The gondolas and the black waters of the Qvirila River aren't the only things to see in Chiatura, which again expands my faith for Chiatura to have at least some tourist traffic in the future, with the right planning. The first stop was Mgvimevi Monastery, which lies a 15 minute walk north from the center of Chiatura. The stairs that lead up to this cliffside monastery were hidden among a construction site, a candle and ikon shop, and a house. There's a small sign marking the ascent, but little more than realizing you'll have to go straight up to get to the monastery. A small cable car sits above the shop, used to carry supplies up the monks that live above.
|Mgvimevi on the cliff, looks steeper IRL|
Despite being impossible to pronounce, Mgvimevi hosts a cave chapel and a large number of beautiful carvings chiseled into the stone walls of square chapels carved out of the rockside. The monks remain out of sight, leaving only old ladies to tend the candles and mop and to allow you for your own contemplation in a cave. There is continued construction behind closed doors (that further church in the picture), winding around the cliffside - but no worries, the main part of the monastery is from the 13th century, though the carvings and outer structures seem to be more recent, so if it's ancient dwellings you're after, this still suffices.
When we finished our sightseeing in the main part of Chiatura, we had to get a taxi, since the last three sights weren't exactly convenient. First on Ben's list, was to see the house museum of some Japaridze fellow, who was a world famous mountaineer or something. I'm not sure, I had never heard of him, but he was famous among those in the know of the Georgian alpinist community. The house was in the nearby village of Khreiti and was not at all walkable, having to ascend above the canyon and then down into a neighboring valley towards Racha. The other two sights, the Katskhi monastery and pillar, were both easy stops along the way to Kutaisi, where we were staying the night, so we decided to just negotiate with a taxi driver and worked a large, possibly mentally handicapped guy for 80 lari. I had thought that was steep at the moment, but then realized what a trip Khreiti was.
The road to Khreiti was more of a rocky trail, with the driver's VW Golf sedan barely making it over some of the holes and humps of the road. Though the driver knew that the Japaridze house museum existed and was in Khreiti, he didn't precisely know where either was. We drove on the trail for nearly an hour, continually stoppig for directions, and the finally he let us off at the base of a hill, where the road went straight up and was impossible for the Golf to make. "There," he pointed up, "the museum is that way, 1 or 2 kilometers."
|A city street (and pig) in the village Khreiti|
Up the hill we went. After about one or two kilometers of going up and completely understanding how this Japaridze became an alpinist, we came to a village. The forest broke for houses and small farms, where the style of life hadn't seemed to have changed for hundred of years - not even most cars were accessible here, though occasionally an old Soviet UAZ could be found. We had to keep peering into people's garden to ask for directions. Always, "Oh, it's just around that corner," or "It's just around this corner." No surprise to anyone that two foreigners were looking for it, must have happened all the time.
After turning enough corners, we were nearly sure we were lost and that this museum only existed in some dual, metaphysical plane that overlapped on top of our reality of Khreiti. But then a boy showed up and brought us down more twists and turns and finally to the house.
|The Japaridze House Museum|
The house itself was in the old Georgian style, with a stone first floor for wine storage and a second floor made of wood, with a large balcony to enjoy the mountain views. As Ben began to climb the stairs, a drunk guy stirred from a nearby bench and yelled at us. "No, no, no! Not allowed! It is closed."
Ben backed down and we examined the building further. Outside was a poster that advertised a festival from 1988. Through the windows of the first floor, there were stacks of furniture in disarray. The last time anything appeared to be touched seemed to match the date of the poster.
As we walked back in defeat, Ben noted, "Everyone knew of the museum. They all led us here, but no one bothered telling us it hadn't been open in twenty years."
"I wonder if anyone even knew that it's been closed," I said. "I mean, it can't be a museum that's really visited that often. Though it is strange how no one seemed it strange we were asking about it. Like people come all the time to visit."
We reunited with our driver and went on to the Katskhi monastery, again, just on the roadside to Zestaponi. We stopped and had a look. The monastery church was interesting to me due to the shape. It was an hexagon, which was altogether unusual in Georgian religious architecture, the only churches I had seen or heard like it were in Armenia and Oni, though both of those had long since been in ruins. It was built in the 10th century AD, and covered in ornate carvings, the like of which are barely seen anymore in Georgia, but probably covered most of the older churches prior to earthquakes and Mongol, Persian and Turkish invasions.
When we got back to the car, the driver started complaining about the price. "It should be more, gas is so expensive and it is hard to get to the pillar."
"The pillar is on the way and we already paid you and agreed!" I said back. I started getting a sick feeling in my gut, the feeling of utter disgust I get when people go back on their agreements, or when taxi drivers start complaining about their previously agreed fare. The man became less of a man to me, and seemed more like some miserable mass of talking bile and compost. Such is how I feel of weaselly drivers. But I stuck to my guns and refused to change price. Likewise, he refused to stop at the pillar, even for a view, despite it being on the road to Zestaponi. So we missed that sight, though we did get a peak of the pillar from the windows of the speeding car.
In Kutaisi, we stayed at a hostel, Hostel Mana (33 Tabidze, +995 598 7477 44, 20 euros for a private room), that was more of a guesthouse than a hostel. It was run by an amicable, middle aged man who seemed more than happy to have our business. The only problem with the place was the locked front door and lack of key, which meant if we had come home late, he would have to get up to open the door, though he didn't seem to mind when he did have to do that. The place was also hot, but there was a fan in our room, so it wasn't so bad.