Next to the highway from Tbilisi to Gori there are settlements of large square houses visible. Now, Lonley Planet told me that this are houses for people who were displaces during the 2008 war with Russia. I might have figured that out by myself as well. All the houses look the exact same, all have gardens and trees around them, altough the trees haven’t really grown up yet. Some houses have concrete walls around them, some have already built an extra room. One house on the fringe of the settlement had its garden changed into a cafe.
Gori is a lot wetter than Tbilisi, there’s puddles and mud everywhere and strings of water coming down from every roof. All I’ve see about Stalin so far is his museum, which I recognized because it’s the biggest building in town and the train carriage outside, and his giant face seems to be on the front of a supermarket.
I walk around for a bit trying to find Hostel Kalifornia. When I do I immedatley ask the owner, Marina, how to get to Uplistsikhe, an ancient city carved from rock, which is close to Gori. She says I can either take a cab for 25 lari or go by a marshroutka.
Back at the bus station I try to figure out which one to take, until I see “Uplistsike” on a sign on a bus. Three young men stand in front and I ask in Russian if this goes to the place that is written on the sign (ok, maybe not the smartest thing to ask) and when it leaves. They don’t understand me. I take a look and the marshroutka is already completley full, there’s even people standing up to the entrance door.
This seems to be the only transport around that goes to where I want to, so I stand around for a bit. Finally the guys go inside. An older man comes and I ask again if this one goes to where I want to go and if there is space.
” Yes, yes!”
So I follow him inside I have to bend over with my butt against the door, my feet between a bag of corn and a sack with cabbage. I can barely hold on to one pole, gripping it over the head of one other guy.
We start driving, slowly, through the streets of Gori and stop at a hospital.
We can’t possible take on anyone else, I’m thinking.
A woman opens the door and gets on, pressing herself between the three men and me, who are aready filling the entrance space.
We continue, cross the river and stop again in the neighboorhood on the other side. The woman who enters last gets off, but an elderly couple gets on. They also fit in, the man is standing under my armpit. The mood is jolly, the two men standing under my arm gripping the pole make jokes all the time. Women are laughing. They seem to find it quite funny to be standing pressed up like this. I don’t understand a word of what they’re saying so I think it’s all about me.
“Haha, in America they probably don’t go around like this.”
“No, in Germany we don’t have is this cosy when we travel,” I want to answer them. But I don’t say anything because I don’t know who to adress, there’s too many people around.
Every few minutes the bus stops, everyone at the entrance has to get off, people pay their one lari fee and get out, we all get in again, close the door and continue driving.
After about 40 minutes we reach a village next to the river and the driver tells me to get out and points in the direction of a bridge. On the other side, up in the hills, I can already see the cave city.
I cross the bridge. Left I can see an old farm building with clothes drying on some fences. Ahead the stony hills rise up like a wall.
On the way I’m thinking whether I should get a guide to lead me around. I don’t feel like paying the money and having someone tell me where to go and look. But then I don’t want to be stingy, I travelled all the way here, so why not pay a little extra to learn more about the place.
But when I buy the entrance ticket there is nobody to offer me a tour, so I start walking up the rocks by myself. This used to be a huge city with up to 20.000 inhabitants, till it was destroyed by the mongols in the thirteenth century. What I see first are large walls, that used to defend the inner part of the city. Walking up I reach the first of several caves, carved into the rock. From what I read these used to be temples of pre-christian religions at first, then christian churches later. The place must have been huge in the past, there are about ten large cave temples all over the hill.
There are some other tourists walking around and I’m very happy I didn’t get a guide when I hear one guide talking to three very short Asian girls.
“Here you can take a picture. Now you have seen everything interesting here, we go down and I’ll show you a very interesting tunnel.”
Except for some signs saying things like “Throne room”, “Large Hall” or “Red halls”, there is no information whatsoever on what this place used to be. I’m a bit disappointed by that because I know nothing at all about what kind of people used to live here. Could it be so difficult to just get some historians to write texts and put them on signboards here? Is it really that they want to protect the business of the guides, or is there just no money for it? Now the impression I get is amazement for the size, and the time it must have taken to create this. In some of the caves the ceiling has been carved so that it looks like there are wodden beams. It seems like they were trying to imitate Greek temples, just like the Greek temples made from marble where still built to look like the ones made out of wood.
The view over the river valley, the surrounding hills and the mountains in the distance is impressive. Down next to the river some horses are grazing between ruins that must be a lot younger than the ones I’m standing on. It takes me about two hours to see all the caves and all the views.
I make my way down and walk back to the village. I ask several people if there’s going to be another marshroutka, they point me down the street. I stand around for a bit next to the road. I see that the road to the bridge and further to the cave city is paved, but not the streets of the village itself, they are muddy now because of the rain. It’s 17.00 o’clock and the site closes. The man who controlled my ticket comes over the brige and I ask about the marshroutka. He tells me to come with him and asks where I’m from.
“You speak Russian well.”
“Well, a bit.”
“Our young people don’t know Russian anymore.”
“They know English, no?”
“Yes, all know English.”
We reach a crossroad and tells me to stand for when there will maybe be a marshroutka. After 15 more minutes none comes and I start to think I have missed the last one.
A car comes from the other side of the river, from the cave city and stops where I’m standing. Three young women who work there get off and the woman in front asks if I want to come to Gori. I get in, greet them and off we go. The man driving keeps looking at me suspiciously so I just try to look innocent out of the window. In Gori I offer them five lari but the woman says it’s not necessary, so I thank them and walk back to my hostel.