As if in admiration of the view, the monk's cells of the original Lavra monastery are carved lovingly into the pink sandstone cliffs. It's one of those rare places where man's work and nature seem to complement each other. Inside the gate a message confirms this, asking that guests respect the silence. "Dress and behave quietly," it reads.
The friendly, bearded Father Superior directs us up to the ridgetop and the second monastery, Udabno ("desert"). Here we feel the full impact of David-Gareja: a vast empty valley stretches away dozens of kilometers southward with an extraordinary silence. It opens out before us like a huge empty bell that never rings. Not a single human event exists as far as the eye can see. Suddenly one realizes just how rare silence is, and how urgently it should be preserved. A team of three dogs mysteriously joins us and sits quietly on the ridge, their red tongues hanging out, eyes staring out into the vacuum.
Zaza leads us through the row of mostly 12th century caves along the ridge with their magnificent, pastel colored frescos of saints and religious scenes. The Last Supper, angels, holy warriors, guardians, cross mandalas seem to glow out of the rock as if they were living inside.