Sunday, November 15, 2009

Up the Georgian Military Highway

One of the bits of advice my uncle gave me if I was to visit Georgia was to travel the Georgian Military Highway.

The name made me think it was new, as in the last one hundred years, maybe build during the Soviet era to allow tank divisions to roll south.

But the reality is it is a very old trading route and for thousands of years traders have made their way along it. My guide described it as part of the silk route, but its orientation made me think it was more a fur route, with animal skins coming south and some of the wine for which Georgia is famous heading north.

The "Military" part of the name relates to the degree in which this valuable route has been fought over during the long centuries and also the route in which the Russians traditionally took when invading Georgia.

Currently this road is quiet, though it does skirt the border with South Ossetia, coming within a mile or two at its closest. Due to those troubles the border with Russia is sealed - which maybe just as well given the first Russian province is the equally troubled Chechnya.

The road does have some connections with Soviet era in that the highest parts of the road were only tarmacked during the times of their control. It must have been a tough battle, and even now the road is badly maintained:

It is not too bad up to the ski resorts of Gaudauri but gets very bumpy after that as it heads up to the Jvari pass. The name means cross and the pass itself is marked with with a simple monument at 2,385m:

There are other monuments on the roadside: these are for those that died making the road. Some were German prisoners of war during WW2 who must have felt very far from home in this remote and wild landscape:

After the pass the road winds down towards the dead end of the border and the handful of little towns that can be found in the midst of the mountains.

No comments: