After a wet rainy morning across the Mtsketa-Mtianeti region, we entered a sleepy little town that goes by the name Kazbegi or more popularly Stepantsminda (Stepan being Stephan, a Georgian monk who constructed a hermitage there). The last one hour of our drive was spectacular as we passed by Gudauri, a popular ski resort and soaked in the white view in front of us.
Our B&B owner at Tbilisi had recommended ‘Emma’s Inn’. This wasn’t much of an inn but in fact, the house of a lady who let out a couple of her rooms during spring and summer. Our room was huge and spacious; it was probably used by her family earlier so wasn’t revamped for an outside guest but nevertheless, comfortable. The downside was a loo that was outhouse which meant I had to walk a few metres in the middle of an icy cold and rainy night to relieve myself! While Emma, who’s real name sounded complexly Russian, did appear intimidating initially (and having the skin of a wolf wrapped around didn’t help matters), she was a graceful host and made extra effort to prepare vegetarian food. Food that was tasty, but with so much oil, that I’d have taken a lifetime to consume that much in my kitchen. Exaggerations apart, I’d recommend this place for a rustic-n-basic but fun experience.
Stepantsminda is best known for trekking around its mountains, the most complex being Mt. Kazbegi at 5047 metres, one of the largest in the region, part located in Russia (The Georgian Military Road to Russia was just around the corner). The more doable one that we targeted was at an elevation of 2179 m and had the famous Gergeti Trinity church atop. After a rainy night, we were glad that the morning after was sunny, or so we thought, and Emma gave us the green signal to go. I’ll be ever thankful for the warm jacket that she compelled me to take; I may have just returned that late afternoon (if I could have made it, that is) with a severe frostbite.
So off we set, cutting across the sleepy little village and to the base of the mountain. Clearly, I was not as fit as was required of this trek (more so with a sprained ankle from a fortnight before) and 20 minutes into the trek, we were contemplating cutting across the mud path and accessing the road to the mountain, a longer route but one that would take us to the top in a jiffy. To cut a long story short, we decided to put ourselves to test and continued our trek. An hour and half later, we were nearing the church when all of a sudden there was a snowstorm. In hindsight, it was an incredible experience to be amidst a storm on top of a mountain with no one in sight. However at that moment, excited though I was when it started, I could only wait and pray to ol’ St. Stephan for it to subside which it did, 30 minutes later.
Descending was much easier and an hour later we treated ourselves to a long-awaited lunch at the biggest building in the village – Hotel Kazbegi – that also offered a gorgeous view of snow-capped mountains. The morning after, we hopped into a marshrutkta, stopped in the middle of some more snow clad mountains thanks to a punctured tyre and eventually returned to Tbilisi.