Monastery in the Desert
"David-Gareja," a Georgian friend once said, "is one of those places you feel you damage just by entering." Then he smiled. "I go as often as I can."
Certainly I had been curious why so many people, foreigners especially, claim it as their favorite monument in Georgia. After the brief hour and a half journey south from Tbilisi, down into the high scrub desert, I understood. Standing in those remote mountain-side caves, under 12th century frescos overlooking the wide open space of Azerbaijan, is a rich antidote to the furies of modern living. But as always, it carries a catch.
"Snakes," says Soso, loading up the car with considerably less enthusiasm than usual. "Not good." He is right. David-Gareja's elegant sandstone cliffs are a famous highrise home for the venomous Vipera lebetina. We tell Soso not to worry, that we're taking an expert Zaza Skhirtladze, founder of the Gareja Studies Center and veteran of the region. Just before we leave I ask this charming, bright-eyed professor how he managed to escape the danger over so many visits.