A Drive Through Georgia; Katskhi, Chiatura, Gori & Uplitskhe
What’s the best way to know a country? A big road trip!!! I had my chance of getting to know Georgia when I broke my drive from Kutaisi to Tbilisi and turned it into a day trip. I drive through Katskhi visiting the Katskhi column, a monastery on top of a lone stone pillar followed by visiting the metal coffins of Chiatura. I headed to Gori and eventually to Uplitsikhe to see the beautiful caves with the most incredible sunset and finally ended up in Tbilisi. It was a full and busy but incredibly beautiful day.
Is It Doable In A Day?
Yes, yes and yes. I didn’t rush through anything at all and still managed to arrive in Tbilisi by 8pm and left Kutaisi at 7am. It was also a fairly easy trip.
Roads in Georgia
Most of the roads are in pretty good condition throughout the country but there are definitely rough patches. The area around the Katskhi column was the worst but general road conditions were much better than expected. Traffic isn’t that crazy either and most people were fairly respectful. On the way to Chiatura, I did come across some very stubborn cows who wouldn’t budge from the road but they were cute AF so I chilled with them for a bit. No loss there!
A Road Trip in Georgia
I started at 7am from Kutaisi and headed to Katskhi pillar followed by Chiatura. I, then, headed to Gori and Uplitsikhe and finally arrived in Tbilisi.
I woke up around 6am, took a nice shower, grabbed my bag and headed down where my host had prepared a nice breakfast third day in a row, I love the hospitality in Georgia. Mix that with great cuisine and you have the perfect recipe for happiness. After stuffing myself, left Kutaisi at 7am and headed on the road to Chiatura. My host told me to make a stop at Katskhi and when I checked online it seemed interesting.
It was a beautiful day with perfect sunshine and the temperature hovering around 25 degrees. I also grabbed myself some fruits from the roadside sellers including chopped melon and watermelon and cherries. I was a complete fruit hog in Caucuses!
I put some music on and started enjoying the view. I drive all the way to Zestafoni where I stopped for a few minutes to get some green tea and stretch my legs and then headed to my destination. Up until this point, the road was boring but as soon as I turned inland towards Chiatura, the scenery changed. I gained elevation and nature and pasturelands took over. I had to stop again to absorb this beauty in.
As far as I could see, there was greenery only. There was complete silence with the sound of wind rustling through the trees softly or a cow mooing here and there. Pure and utter bliss! At a relaxed pace, it took me an hour and a half to arrive in Katskhi but I headed to the Pillar instead of the village because apparently there wasn’t much and I wanted to spend more time in Chiatura.
I followed the signs and headed to a smaller road that went narrower as I went on. It then turned into a bit of a steep downhill road and my confidence in my driving abilities shook a bit.
I went on though and finally arrived at the Pillar. I parked the car and headed to the complex. The stairs took me to the gate, right in front of the rock. There is a small chapel where some people were lighting candles.
The rock on top of which the monastery stands is 40 metres high and there is a rope ladder which takes you up but it wasn’t allowed. The place has been used by Christians and Pagans before them as a place of contemplation. For me, it was an interesting natural wonder. Apparently, there is a monk who still lives up there. You can also do mountain climbing here but you need to bring your own equipment.
I walked around for a bit and then headed back to my car to get to Chiatura. The church looked much more impressive and beautiful from a distance and I was happy to have made a stop to see this place.
Heading to Chiatura
The road to Chiatura from Katskhi is really beautiful. It reminded me of Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald in Switzerland. the ground was covered in greenery and with small, cute houses scattered around the hills.
Once I was on the main road, it didn’t take me any time to get to Chiatura. Although it was barely 11kms, the mountains make the drive longer and I was in Chiatura in 30 minutes.
YouTube Video Experience
Chiatura and The Metal Coffins
Chiatura was a Manganese mining town in the mountains in the former USSR. It is not fancy or big but it has The Metal Coffins. To facilitate the workers living up the mountains, a lot of cable car lines were established in the Soviet era. Almost all of them are operational today. the cable cars, however, are pretty bare minimum on safety. The lines are looked after but the state of affairs does not evoke a lot of confidence.
I arrived in the town and headed to the first line that I saw on the main road. The station was pretty derelict and the open display of parts of machinery lying about didn’t aspire much confidence either.
There was a woman sitting there who took the money and let me get on the cable car which was painted bright blue.
The ride was 1 Lari and the constant rattling made me jump at every small bump which made the rattling worse. I had to tell myself to CALM THE F**K DOWN and things became better. I couldn’t believe it when I arrived on top in one piece. A very sweet lady opened the door and let me out. I walked out and went to see the views of Chiatura town.
It was the perfect day and I could see the entire town below as well as the river on the other side, perfect panoramic view!
I walked around to the back and saw another derelict building followed by a crumbling train track of sorts. I am not sure what it was but it was dangerous to venture further. A good half an hour of my stay I realised how hungry I was and headed back. the lady was joined by her sleepy cat this time and she told me to get on the car. It rattled again and the journey downwards began.
I absolutely detest free falls and the journey down tied a few knots in my stomach. I arrived back in a piece to my amazement. My confidence had grown by this point so I braved it and took another trip up and down but quicker this time. I was joined by a local older man who stood so casually and even smiled at my nervous face. It was growing on me.
Eventually, the hunger took over and I grabbed some food from Chiatura which I enjoyed sitting next to the river. For a town of miners, it is very green and beautiful but there isn’t much to see and do other than the cable cars.
It was time to move on and head to my next stop; Gori.
It took me around 2 hours to get to Gori. The road was green and beautiful until I got to the main highway. I arrived in Gori in the afternoon. Gori is a small unremarkable town that gave birth to Joseph Stalin. He is celebrated as a bit of a hero here but it is still unfathomable how a small, dull town gave birth to a man who has the blood of millions on his hands. I wanted to visit the controversial Stalin Museum but something stopped me. I drove on through Gori except stopping for a photo of the square with the view of the hilltop fortress. It was also time to head to the caves of Uplitsikhe.
Uplitsikhe is very close to Gori and a famous spot for many people who come here as a day trip from Tbilisi. It is an easy drive that passes through villages next to the beautiful Mtkvari river.
I really wanted to see the sunset in peace and I had around an hour and a half for that. It took barely 15 minutes and I was at the door. I purchased the ticket and headed inside.
Uplitsikhe literally means ‘Lord’s Town’ and this abandoned cave town has been through ups and downs with Ancient Georgia. It was an important city during the Pagan times and the city has many structures that were temples and sacrificial altars.
At first glance, it reminded me of the Zoroastrian Fire Temple in Isfahan but it is much bigger in scale and much better preserved. The town is divided into three parts with a lower, a mid and a high level. There is even a church here too (what a surprise!). The caves are quite interesting and the variety increased as I climbed up. There was quite a big cave which seemed like a temple but must have been converted to a church later. The caves are in pretty bad condition and I was done soon enough despite taking my time to go around.
I turned my attention to the second part of this city; the view of the Mtkvari river from up there. The palm trees, the swirling river and the entire valley in front transported me into another world.
The sun had started to set as well and I was in for a spectacular show. The light changed a thousand times every second and I sat there wondering what I’d done to deserve this beauty. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets of my life!
The place was going to close soon and I still had my drive to Tbilisi left to do so I got up and finally headed to the car. I walked slowly like a man in a trance and I didn’t want the spell to break.
Drive to Tbilisi
It took me around 2 hours to arrive at my place in Tbilisi after driving and returning the car. It was a standard highway drive with nothing exciting along the way. I was quite tired by this time and headed to bed after a nice shower. It was time to discover the gorgeous Tbilisi for the next 3 days. You can read about Tbilisi here.
This amazing road trip was the best way for me to see some amazing things in Georgia in a single day and with luck on my side, I had an amazingly beautiful and blissful day. Would you like to do it as well?