A Bird Watchers Paradise
A hidden world lies away from the bustling streets of Borjomi a secret place amongst the Trialeti mountain range – the peaceful shores of Lake Tabatskuri. Only few of the braver travellers venture to this remote part of Georgia on their journeys through the country, despite its astounding beauty. The lake and its surroundings are a protected area, although they are detached from the rest of the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park. The still waters are a haven for migrating birds and therefore are a bird watchers paradise.
Bakuriani Ski Resort
We are known to explore hidden and lesser-known destinations throughout our travels, so we decided to take a break from hiking the beautiful mountains around Borjomi and drive to Lake Tabatskuri. The first stretch of the drive took us along the winding, but normal, road up to the ski resort of Bakuriani, which is an increasingly popular destination for winter sport fans. The town itself is a good spot to pick up any drinks and food for the remaining adventure if you decide to brave the drive.
4×4 is Recommended for the Drive
Shortly after leaving the ski resort behind, we turned left onto a dirt track. Even the keenest visitors might turn around at this point, as the deep, water logged potholes would almost certainly scare off any casual tourists. It was for difficult road conditions like this that we were glad to have rented a 4×4, although we would later on meet a group of Italians in a small Fiat Panda driving the same road, and we are still unsure how they managed to get through the first stretches of mud and ruts in the road. Our car managed the puddles and holes without any serious troubles and I think the boys secretly enjoyed the adventurous side of the drive.
Windy Lonely Mountain Pass
The dirt track at the start had deep ruts from lorries that seem to make their way over this route, we did not ever quite find out why they chose a windy lonely mountain pass, but perhaps it is quicker than the main road, or maybe they are actually building a proper road. Luckily as the road climbed out of the valley and wound upwards the dirt track dried out and the way became easier, albeit still bumpy and a good test of driving skills.
As the road breached the tree line the scenery and vistas on our drive towards the Zachraskaro Pass of the surrounding mountainscape were incredible! The clouds drifting by creating mesmerising shadows added to the exhilarating atmosphere. Although we made slower progress than we would have done on a normal road, Jerome was taking in the views and enjoyed the ride. We briefly stopped to buy a jar of hone from a beekeeper next to an abandoned building. Georgian bees are blessed with an unbelievable variety of flowers to choose from, the hillside bursting with a rainbow coloured carpet of blossoms. The man clearly lived in the nearby huts tending his bees and we could not resist trying some local sweetness.
Sheep on the Road
The road contours round a wide mountain side then zigzags in big curves towards the top, few cars were following the route that day although a couple of lorries passed us going the other way. Driving up we spotted what looked like a thousand fluffy “maggots” on the hillsides. Herders were out with the sheep just below the line of the mist. Rounding a bend we were confronted by a whole flock spanning the road, luckily the shepherd moved them on with his dog and we were able to drive through.
Bring Your Passports Along!
At the top of the Zachraskaro Pass, we were stopped by the Georgian border police. Thankfully I had read about this control point beforehand online and so we had taken our passports with us. Although the area is not actually on any major border, for some reason they check passport and car documents of anyone passing through this remote pass. Rumours are, they protect an oil pipeline passing through the area… None of the police officers spoke even any basic English and we had to help them read our passports with the aid of our translation app. Thankfully after taking photocopies of the passports they waved us on our way towards Lake Tabatskuri. The lorries all seemed to be coming up the other route that leads towards the part of Georgia nearest to Turkey.
The misty clouds that had shrouded our views at the pass opened up again after a few hundred meters. The landscape that greeted us there was just as mesmerising although more barren and sparse then the ascent side. Blue and orange tents of nomadic shepherds, stood in stark contrast to the otherwise deserted grassland steppe. The road conditions deteriorated even more and slowed our progress down further, we had to weave from side to side to find the best route down the off road track, but it did not spoil our experience. Driving past the bright tents, we could see some children playing outside, some even waved at us excitedly. What an isolated life must they be leading, growing up in the middle of nowhere, with only the most basic possessions. Two women washed clothes in the freezing mountain stream, reminding me of our drive through Morocco earlier in the year.
Village of Tabatskuri
Leaving the nomads behind after a few more kilometres and a steep decent into a valley, we turned a corner and could finally see in the distance the lakeshore and the village of Tabatskuri. Passing through the small hamlet, we could see chickens running along the streets, washing on the lines in the gardens and some of the locals busy with their daily chores. On a headland above the water and turning right towards the second village in this remote area, we spotted a small, pebbled beach below on the lakeshore. Some people were splashing in the water, while others had a picnic. We though about joining them but decided to look for our own picnic spot and a serene place for a swim.
The Perfect Swimming Spot on Lake Tabatskuri
The perfect spot presented itself shortly after, a footpath next to a cluster of pine trees and a tethered horse led us down to the rocky lakeshore. Tabatskuri’s calm waters, lay peacefully in front of us. The dark surface of the lake stretched into the distance like a mirror. On the opposite shore, there appeared to be just wilderness, the mountains and an extinct volcano hidden in the clouds. The boys were keen to get into the water for a swim, however it turned out to be a very quick affair – so cold! I decided to skip the dip, the water just felt too freezing, although refreshing.
Enjoying the Incredible Scenery
After our swim we had a relaxing lunch of kachapuri, local bread, tomatoes and cheese, this seemed to become our staple food for hikes and excursions in Gerogia. Cows that had been grazing in the meadow along Lake Tabatskuri, kept wandering over to the shore to drink water from the lake but left us alone. The incredible scenery surely made up for the bumpy, adventurous and lengthy drive and we had enjoyed our picnic and swim in this remote area of the country.
Bird Viewing Point
On our return journey we drove through Tabatskuri village and looking back we probably should have parked our car and taken a stroll through the streets and visited the little chapel. Further along the shore at this side of the lake, lies a bird viewing point where Jerome could have probably spent hours watching the wildlife through his binoculars. Even without really looking out for any birds we still saw many on our drive to Lake Tabatskuri, including eagles and buzzards, a sure sign that animals still thrive in the pristine and remote landscape, unlike many other places in Europe where habitats have been destroyed.
Next Time We Might Stay Longer
I would have loved to linger longer in the serene countryside, maybe on another visit we could even stay at one of the homestays in Tabatskuri village and wander through the incredible landscape. However, we were aware that the return drive to Borjomi would take over two hours and we decided to leave this beautiful spot to its inhabitants and return to civilisation.
The Drive Back
The drive back was equally a test of driving skills finding a route through the rutted tracks, although we did not really stretch the capabilities of the 4×4 too much, having low gear and a high clearance were welcome. Once again, we were stopped at the top of the Zachraskaro Pass by the border police, but when they recognised us returning, they just waved us on. At the pass there was a large queue of trucks waiting to get permission to drive on, luckily we were in front of them, otherwise our journey could have taken even longer.
The mud we had encountered on the first part of the drive to Lake Tabatskuri had luckily dried out a bit and that made the lower stretch a bit easier to pass, and so having reached Bakuriani, we stopped to explore the ski resort.
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