TBILISI-the bride of Caucasus Mountains

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TO MY MANY GEORGIAN FRIENDS WHO WON MY HEART AND SOUL WITH THEIR HOSPITALITY AND KINDNESS. IN TURN I AM WRITING SERIES OF ARTICLES IN ENGLISH AND URDU (our national language) NEWS PAPERS AND MAGAZINES ABOUT THE BEAUTY OF GORGEOUS GEORGIA. THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED ON SUNDAY, 9TH OCTOBER IN THE MOST POPULAR DAILY “THE NEWS”.

MOHAMMAD AKHTAR MUMMUNKA

 TBILISI, the bride of Caucasus Mountains.

(Koh-Kaaf)

A direct flight between Lahore and Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, takes only around four hours but it took us twelve hours via Istanbul to arrive at Tbilisi International airport. We were met on arrival by Mr Tamaz Andguladze, Deputy General Manager of airport along with a charming girl from the immigration.  Tamaz, a rugby player in his youth, tough and stout, looks like a Russian Mafia Boss in appearance but is a perfect gentleman at heart.  He advised us to change money to local currency (1 US$ = 1.36 “Lari”) and deposit 50 Lari in the Bank as Visa Fee.  After filling a very simple form we went to the immigration counter. One would be tempted to commit any crime to be in the custody of the two police women at the immigration counter. They decidedly are the most beautiful girls, in police uniform, any where in the world. However, our desire to be in the company of these “fairies from Caucasus Mountains”( Koh-Kaaf Ki Parriaan) was short lived as our rugby player was at hand to drive us away to our hotel. It was around thirty minutes drive over a dual carriage highway, as we drove past, rows after rows of Russian built, ugly apartment buildings, with multi-colored laundry, hung-out to dry, In their balconies.  In utter contrast to the surrounding structures there we saw the ultra modern, white building of Hotel Sheraton, where I had hoped to stay. But, instead, we were driven further to an un-imposing building, in a side lane, of the old city.

We were booked at Pent House, a small hotel with only 14 guest rooms on the 3rd and the 4th floor of the building. The tiny lift could only take 3 people at a time and that too without baggage. The rooms were spacious, with a balcony, and fantastic views of the city and the historic monuments dotting the rolling hills. Illuminated at night, these historic buildings, give a very romantic look to the city. Miss Nana, a charming young lady is the owner of the hotel, who speaks very good English, and is ever ready to help the guests. The old city is on the left bank of river Mtkvari, which, more or less, divides the city into new and old. Old city has cobbled streets, uneven foot paths, charming little old houses with wooden balconies, traditional bakeries and small grocery shops selling, vodka, vines, beer, melons, water melons, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs and onions etc. Food provisions are very reasonably priced.

The geography and the history of Georgia have been constantly changing since the dawn of time. Its recent history, however, began In February 1921, when the Russian Red Army invaded Georgia and forced it to be a part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic. In April 1991 it got its independence along with the other Central Asian Republics. But the Russians again invaded Georgia in 2008, conflicting heavy causalities on the Georgian forces. The scars of war are still visible in down town Tbilisi. It is a young city that is eager to forget its past and race onto to enter the 21st century. In Georgian language “Tibilsi” means warm, a name that the city derives from sulfur springs, that ooze out hot water from the neighboring hills. It is a city that is warm, tolerant and friendly. In the inner courtyards of Tbilisi, Azeris rub shoulders with Armenians and Jews. In the markets Kurds trade with their adversary Turks. It is difficult to find another city where you have a Synagogue, an Orthodox Church, a Roman Catholic Church and a Mosque in the same quarter.     

