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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Chasing Ghosts of the Ancient: Part 2

 I am in love with Turkey. I like the views, the people, the ruins, the food, I like relative comfort. The second day of our trip included all of that, as we rushed out of Erzurum (nothing too interesting) and continued our quest for ancient stuff.
Passing gorgeous mountains, we reached the Hahuli monastery, erected in the 10th century, now serving as a mosque. The monastery is in the middle of Turkish village and  local teenagers rudely pestered us to buy candles. We refused, joined a group of French tourists, walked in, looked at the wall ornaments. We found a stream of water and I was so thirsty I drank it, despite the threat of becoming a lamb (familiar with Russian fairy tales? Anyone?). I am still alive.
We climbed down to more civilized roads, to a water dam, for a picnic of olives and Turkish bread. Life was good. Adventures all around. Afterwards, we toured Oshki, a spectacular basilica, the first one of four great Georgian churches: Oshki, Svetistskhoveli, Bagrati and Alaverdi. The three ones that stand on Georgian ground have been changed and remodeled several times, but Oshki pretty much looks like it did – except, it is on a verge of a collapse. The 11-century-old icons are exposed to wind and rain, the roof has caved in and one of the hollowed-out pillars is supported by a wood log. It is big, it is beautiful and it is devastated. Once more, our extreme nationalism and intolerance is harming us; Turkey and Georgia negotiated about reconstruction of three historical monuments – including Oshki – in exchange for reconstruction of an old mosque in Batumi. This was followed by national outrage…a mosque in Batumi, what for (maybe for all the Muslims that do not have enough space in existing one)?!…and as a result, Oshki stands orphaned and sad. Villagers build houses using its walls. Tragic.
Our next destination involved massive canyon, were rocks seemed to inhale us, crush us and eat us alive. Cliffs hanging over our car, brown, scary, looking like a crumpled cardboard, like old man’s skin…we took a long, unpaved, one-car wide serpentine road in the sunset, hoping to make it alive. As we reached the top of a very remote village, we discovered that the final point of our destination – the Ishkhani monastery- was closed for reconstruction. On one hand, we were glad that Turkish government decided to take care of the monument. Even in the dusk, workers kept busy. On the other hand, Ishkani has interesting 11-th century icons that we wanted to see. Thus, we risked our lives for no reason. We turned around and raced the remains of daylight to get off that scary, but thrilling road.

By the end of the day, tired and sweaty, we opted out of planned camping and crashed in a hotel in a small town of Usufeli. The room was cheap but clean. It was placed on a cliff and our windows directly overlooked the river that lulled us to sleep. Our journey was almost over. 
Pic: the lake where we had our picnic

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