Mountain villages in the Caucasus are, if anything, a challenge to get to. In this region, reaching your destination is considered a success. Single track dirt roads are the norm. They hug cliffs, take you around wicked hairpin turns, and skirt streams. Timid drivers need not apply.
The road to Kazbegi is true to form. It rises north out of Tbilisi, sauntering through the foothills past rivers and shepherds herding sheep. You think to yourself, “This ain’t so bad. Maybe I could stop off at one of those kebab shops we keep passing. Driver!” Instead, I was stuck with sausages falling on my head from the storage rack above. I rectified the situation and then after a while of no aerial bombardment, the jolly guy sitting next to me remarked, “It looks like the sausages have fallen asleep.”
In an instant, the minibus starts its grueling ascent up over the pass. It starts with hairpin after hairpin as the road emerges from the tree line. You’re still travelling on asphalt at this point, but that is soon to end because the ski resort of Gudauri is fast approaching, at which point the pavement stops. Rumour is it that the president has a villa there and, therefore, has no reason to travel any further.
It is after the ski resort that things get remarkable. It isn’t snowing but there is a wall of snow as high as the minibus on either side of you. The road continues up to the pas, winding its way through a series of tunnels that I can only compare to the old tunnels of the railway grade above my parents’ house. Water drips from the ceiling, there are puddles and potholes everywhere, and it is pitch black!
Your escape from the tunnels leads you into a long valley that eventually ends in Kazbegi. The road is again asphalt and the scenery is spectacular.
Kazbegi itself is wedged in a rather narrow valley. One one side you have giant mountains, on the other side you have the granddaddy of them all: Mt. Kazbegi, which stands at some 5,000+ metres. Highlights in the city include going up yet another dirt road to a church that is perched on top of a hill overlooking the town and imagining what it would be like to continue further up the road to Russia. As fun as that would be, I think I’ll just leave it up to my imagination.