At six in the morning, I was up and about looking for a cup of coffee. The restaurant at our hotel opened only at eight, so I ventured out to empty streets of the sleepy city. The employees of the municipality, in their bright orange uniforms, were the only people in the streets and the square, religiously cleaning the area. I crossed the Metekhi Bridge over the river and walked into Gorgasali Square also known as Maidan. I followed the aroma of freshly baked bread and coffee to a coffee-bar, on the southern end of Maidan. There was a group of rowdy youngsters, some of them fighting their hangover with excessive cups of coffee while the others were squeezing last drops of vodka from the empty bottles. I had two cups of Turkish coffee and then offered to pay the bill in Turkish Liras, since I did not have the local currency. “Neit”, no! Said, the waitress and returned the money. I then offered her the international currency, the mighty U.S. dollar that no one refuses. But she again said, “ Neit” and returned the twenty dollar note. Before I could offer her the Pakistani note, sure to be refused again, a young boy volunteered to guide me to the exchange bureau where I changed money and paid the bill. Next morning when I ordered Turkish coffee, the waitress brought a freshly baked, piping hot bread along with my coffee. It was a kind gift from the bakery boy who had escorted me to the exchange bureau. I was touched by his generosity. Surely, human relations have no barriers.

A taxi ride in Tbilisi is reasonably priced. We paid fifty Lari (around 35 dollars) to the taxi driver, for five hours and a hundred kilometers round trip tour of Mtskheta, the ancient capital of Georgia. Mtskheta, pronounced by the locals as “Kheta” which sounded to me like Quetta, is situated at the confluence of river Aragvi and river Mtkvari. Mtskheta was the capital of the Eastern Georgian Kingdom of Iberia from the 3rd century BC. Our drive to the ancient city was very fascinating, as we passed through tiny villages, green fields and fruit orchards set against the backdrop of rolling hills. Almost every village house had its farm produce like cottage cheese, water melons, tomatoes, cucumbers and honey, on display for sale. We first stopped at the 6thcentury Javari Monastery, on top of a hill, overlooking the ancient capital and the valley beyond. The grey stone monastery, a unique example of early Christian architecture, was built on the site where one of the first crosses in Georgia was erected. Here we came across some groups of tourists, surprisingly from Israel and Iran travelling in the same tourist bus. Mtskheta is situated in an enchanting valley created by two rivers that cut through a range of mountains that are covered under heavy snow in winters. We visited the 11th century cathedral, “the Column of Life” that houses the sacred fragments of the robe of Christ. It is interesting to note that the Georgians have opted to build the new parliament building and shift all the parliamentarians from Tbilisi to the ancient capital.

The history of Tbilisi as a town started at Abanotubani, the place of the natural sulfur springs. The 17th century Turkish baths, still functional, helped the citizens to relax and also served as social clubs. In Tbilisi time seems to stand still as the past and the present walk hand in hand. At a walking distance from the old Turkish baths one finds, chic boutiques, art galleries, posh restaurants, discos, night clubs and casinos. The new city is built along the right bank of the river and is spread over a couple of miles, almost reaching to the old capital. In this part there are five star hotels, multi-national organizations, departmental stores, museums, concert hall, colleges and university, government offices, foreign missions and the famous Baratashvili, “Bridge of Love”. The railings of the bridge are decorated with figures of couples in love. Rustaveli is the main avenue and the high end shopping district of New Tbilisi. The hills surrounding the city are dotted with historic monuments, the most imposing being the ruins of Narikala fortress.

The legendary Caucasus Mountains, Koh-Kaaf,  have blessed Georgia with excellent weather, beautiful landscape, fertile soil, plenty of fresh water, charming and friendly people.  Both men and women love to dress, dance and drink. They produce some of the best vines, though vodka seems to be the staple drink.  Georgian cousin is healthy as they use few spices and very little oil in their cooking.  I have tasted the sweetest melons, water melons, apples, grapes, cucumbers and tomatoes in Tbilisi restaurants. They serve black sea caviar, fresh water trout, mountain lamb, veal and poultry with a lot of green vegetables, olives and salads. There are plenty of quality restaurants, along the river bank and on hill tops, overlooking pine forest valleys. The 9 kilometers long, man-made lake near Tbilisi, has a sea club that offers a large variety of water sports. Concert halls, opera houses, casinos, night clubs and discos offer a very colorful and rewarding night life. Moreover, Tbilisi is peaceful and it conquers you with a slow fascination that lodges in your heart forever.

MOHAMMAD AKHTAR MUMMUNKA
Managing Director
October 11, 2011

Lahore - Cantt. Pakistan

 

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