On Day of the Caucasian Challenge 2016 we followed the footsteps of Stalin, visiting his hometown of Gori.
As the Caucasian Challenge headed towards its halfway point, the teams’ task on Day 6 was to make their way to Georgia’s beautiful capital Tbilisi. It’s a relaxed day, with no need for an early start, giving teams time to do some sightseeing on the way. All that mattered was that everyone made it to Tbilisi by the evening in time for a very special celebration!
Traditional Breakfast with Chacha and Rifles…
The free morning gave Team Care Bears time to experience one of the more surreal mornings of the trip. The host of their guest house may not have spoken any English (or even Russian), but she was determined to give the boys a proper Caucasian experience… and she succeeded. Before it was even noon the group were drinking chacha and (for reasons unexplained due to the language barrier) invited to get their pictures taken posing with rifles!t
Learning Never to Trust Google Maps
While they enjoyed Georgian hospitality, the rest of the gang were on their way, with the first stop the impressive church at Nikortsminda, considered very holy by Georgians, and featuring ancient frescoes inside. After that some of the teams discovered the weakness of relying on google maps when navigating the Caucasus. While there was a smooth and modern road available, many teams’ GPS recommended a supposedly quicker route that turned out to contain dirt tracks in a worse state of disrepair than the Zagar Pass! Lesson learned. The signs (pictured above) weren’t much use either….
Footsteps of Stalin
Next came a rather unusual sightseeing experience, as the rally stopped off at the controversial Stalin museum in his hometown of Gori. The locals are famous for seeing the murderous tyrant in a unfashionably favourable light, with five separate homes in the area hosting private museums that function as shrines. Until recently there remained a giant statue of the Soviet leader towering over the town; the Georgian government forcibly removed it in 2010. However, the local council are actually plotting to have it restored (perhaps in time for next years rally)! The museum is known to skip over the darker parts of Stalin’s story, but the English-language tour guide took an almost disappointingly critical view of him and his crimes. Still, it’s worth a visit to see the well- preserved house in which he spent his earliest years, his personal train, and the photos of him in his twenties, when he was sensationally handsome, sporting a very hipster beard!
Celebrating the Travel Scientists in Tbilisi
From Gori it was a quick drive to Tbilisi, where the official hotel had a sensational view (pictured) of the modern and impressive Sameba Cathedral. The evening was the perfect time for the teams to let their hair down and party, with Day 7 offering a day of rest and sightseeing. Even better, there was something to celebrate, as the Travel Scientists were marking their tenth anniversary. Founder (and rally organiser) Aravind treated the participants to an extravaganza of local cuisine (and drinks…) at the traditional Georgian House restaurant, offering his well-earned expertise on the the best dishes the nation has to offer. Participants then headed off to party, and many ended up at the scenic Turtle Lake, drinking with local hipsters and trying to dance to new-age electronic music. If that wasn’t up their alley, drinks on the hotel terrace (complete with spectacular views over the city) continued late into the night…