait which allows the skilled rider to remain completely motionless. There is electricity in every house and fuel-powered vehicles in most yards but lots of goods, people and appliances are moved around on horse-drawn sleds.
Our host for a week in the mountains – for Linda, the elixir to clear the lungs and rejuvenate the soul; for me, a week of less frenetic travel to break the journey – is Manana.
Manana is the brains and workhorse of the family, a lone hand in the enterprise which allows them to add to a near-subsistence existence. She makes her own jam, cheese, bread, yogurt and wine, grows all her own vegetables and fetches water from the mineral spring. She speaks Georgian and Russian fluently, English and French haltingly and oversees all of the cleaning and maintenance. In short, Manana is the reason this place achieves a 9 on booking.com :something she is proud of. Husband Paata and daughter Tamta are bemused accomplices.
The villages in the valleys are all adorned with unique towers which stand out on the landscape. These towers were built by the Svan people (still here) principally for communication purposes, and their size was a representation of relative wealth and status.
The imposing stone towers are said to date from the ninth century. They had no door, so the entrance – for men only – was via a tunnel which had been dug to an adit some distance away. Many were connected with each other via these tunnels. They were all constructed of stone and mortar and some were adorned at the top with protruding turrets, looking a bit like someone has plonked a neat square cap on top. Many of these towers have fallen into disrepair and they were never used for housing anyway. Together, they provide a postcard picture of the valley.
After staying one night in Ushguli, the best example and the highest village, we crawled on the narrow mountain road to Lentekhi, the next town. The distance between the two is actually about 30 kms as the crow flies but the trip took nearly five hours; lots of nervous energy expended on this trip.
Lentekhi is a near ghost town. The main street is Stalin Street. (Remember, Joe Stalin was from Georgia. ) Most of the concrete buildings are either abandoned or decayed, perhaps mirroring the memory of the man. This town clearly lost its raison d’être some time back. We looked in vain for a café (this is at 2 pm!) finally gambling on the outlet which best resembled one. They didn’t have coffee or tea or any hot drinks but they did have a refrigerator! The bloke offered us Bonjormi which we finally translated to Georgian vodka. Thanks, but no thanks; we’re driving. We settled on pear lemonade and two fried cheeses. The cashier used an abacus to calculate our bill.
The corn may be high as an elephant’s eye but the pace is still from another time.
Naxvamdis from the Caucasus Mountains