And into the mountains, I go, to lose my mind and find my soul – John Muir
Well, he spoke about finding his soul in the forests, but mountains do come a close second. And if I had to describe my time in Gudauri and Kazbegi-Georgia in one line, John Muir’s modified quote is one of the best ways to do so.
I haven’t been able to decide if I am a beach or a mountain person. Everyone around me has their loyalties set in stone but I am always oscillating between both. And who says you need to choose one love? Beaches have their charm, but my awe is equally reserved for mountains. Their towering presence is very humbling. The silence surrounding them is calming and it gives me a chance to hear my own heartbeat (it could also be because this city girl is not used to hiking). Their colors change every season – from mild greens to burning browns and finally being snow white. And their valleys hold many secrets. These huge structures of stone have seen so many civilizations prosper and wither under their watch that just being around them is always a reality check to me. Who am I but a small being in this big wide world occupying a tiny space?
Pondering aside, if there is a piece of heaven on earth, Gudauri and Kazbegi, Georgia have been lucky to receive a huge part of it. Rutavi and I reserved 3 days to explore Northeast Georgia. And we decided to set base in Gudauri instead of Kazbegi because of its proximity to the areas that we wanted to experience.
We stayed at Marco Polo Hotel Gudauri in Gudauri, which also is a ski resort during winter. And trust me, the location is gorgeous! We had checked out pictures online before we traveled, but the reality that awaited us was 100 times more beautiful than the pictures. Marco Polo is cradled in the mountains with the mist descending around it late in the evenings and early in the mornings. And to enjoy the incredible views, they have cute wooden balconies in each room, so you can have your fill without even leaving your room. I think that was the hardest for me – trying to leave the room and get on with my travel plan. It would have been much easier in the winter because the ski route starts right outside the hotel. And Marcopolo is equipped with all the ski gear that I could have rented. Since I am a novice, I could have even practiced the simpler slopes with their Ski Instructor. However, that’s for the winter and someday I am going back to experience it all.
Rutavi teases me a lot about my intensive research before my travels. She says I research as if I am going to take an exam or submit a thesis on the respective location. In my defense, I want to get the maximum out of my time in that place. I do include the popular tourist destinations, however; the aim of my detailed research is to go beyond the popular places. Traveling to me is about seeing new corners and sometimes getting lost to find what others haven’t. Often that information comes from interacting with the locals. And we were able to go offbeat thanks to the secrets the team at Marco Polo shared with us.
The first stop on our plan was the incredibly beautiful Georgian-Russian Friendship Monument. It is a popular tourist destination and (rightly so) on all the must-dos list that you will come across w.r.t Gudauri. The structure offers a breath-taking view of the whole valley and makes you forget everything. I had to keep reminding myself that this is reality and not a photoshopped picture. And it becomes even more special when you hear the history, the significance to the drawings and the writing on it. Go with a local or read up about in advance if you are a history lover. If not, simply go there to get the best views and incredible pictures.
From there, we drove through the Khada and the Dariali Gorge with no destinations in mind. These two are popular with mountain climbers, hikers and in winter, skiers. Us city girls were just happy to drive through these mountains, stopping at regular intervals to sit in the calm of these gorges, admire the wildflowers, watch the clouds go by, squeal at the horde of sheeps we’d come across (to me, they really looked like silkworm pupae crawling along the mountain slopes), and simply do nothing.
Doing nothing, I am slowly realizing, is not easy. We ended driving to Marco Polo’s Khada Hut (closed during summers but a brilliant viewpoint that isn’t known to many, suggested by the Marco Polo team) which is built 2750m above the sea level and is literally under the clouds. During winter, it is busy with skiers who are attempting the medium and expert slopes. However, we were lucky to have it to ourselves.
After this, we were happy to call it a day and returned to the hotel (secretly, it was because we really wanted to unwind with some spa and the warm jacuzzi that was awaiting us in the hotel. After all, what’s a travel plan without some indulgence?!). Happy and relaxed post our indulgence (seriously, the spa is heavenly), we fell asleep in no time throwing away all our plans of chatting until late in the night.
Starting the next day with breakfast at Marco Polo’s patio was the best start I could ask for. If it were up to me, I would sit there the entire day. However, our plan for the second day was too good to be missed. First up, the Trinity Church. No matter what I write, I can’t do justice to its beauty, so I would let these pictures speak to you instead.
From here, we drove all the way to the Russian-Georgian border. We simply followed the Georgian Military Highway to pass by all the breath-taking gorges on the way.
On our way back, we went for a local food cooking class (Rutavi was most excited about this and couldn’t stop smiling all the way). It took us some time to locate the place since it is not commercial, and is organized by a local lady and her family members. And the best part? We ate the food we cooked!
With our tummies full and heart happy, we wanted to drive around more. However, nature had its own plans and graced us with rains. Obviously, it was a signal to go back to the resort and be lazy for the rest of the day. We played some indoor games – pool and bowling – chatted over coffee while watching the rains, did another round of jacuzzi before indulging in our last spas of the trip. And called in a night.
Gudauri and Kazbegi, Georgia gave us the peace we were searching for and made our trip unforgettable. We had a lot on our minds before we started this trip. The mountains made us pause and be in touch with our soul. This experience was much needed by both of us at a personal level and Georgia didn’t disappoint. Our time here was too short and passed away too quick. But we left it with the promise of coming back.
P.S A huge shout out to the Team at Marco Polo Georgia for making our stay memorable and for sharing all the unexplored experiences/ tips with us. If you are heading to Gudauri-Georgia don’t make a mistake of staying anywhere except here!
Text by Sneha Images by Rutavi and few by a lovely photographer from Marcopolo.