The Snows of Stepantsminda
Posted on 13 January, 2023 by Dan Vonk
Georgia is a land of stunning geography but one of the highlights for me was our tour starting in the capital and driving the Military Highway through the Caucuses mountains up to Gudauri, which is a ski resort town. This road is steeped in the history of the region, having been used by invaders and merchants since at least the first century BC.
It is a treacherous road that twists and turns as it climbs to about 2,100m. When we visited in November, the beautiful sub-tropical weather of the capital bid us farewell as we ventured into the mountains. The visibility became poor as we climbed altitude and light snow continued to fall, painting the alpine fields white, a high contrast to the black tarmac, the only other visible thing for certain periods of the drive. We were in a long wheel-base minibus, with racing-style bucket seats (surprisingly popular in the region) and bright blue LED strip lights running the length of the roof in the aisle. Our driver was keen and drove rapidly through the twisting corners, often in the middle of the road, with the oncoming traffic occluded by the horizon or mountain-side. In the case that he had to compromise the road, he deftly manoeuvred us right to the precipice, so we had a good view of the valley floor from our window. I don’t usually get any kind of motion sickness but for this journey, I strapped in as tight as I could, held onto the handle bars and looked straight ahead.
These two photos are taken from a tourist stop along the highway, namely the Russian-Georgian Friendship Monument, built in 1983 to celebrate the ongoing friendship between the two soviet nations. Georgia has re-evaluated its friendship with Russia after they invaded in 2008, so this is usually said with air-quotes. Nevertheless, the view of the Devil’s Valley was stunning.