Hike Along a Dısputed Border: Davit Gareja, Georgia. Aprıl 2007.

My husband stands on land that guide books call the edge of Christendom in this picture. David is pointing west into Christian Georgia. Nearby, cream-colored sheep dot the dark green hills leading to this crest. Turning in the other direction, David could see miles and miles of scarcely populated land in eastern Azerbaijan, as shown below. Its land is clearly drier.

It is a matter of debate which country we were standing in when I took these pictures.
Georgia and Azerbaijan are at odds about where to draw their border around here and Davit Gareja is part of the dispute.

I’ve marked the map below to show, roughly, where Davit Gareja is.

Military v. Monastery

Azerbaijan wants these highlands, which you can see give a good view of much of their country. That’s quite a nice thing for a military to have, David expained to me. Georgia claims Davit Gareja too and will argue for it, partly because there have been monasteries here since the 6th century AD. Below are some picture of the lower monastery and frescoes from the one further up the hill.


Business Partners

Georgia and Azerbaijan may let this dispute remain quietly unresolved for a long time. The two former USSR countries are growing closer, partly because Georgia is serving as a conduit to move Azeri oil to the West. Both are looking more toward the West and less toward Russia these day, according to a May article in the Middle East Times by Michael Mainville. They have worked on a a corridor of oil and gas pipelines to ship Caspian Sea reserves to Western markets. “ When Russia cut off gas supplies to Georgia a few months ago, Azerbaijan boosted its gas exports to Georgia to fill the gap,” Mainville wrote.

Small-Town Life

David and I got to see a little bit of small-town Georgian life on our way out to Davit Gareja. We had lunch in the nearby town of Gardabani. We had one of the many “best Georgian meals” of our trip at a little restaurant there. Half a dozen steamed meat dumplings and tea cost us about $1.50US. The nice woman running the restaurant kept offering us vodka, which we declined. It was just noon.

Still, we’d highly recommend looking for this place if you find yourself in Gardabani.

A man, perhaps related to the woman, brought his little boy over to speak English to us. In that very short conversation, we learned that the family there were Azeri and spoke Azeri. Borders are so fluid, even when countries agree where to put the lines on the maps.

Abacus, Calculator

We negotiated with a taxi driver for the hilly ride out to Davit Gareja after lunch. He stopped before leaving town to bus his own lunch at a little grocery and suggested we stop in to get water for our hike. The driver bought two rolls and a bottle of Coke. David and I opted for the beverage favored by Soviet leaders, Borjomi carbonated water. There is a taste to it I can only say is minerally, and yet it is quite good.

There was an abacus by the cash register, that little device with wooden beads on wires used for counting. I’d seen a few of those in the Caucasus, although the store owners and vendors who used them also had cash registers and handheld calculators. David says he has seen them in Russia too. I guess once you learn how to use something like that, you stick with it.

The little store sold sweaters and sports equipment along with food. Its eggs were sold in clear plastic bags, not the styrofoam carts we use in the U.S. to cushion them. You would have to be picking up very few things to get eggs packed in a plastic bag home, not hauling bag after bag from a supermarket in your car.

It’s funny what sticks in your memory. I can see those eggs even now in memory as clearly as the landscape at Davit Gareja, and more clearly than some of the frescoes.

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