At this point, I feel safe in generalizing to say that TLG excursions are great.
I loved the Kakheti trip, to the agricultural school where we got to see wine, chacha, chorchkela, and khinkali made. That was back in late October, I guess.
Now that spring has come, TLG is taking every volunteer on a day trip to various locations of interest. I signed up for Uplistsikhe and Dmanisi, and ended up getting assigned the Uplistsikhe trip – my second choice of the ten or so options.
Uplistsikhe (from Uplis, or “god’s” and tsikhe, “castle”) is a cave city dating from the Early Iron Age – basically, over three thousand years ago. The city was basically dug out of rock formation on a hill on the banks of the river Mtkvari. The rock is soft enough to be easily worked with iron tools, and with the river on one side and the mountains on the other, the city was in a very defensible position. I was told it was an attraction not to be missed.
Gori is a town to the northwest of Tbilisi, near the border with South Ossetia. Its claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. Gori locals are proud of having produced such a great and powerful leader.
The excursion also included two churches – Samtavisi and Atenis Sioni. They were both quite churchy. Georgian churches are notable for their lack of artificial lighting, and so it’s usually weirdly dark in a Georgian church (at least the ones I’ve been to). Georgian churches are also interesting because people actually go to them – I mean, even the ridiculously old and famous ones. You go to a church that’s been standing for fourteen centuries, and inside there are people just attending a mass like “yeah, whatever, doesn’t everybody hang out in thousand-plus year old structures every day?
But other than that, I’m not all that into churches as a whole and so while I don’t really mind a visit to a church or two, it’s not what gets me out of bed in the morning.
Because for me, churches mean civilization. Churches mean enough of a functioning society to be able to support a religious class on top of the people who do the actual production of necessary goods and services. Churches mean a stable location that you can build an actual building at and expect that you’ll still inhabit that land long enough for having built a church there to pay off.
But go to a place like Uplistsikhe – or the Caucasian valleys in general – and to me it just feels more primal. When I stand at Uplistsikhe I can imagine what life was like when the world was young, when civilizations had to be built, when you might find yourself wandering along a river looking for a place to take shelter from storms or foreign invaders. When I stood on the wall in Sighnaghi I first began to think about what it would have been like to be the first people in the Caucasus, to come across plains and mountains and find yourself in a warm valley full of grass and trees and grapes and all the natural resources you could ever need. That’s why some of the oldest ancient human ancestor fossils were found in Georgia – Georgia was inhabited by hominids as long as 1.7 to 1.8 million years ago, according to fossils found in Dmanisi (which is why I want to go there).
I like the idea of coming back to a place where my ancestors may have been thousands or millions of years ago.
The trip, as I said, was excellent. Upistsikhe is worth visiting as it’s incredibly cool to stand in a cave that kings might have stood in a thousand years ago. Gori’s Stalin museum was okay – I mean, I’m also not all that into Stalin, but he definitely had some cool stuff.
We also had a tour guide who was informative and entertaining and who spoke excellent English, as well as a TLG rep who made sure everything went okay for us. TLG seems to have contracted Cat Tours for these excursions and based on this one I’d recommend them for any group excursion (although of course I have no idea how much they cost).
Everything was well-organized, we got good lunches, and we ended up back in Tbilisi before dark.
Anyway, I took photos of the trip, so I’m going to keep this entry short and just point you at the album: