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Baku to Tbilisi on Two Wheels
We never figured out his name, the burly young man with gold teeth and a thick, dark stubble, who stopped for us on the highway from Baku.
It had been a day of misadventures. We had pedalled out of Baku’s old town at eleven in the morning, planning to spend the first night at a hotel twenty-five km out of town. We made enquiries up and down the gravel paths of its suburban address, but no one had heard of it.
“Press on!”, we decided, perhaps to Qobustan, still over seventy km away.
After lunch, the road rose and fell against a steady, dehydrating head-wind, blowing across arid steppes. This was slow and tiring work, and at nightfall we were still forty km away from Qobustan. When I had my third puncture, I called out to Gavin, “End of the road”.
We had inner tubes to spare, and a puncture kit, but something was amiss; the tread of my rear tire was sound, and when we probed its inner wall for a thorn or pebble, we found nothing. Unless we could figure out the root cause of the puncture, we could be fixing tubes until dawn. I suggested we hitch a ride.
Figuring no one would transport us with our bikes, we hoisted them over the galvanised guard-rails of the highway, and chained them to a post that said we had ridden 84 km from Baku. We stuck our thumbs out, but the first few cars flashed their lights at us and sloughed past. We were peering into the darkness, looking for the next car, when I saw stationary tail lights behind us. An ancient Lada had just passed us, and stopped. We walked up to the driver, thanking him profusely. He jumped back into his car, and backed up to us, then popped open his trunk. We slung our panniers in the trunk of his car, explaining that one cycle was now beyond riding.
"You can't leave them here" he told us in sign language.
"But we've chained them", we responded.
"Someone will lift the signpost clear out of the ground" he explained indulgently, and waved to us to unchain them.
But the bikes won't fit in the car…
He hefted them back onto the road and slung them on top of our panniers.
"String, rope?" we asked.
"No" - he shut the lid of the trunk as far as it would go, pressed down on the rear end of the cycles to show they wouldn’t fall off, and gestured us into his car.
The first thing I noticed was that the heating worked. Noticed, because the appearance of the car didn't inspire confidence. My seat next to the driver was like a chair rescued from a basement - lumpy, shapeless, its filth showing through the dark. The seat-belt couldn't locate a clasp, and the bottom edge of the windshield was a cobweb of cracks. Music blared from a single speaker inches from Gavin’s skull. I thought it was from the Levant.
“Azerbaijan”, Goldtooth clarified, when we asked.
"Indian music?" he asked, and proceeded to find something on his phone.
Quite apart from the music, the Lada produced a rich scape of sounds across the audio spectrum, from vague grumbles and grinding metal, to sharp squeaks from doors and windows. But it powered easily up to 110, and held the road.
Goldtooth ceaselessly wielded his cellphone, telling an extensive circle of friends and family how he was currently employed. He laughed frequently, without abandon, full-throated and genuinely joyous. Twice, he got me to speak to friends about a hotel for us, thinking they might speak English. They didn’t
He shrugged, barreling on, past Qobustan (“No good hotel”) till we hit a strip of resorts in Shamakhi.
"Hotel this?" he gestured, not easing off on the accelerator.
Seems OK, we kinda responded, but we were well past it.
"Hotel this?", he pointed. This time, we were quick on the draw.
He rolled decisively into a parking spot he created for himself, motioned to a hotel employee. Without the formality of check-in counters and register entries, we were shown to our rooms, of fake marble tiles, flocked wall-paper, and synthetic blinds
The next morning, we discovered that something, perhaps a sharp pebble on a gravel track, had ripped a tiny patch in my rear tire. I rode Gavin's bike up to the 'Velociped Sevici' at the high point of Shamakhi town, above the office of the regional government and the fire station, past the local hospital and the police station.
Velociped Sevici was a garage of grease and junked spares, and the owner, Sahib, didn’t speak a word of English. But thanks to Google Translate, he found me new tires and tubes, a lot thicker and heavier than I would have liked, but they’d have to do. The price was indicated by punching numbers into the calculator on his phone, but when I asked him for a tube of adhesive, he kept repeating a word I thought was a number. Finally I understood, "Gift".
He reached for my phone, sent himself a Whatsapp message, so we were now connected.
Later that afternoon, I got this Whatsapp message:
"May your path be clear, and may God protect you".
We left the resort town of Shamakhi (alt. 709 m) after breakfast the next morning, and climbed steadily through the lower hills, past resorts getting ready for the tourist season. We stopped for peanut brittle and sesame sweets (called gozakh, much like our gajjak) at a supermarket, followed an hour later by a lunch of lentil soup (daal, really), salad, and bread. By now we had climbed to about 1300 m, and though I was a little tired and sleepy, I figured we were almost halfway to the pass, at 2070 m. From there, it would be a fast 20 km down to the village of Lahich, where we planned to spend the night.
We climbed into the afternoon, our pace slowing as the wind built, pushing against us from the northwest, which was exactly where we were heading. Between the 8% slopes and the wind, our pace dropped to 5 km an hour.
Lower slopes of the Caucasus
For another hour, we fought gravity and the winds. About 500 vertical meters below the pass, the slopes became steeper, and the road signs read declared a 12% gradient. We realised we just didn’t have the horse-power, and pushed our laden bikes the last 6 km to the pass. Gavin’s Garmin showed 40 mph (64 kph) winds, and by the time we hit the top, the temperature had dropped to 4 degrees; with the wind-chill, that translated to -4 degrees. I had wind pants over my cycling shorts, but Gavin hadn’t packed for this kind of weather. In his shorts and cut-off gloves, he was seriously under-clad. Gavin shuddered with the cold. Free-wheeling down from the pass, it felt even colder, but by the time we had dropped 500 meters, the air was less sub-human, and we stopped for more gozakh.
After 54 km, 2000 m of climbing, and 8 hours on the road, we reached our Lahich homestay as daylight faded. Our host, Dadash, welcomed us in, “Your rooms are warm”. Thanks to cheap Azerbaijani gas, piped into every village, they were. Underfloor heating in the shower room was utter luxury, and by the time we sat down to dinner, the exhaustion of the climb had passed. The warm glow of energy radiated through the room, so different from winter nights in our Kumaon home, where the fireplace warmed just one corner of our living room, and village women spent a lifetime coughing into their kitchen fires, eyes streaming with smoke.
“We got gas only five years ago. Before, we used every fuel - kerosene for cooking, wood for the fireplace, charcoal for braziers.”
Looking out at the garden, I saw a neat stack of firewood in an open shed set against the wall, a memory of less fortunate times. Lahich is a village in transition, with cobbled streets and little homesteads: a farmer nailed a shoe onto his horse, piles of manure leaned against wooden fences, and a boy chased a fugitive heifer down the village slopes. But the wifi was excellent, and the village school was spankingly modern, with a gym, an assembly hall, and spacious classrooms, each named after a soldier lost to the territorial war with Armenia, a Shahid.
Lahich’s main street displayed its traditional wares - dried fruit, herbs, and copper ware. The shopfronts glistened with fresh varnish of a uniform hue. An ancient Lada stood outside the village museum, which had benefited from the same varnish, and the cobbled street sparkled like a movie set being readied for a big budget film.
The next day’s cycling promised to be easy - 20 km descent to the valley, and then another 20 km to the town of Ismayill, in the foothills. We took our time strolling through the street, and into the museum, where the guide knew his spiel thoroughly, and his pretty assistant followed us to every exhibit, smiling with an unfading charm, and not saying a word.
Our first reality check of the day came from two French cyclists who had just rolled into Lahich from Shamakhi, over the same 2070 m pass, in exactly 3 hours. I filed that under “In my next life.”
The second reality check came when we hit the valley, and the wind picked up again. It swirled from the left to the right, our road swerved from right to left, but it was still an insistent, bullying, headwind from the northwest. Gavin was pedalling more strongly than I, but we were both drained, and despite being largely flat, the last 14 km took over 2 hours. We found lunch in an overheated restaurant, then cycled to our rooms in a vast house in an enclosed garden. The landlady, in her 60s, let us in, through an enormous dining room, and two formal salons, to the upper floor, where six large bedrooms were arranged around a living room the size of a lavish Bombay flat. The home spoke of an affluent past, with deep, plush couches, and photographs of wedding celebrations, and holidays in Paris. Today, it was quiet and empty. When we went out for dinner, a solemn 12 year-old translated our plans for his Grandma.
The next day’s ride, 48 km to Gabala, was a treat. The headwinds had subsided, the roads sloped gently down, through deep and lush forests dotted with little restaurants, catering for weekend traffic. At one spot, local horsemen who offered rides to tourists stopped us to shake hands and express support and solidarity.
A resort town favoured by the ruling family, downtown Gabala had an air of prosperity. We had to cycle some 5 km up the hill, to a charming set of weekend cottages, crowded into a flowering garden. It was drizzling, and the temperature was dropping, so after we had parked our cycles, we arm-twisted the young host to drop us at a restaurant. We drove towards an imposing building, which I assumed was a mosque.
“Our President’s holiday house”, Anaar corrected us.
I guess every ruling family deserves a humble summer cottage. Every spot of any consequence, you soon learn in Azerbaijan, is named for Heydar Aliyev, president from 1991 to 2003. His son, Ilham, has ruled (‘elected’) since then, but it is his patrician father’s photo that rules every street corner.
The Aliyev summer cottage
By the time we got home, Ilham had turned on the heating, and the drizzle turned into a steady patter; as the temperature dropped, and the light faded, we were reluctant to venture out for dinner. I found an opened box of oats in the kitchen cupboard. Gavin boiled it up with a pinch of salt, we liberally spooned sugar into the gruel, and enriched it with raisins and almonds from our panniers.
The temperature was down to 6 degrees when we left the next morning. Gavin looked for gloves in downtown stores, but found nothing suitable. The rain persisted, but because the road tilted down, we weren’t pedalling, and felt ever colder. 5 km later, Gavin turned to me,
“Do you think we can survive?”
His hands were blue with cold, and I was quite happy to retreat to a warm and dry room. We turned off into a petrol station, found coffee and wifi, and booked rooms in a Gabala city hotel - “Return To Go”.
We had lunch in the only restaurant we could find - a tourist trap, with over-priced and over-cooked food. Dinner was at a roadside vendor of gutabs (imagine stuffed romali rotis), reheated with generous lashings of butter, and accompanied by a tub of yoghurt each, purchased from the super-market next door. With not inconsiderable help from Google translate, the young vendor told us about his three years in the army,
“Being a soldier was a good life…”
Then, with sign language that needed no words, he demonstrated how a rocket mortar exploded meters from him, lodging shrapnel in his back. He spent two months in hospital, and returned to civilian life.
“There’s not much money in a food stall, but it’s better than a cashier’s job” - he motioned towards the younger man who had just sold me the yoghurt.
“Long gentle downhills and uphills - much along a road flanked by an avenue of trees and fruit orchards” - readout from Gavin’s riding notes for the next day, about 84 km from Gabala to Shekhi. Riding conditions were perfect, and it stayed cool through to mid-day. We stopped to have chai with a construction team building a roadside shrine to a young Shahid, but made excellent time, hitting the outskirts of Sheki just as it was turning warm.
Karabakh is Azerbaijan
We stopped for lunch at a road junction, where the highway continued west, while we climbed north, 600 meters into the heart of a medieval town, past the high walls that characterise Azer homes, along a canal that dropped from the mountains, to a minaret that soared above the center of town, “Like a picture from the Arabian nights” a friend wrote when I sent her a photograph.
Sheki really was like something out of the Arabian Nights, with minarets and madrassas, a Khan’s palace set in a walled garden, flanked by two giant chinar trees - 500 years old if the plaque is to be believed, soaring 40 meters into deep blue skies. The summer palace is of modest size, its inner walls richly decorated with frescoes. I looked up at one ceiling, and remarked that it looked just like a carpet.
“Exactly”, the guide beamed, “the carpet on the floor had exactly the same design”.
Before I could ask what happened to the carpets, he said they were taken away to the Hermitage, in St. Petersburg, never to be seen again.
“Maybe they were sold to a rich Russian, maybe they are in the storerooms, but the public has never seen them.”
We stopped at the Upper Caravan Serai, where Gavin made me do a couple of retakes for his camera, as I crouched through the pedestrian door, set into the vast wooden gates, tall enough for the largest camels. We entered into a dark, vaulted reception area, dimly lit by candelabra suspended from the brick ceiling. What a sense of refuge this caravan serai must have afforded to traders coming in out of the cold and wind. An inner garden was flanked by rooms, set deep into individual verandahs. Their camels and donkeys were housed in subterranean stables, and in the walled yard that lay at the far end of the serai, merchants could trade their wares by day. There was something transporting about the setting. I thought of charcoal braziers inside the guest rooms, of animals shuffling and chewing in the night, of servant boys carrying trays of chai and lumps of sugar, of vast tandoors baking hot bread, of chunks of meat dripping fat into glowing coals, of carpets and silk, of copper and turquoise. For the first time, I had a glimmer of the adventure of the Silk Road.
Caravan Serai, Sheki
The ride to Qakh, 40 km through the valley, was dry and uninspiring. Except for the scar in the hillside that we spotted from some 5 km away. As we rolled closer, it turned out to be a church, an Albanian church we were told. Now we were closing in on Georgia, a profoundly Christian nation, and the gradual appearance of churches spoke of centuries of shifting populations and religious loyalties, of Khans and Archbishops, of the struggle for supremacy of one religious book over another.
We found a path up the hill - some cycling, some pushing… but it was a short stretch, and at the edge of a clump of trees, we met a picnicking family.
“Join us for chai”, they enjoined.
“ After we visit the church.”
The exterior of the tiny church was in great shape, but the interiors were gutted. There must have been frescoes here, we figured, and a wooden floor; there the altar, now just rubble and dust. But darkened metal troughs lined the uneven walls; in a bed of sand and charcoal, wax drippings spoke of recent worship, and a faint fragrance of votive candles lingered.
Albanian Church, above the highway
After a picnic of chai and sugary pastry, we rolled on to Qakh, clattering over a rutted bridge across a dried-up river bed, past an impressive stone gateway flanked by statues of warriors, clad in chainmail. Gavin’s Garmin turned ambiguous about the homestay we had booked for the night. We found an interpreter at a fruit stall, who called our putative host. This didn’t yield much in the way of directions, so we sat down at a chaikhana, and studied Google maps. It emerged that, while looking for rooms in Qakh, we had booked into a homestay in a small settlement in Qakh district, which was now 22 km behind us.
Our cycles were parked just outside a Soviet era hostel for sportsmen, and I went in to converse with the receptionist, who looked like a Soviet prison warden. Her English was as good as my Russian, which runs to ‘Da’ and ‘Nyet”. I deployed an ornate sign language to ask whether we could peek into the rooms. Each was smaller than a railway compartment, with two tiny beds, and a grimy loo at the end of the hall. I asked whether any rooms had individual loos, and was led up the staircase, to a suite presumably assigned to coaches. The Hilton it was not, with Formica walls and tiled floors, but the attached toilet was clean, the water hot, and the living area looked onto a playground, where children chirped till sundown. We took two suites, despite the matron’s repeated assertion that each had three ‘charpais’. The price - 1200 rupees each.
Qakh was a strange mix of grim Soviet era apartment blocks, elaborate Hyder Aliyev state buildings, and a street restored for photo ops, with a gorgeous amphi-theater, and home facades in glistening, polished wood. It housed a spacious cafe, with pastel colours, and cotton wool ceilings. Their offerings were even more limited than the tiny menu, running to a basic pizza, and French fries. We loaded up on carbs, then strolled to the end of town, to look at a church. It was locked, and in a largely Muslim nation, the congregation must be minuscule, but the grounds were large, the grass trimmed, and the garden in gorgeous bloom.
The ride to Balakan the next morning was glorious, with a warm sun and cool breezes. “Green, green fields and foothills; 65 km”, Gavin’s riding notes showed. When we stopped at a supermarket to replenish our water, a group of boys came up to offer us fresh strawberries. Half a kilometer down the road, a group of men at a chaikhana beckoned us to stop. We did, not for a chai, but for photos, smiles, and handshakes all around.
Balakan, like most towns on our route, was perched on a slight hill. We pedalled up to the city marker, down through a farmer’s market, into a suburban road, where, behind a high wall and gates, we had booked our homestay. We rang the bell; no one responded. Again. Gavin called the host, who spoke no English, but it sounded like we didn’t have rooms! Seconds later, someone else called. A receptionist at a city hotel, he explained for his friend that the previous night’s guests had overstayed, but he would be happy to check us into his property. He was waiting for us outside the lobby, checked us into modern, well-furnished rooms, and our muck-streaked bikes into a conference room.
We were now only 13 km from the Georgia border, and rode through gorgeous pasture land, under skies of a clear, deep blue. The Azeri border police were smiling and efficient, and ushered us through in minutes, after some fiddling with the camera to find the right angle for my height.
Gavin was waved through Georgian immigration, but the police didn’t like the look of this Indian cyclist. They thumbed through my passport, fingered my laminated photograph, examined my Georgian visa closely, and weren’t convinced of my bonafides. They sent for a supervisor, who repeated the procedure, looked at me closely a couple of times, then disappeared with my passport. He came back after a few minutes and asked me how long I intended to stay.
“Till the 30th”, I said, 8 days hence.
“Flight booking?” he barked.
I pulled out a print-out, with which he disappeared, once again. He was back five minutes later.
I showed him on Booking.com. I thought I detected the slightest nod of acknowledgement, but, still glowering, he disappeared again.
When he reappeared, he asked me to leave my cycle where it was, and come into the office. Two of them quizzed the computer about my visa, knitted their brows over the first response, then huddled together to compose their next set of queries. Eventually, some clarity emerged, a clanking stamp was applied to my dubious passport, and I was allowed into Georgia.
At a rickety roadside booth, we changed our Azeri currency for Georgian lari, then rode past an unending convoy of trucks carrying cars into Azerbaijan. One of Georgia’s largest exports, I learned, are used cars, imported from the US and Japan via its Black Sea ports, and shipped into Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. The roads were a great deal narrower than in Azerbaijan, the shoulders uneven and pebbly, but the scenery magnificent. We passed vineyards and enormous tracts of freshly sowed fields, then stopped outside a cinder-block home to buy fresh strawberries. As we rode west, the valley turned less fertile, the habitation sparse, and to the disappointment of my growling stomach, there was not a restaurant to be seen. We had been riding 60 km now, and I needed a large calorie infusion. We had to make do with yoghurt drinks from a supermarket in the dusty town of Tsnori.
Strawberries for breakfast
Our hillside destination lay just 7 km beyond, so we mounted our cycles, and set off, Gavin’s Garmin confused by our yoghurt diversion. I don’t think it mattered - all roads led to Sighnaghi, all steep, winding roads, as it transpired. By now, we had learned that 12% slopes are not designed for bikes laden with panniers, and propelled by knees well into their 7th decade, so we pushed our bikes up to a gorgeous crest, overlooking the Alazani Valley, and the snow-clad Caucasus beyond.
Lost Ridge Inn reminded me of our own ridge in the Kumaon, of holiday homes and friends, of long walks and glasses of wine. Dinner was in a covered verandah, overlooking a deep cleft, in which a chapel glistened in the last light of the day. Two expert riders galloped up the ridge, crossed the road, and dismounted in the garden. The horses whinnied, and at the next table, a group of young folks from Tbilisi raised their glasses of champagne to them.
We rode out after a late breakfast, winding along the ridge, past a view of Sighnaghi, grinding through mountain villages, then swooping down into the next valley. This was cycle touring as it is meant to be - just over 50 km on a glorious day, with plenty of time to stop and lube our bikes by the roadside; to have a leisurely lunch of cold salads and lukewarm naans; for an ice-cream break; to visit a village church on a side road, that turned out to be a gleaming gem of Georgian icons.
One icon intrigued me - of the Virgin Mary with a bleeding scar on her face. Gavin knew nothing about it, but when I saw several versions of it in Tblisi, I turned to Wikipedia, and found my answer in religious warfare:
“A unique characteristic of this icon is what appears to be a scar on the Virgin Mary's right cheek or her chin.A number of different traditions exist to explain this, but the one most commonly held by Orthodox Christians is that the icon was stabbed by a soldier in Nicaea during the period of Byzantine iconoclasm under the Emperor Theophilus (829–842). According to tradition, when the icon was stabbed, blood miraculously flowed out of the wound.”
We rode into Giuaani winery by late afternoon, where we were greeted by elegant hostesses who tried to sell us a wine-tasting tour.
“We’ll just have our rooms”, we demurred, and were ushered past a manicured Japanese garden, skirting an empty swimming pool, around the back of the owner’s villa, to elegant rooms on the second floor. A donkey brayed as we climbed the stairs.
“Best stay away from our resident donkey, he’s unpredictable”
Dinner, and breakfast the next morning, were served in a vast, post-modern barn, with dark floors, wood ceiling, and black heating ducts. The weatherman predicted rain till 10, so we waited till it abated, and rode out in our water-proofs. Gentle climbs gave way to a long uphill ramp, and we stopped to shed a couple of layers. It was a Monday morning, and the ride had the feel of a grim commute into town. Rolling hills gave way to industrial suburbs, and then we were on a concrete highway, with slush and sludge on the shoulders, cars easing through a series of traffic lights, past discount malls and tire showrooms.
“I hope the next 20 km are not going to be like this”, Gavin frowned as we mounted our bikes after lunch. For the next 7 kilometers, it was. Then I saw an aeroplane take off to the left, and we hit the fast road from the airport into town, with broad service lanes, and manicured green strips on both sides. Modernist office buildings rolled by, and we pedalled furiously down the slopes that led into the bowl of Tbilisi. Almost without warning, we were thrust into a tunnel, where the traffic thundered, and the puddles were dark and threatening. I felt vulnerable, and slowed, hoping the batteries of the light on my seat-post had held out.
When we emerged, it was onto the banks of the Kura river, which drops into Tbilisi from Turkey. Our route took us across the river, on a broad, handsome bridge crafted in stone, up an imperial avenue that ended in a gilded statue of St. George slaying a lion. We waited for our light, then turned into a neighbourhood of narrow lanes, where old houses with sagging balconies lent character to boutique hotels, elegant cafes and purveyors of carpets and “Happy Thai Massage”.
To walk in Tbilisi is to climb. The Kura valley is narrow, and churches and cathedrals are ranged on both sides. It was at the Anchiskati basilica, built in the 6th century, that the three- voice polyphonic chants were re-introduced, barely forty years ago. Yet, I first heard them at the brand-new Cathedral of the Trinity, high up on the other side of the Kura. The cathedral was built as a symbol of the independent Georgia, newly liberated from the Soviet state, and was only completed in 2004.
Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
Its vast interiors are relatively bare, unlike the older churches, where icons rich in layers of soot and gilt gleam in dark interiors, lit only by votive lamps and slim wax candles placed by the slow, pious trickle of believers. The piety of the Georgian church-goer is intensely moving. A shuffling old woman, her head covered in a beige scarf, a balding young man whose phone goes off twice, a slim office-goer in a striking red skirt, all linger at their favorite icons, kiss their frames, bow to the altar, and cross their hearts.
We step up to a narrow street, where Cafe Leila looks inviting, and the freshly squeezed lemonade is an utter delight after a long, warm trek through the city. I sit on a bench, facing the stone gateway to the basilica. It is a busy morning, and among the strolling tourists, Tbilisi folk walk with intent. To a man, they stop at the gateway and cross themselves - twice seems to be the norm.
We order slow-cooked beans, salad with vibrant fresh greens and pomegranate seeds, and decide what else needs seeing. The art galleries are an absolute treat, the colours vivid and exuberant, the landscapes deep and thoughtful, and among the many depictions of the Crucifixion, there was one intriguing abstract that took on new perspectives every time you stepped away and turned back.
The street art was vibrant, defiant, addressed almost entirely against Russia. An entire subway passage was devoted to panels detailing Russia’s history of suppression, violence and extensive violation of human rights. In the light, as you emerged from the subway, a massive mural glowed in the sun, of the Angel of Freedom. Around the corner from Cafe Leila, another eatery declared its position on Putin
Position on Putin
Gavin had colleagues to meet the next morning, and I had to find a shop to box my bike for the flight home, but in the early evening, I climbed through Tbilisi again, past the ramparts of the Marikela fort, into the National Botanical Gardens, set into a narrow rift in the hillside. I climbed past the showy tulips and the black cat with penetrating eyes, peeped in on the narrow waterfall, then up slopes of conifers, past the nursery with half-buried glasshouses. The gardens rise way above the fort, and after an hour, I was the lone walker on a wooded slope that could have been in Kumaon, or Colorado. Fresh grass, wild flowers, and the spring foliage of a forest know of no nationality.
I beat a pathway through the grass, to a little knoll; through a faint haze, I could see Tbilisi laid out before me - the gilded spire of the Cathedral, the banal glass dome of the Presidential Palace; down by the bridge, the little temple on the river hosted a waterside icon to bless voyagers; there, tucked under the ramparts of the fort, the old hamaams with domes of unadorned brick.
Lilac over Tbilisi
Tbilisi is a wonderful bookend to a ride. In just over a day, I’d fly back to Delhi, while Gavin would continue to trace the Silk Road west, to the Turkish border, along the Black Sea, and on to Istanbul.
Hope you’re having a great ride, Gavin.