This morning I found a blog that mentioned a direct bus to the David Gareji Monastery complex so we’ve walked to Pushkin Park next to Freedom Square to check with the tourist information centre.
I didn’t twig that the bus was more of a tour, it’s a return journey for 25 Lari (£7.30), but that’s not a bad price. I had hoped we could stay overnight in Udabno, but then again, I was expecting to hitch there so it could have taken a while; this way we get at least two and a half hours to explore. We can decide when we are there later whether to stay in Udabno overnight as the bus stops off there for dinner on the way back.
The bus actually left slightly before 11 so it’s worth taking the sign in the tourist office seriously – it says to arrive at 10:30am to buy a ticket.
The Monastery Complex is right on the Georgia-Azerbaijan border, and the territory is disputed.
The journey was rough and cramped but soon enough the scenery was spectacular.
We saw hundreds of sheep all stood together like a carpet, rolling hills, a sulphur lake and I even saw a hoopoe flying alongside the minibus! The hoopoe is definitely my spirit animal!
It took about 35-40 minutes to reach the David Gareji Monastery after we passed a village called Udabno and the scenery was stunning the whole way. There are cliffs, caves and rainbow mountains, so much eye candy. In some areas, the road is so bad that it’s more pothole than road so the driver knows to ditch the path and hack cross country for a while.
The first site we visited is the Lavra which is a monastery built into the rock, with some brick towers and walls creating an enclosed courtyard. The church is plainly decorated by general Orthodox standards but it is in keeping with the Georgian style and it’s cool inside because the rock is so thick.
There are lots of cool caves to explore and rocks to climb up so I was able to find some awesome vantage points.
One of my favourite places to explore was the spring known as David’s Tears. It was the first fresh water found in the area and there have been steps hewn into the rock face.
Most people take the regular staircase (which I didn’t spot), but it’s perfectly possible to scale the rock to reach the spring.
The bus leaves at 4:30pm, so at 3:30 we left the ridge with the fabulous view of the valley and climbed up to the ridge with the rest of the caves and also the armed border guards (as I mentioned previously, this is disputed territory but it’s totally fine for tourists to visit).
From the top of the ridge you can see straight into Azerbaijani territory and it is beautiful; different again to the valley in the Georgian side.
On the drive back, we stopped for dinner at the Oasis Cafe which I had marked on the map as an option to stay at. It’s lovely!
There is a reasonable menu and there is accommodation. Prices are 25 Lari per person for the hostel beds with breakfast costing a further 12 Lari or there are cute wooden huts which cost 80 Lari for 2 people including breakfast. I think it looks like a nice place to chill for an evening and there might be live music events but worth checking online. I had a salad, ajapsandali (stewed aubergine, carrots, peppers, onions and tomatoes) and a beer and I paid 25 Lari (£7.30).
I dozed in the minibus on the way back, only waking up to watch a beautiful sunset and for a couple of significant cow-related swerves en route!