The Caves of Vardzia
This past Sunday, the Peace Corps gifted the G13 class a chance to go beyond the city limits of Khashuri for a culture trip. After class Saturday ended at 2pm, the option existed either to overnight out-of-pocket or use the 20 Lari given for transport on Sunday. Other rules: (1) only groups of 5-6 trainees, (2) everyone in the group travels together, and (3) to avoid an American convention outside Khashuri, only two groups permitted per site. The PC designated eight different potential destinations with a description of each. Our cluster ended up asking our teacher Gvantsa which was the best locale – Vardzia.
Vardzia is a city of cave dwellings 19 tiers high and interconnected by tunnels. There are also multiple churches, housing for monks, a pharmacy, 25 wine cellars, a bakery, and a cemetery in the town.
Our new home!
How gorgeous is this place?
View from the Caves
Family Photo with my New Couz Ian
Panorama of Vardzia
Temple in the Caves
Vardzia got its name from when the young Tamar, future queen of Georgia, got lost in the caves and yelled to her uncle Giorgi, current king of Georgia, “I am here, Uncle,” which translates to “ac var dzia.” This city also serves as the setting for one of Georgia’s most famous poems, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, written by Shota Rustaveli. Here’s a summary of this epic:
“The Knight in the Panther’s Skin (Vepkhistkaosani) describes the adventures of Avtandil, a young Arab nobleman, and his friend Tariel, an Indian prince. Avtandil is sent by his beloved, Tinatin, the newly crowned ruler of Arabia, on the mission to find a mysterious and elusive Knight clad in a tiger’s skin. Avtandil finds the knight, who turns out to be Prince Tariel, grieving over the disappearance of the beautiful Nestan-Darejan, daughter of his sovereign, King of India. Avtandil befriends Tariel and helps him to find Nestan-Darejan, who has been held captive by evil spirits (kajebi) in their impenetrable fortress. With the aid of Nuradin-Pridon, their comrade of princely blood, Avtandil and Tariel free the beautiful princess. The poem ends with a double wedding of Avtandil and Tinatin, Tariel and Nestan-Darejan.” 
After hearing about Vardzia, Aaron, Sarah (from Tshramuha), Tiffany, Christine, and I decided to jump on this idea but not the overnight part. Instead, I ran out of the door at 6:40am on Sunday to catch a marshutka (like a minibus) bound for Vardzia. The one-way trip lasted 4.5 hours with stops and bathroom breaks included, but oh was the drive worth the wait! When you come around the mountain bend and catch the first glimpse of Vardia, no words but incredible. Vardzia overlooks a valley and stream engulfed by beautiful mountains.
Close up of the Caves
Church Inside the Caves
Bells outside the Church
Church Inside the Caves
Once in Vardzia, we hiked up to meet our other five friends that overnighted at a quaint hostel right next to the caves. We explored for a few hours and then supra (Georgian feast/party) time. We found a cave overlooking the valley and whipped out the lunches our families had generously packed for our journey. Aaron’s family packed enough food for 10 people alone with 6 loaves of bread, 20 links of sausage, and 10 cucumbers and tomatoes!
Post supra, we called a marshutka driver to swing by the caves, since there is only one marshutka out of Vardzia at 3pm. The marshutka ended up hauling 30 people at one point, and these vehicles are truly meant to haul 15-20 max. Our groups made it back to our villages just in time for the 7pm curfew. Great day with fellow G13s and checked off one must-see in Georgia!
Want to see more photos of Vardzia? Check out the whole album on Flickr!
Disclaimer: the contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the United States Government or the Peace Corps.
1. “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin.” Wikipedia. N.p., 14 May 2013. Web. 5 Jun 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Knight_in_the_Panther’s_Skin>.