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Driving The Georgian Military Highway

The Georgian Military Highway has existed as a route for traders and invaders since before the 1st century BC, but had only evolved into a crude horse trail by the time the Russians finally converted it, through the Herculean efforts of 800 soldiers, into a carriage road in 1783.

Today, it offers tremendous scenery and a quick route into a very interesting region of the world. Below is a map, courtesy of Stratfor, to illustrate what I am referring to:

northern caucasus map

The highway begins just outside of the Georgian town of Mtskheta, where it runs along a bank of the Aragvi River in a wide valley:

georgian military highway

At this elevation, the road is relatively straight and is of a good quality. A number of churches and watchtowers can be seen along the way, as well as Zhinvali Lake. And, yes, the water really is that color:

zhinvali lake georgia

It isn’t long before the highway starts heading into the Caucasus though:

georgian military highway

A village along the way, clinging to the side of the Caucasus foothills:

georgian military highway

The scenery becomes more dramatic as one makes their way up through the foothills:

georgian military highway

Here the road really starts to climb… In this picture, you can see 3 layers of the Georgian Military Highway created by the switchbacks working up the side of the mountain:

georgian military highway

And at the top of this stretch, one gets their first view of the real mountains:

georgian military highway

There is a small Ossetian mountain village up here as well by the name of Gudauri. This is the highest settlement on the Georgian Military Highway – not the highest point, but the highest settlement:

georgian military highway

Above the village of Gudauri is Devil’s Valley (seen below), which is actually a mistranslation of Frontier Valley:

georgian military highway

This 70m-long mural next to the highway was created in 1983 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Treaty of Gurgievsk… The dog survives on handouts from passers-by. We gave him everything we had, but unfortunately it wasn’t very much:

georgian military highway

From the site of the mural, one can get a good view of the Gudaur Abyss (to the left) and of the highway (to the right), continuing its push up to the Jvaris Ughelt (or Cross Pass) at 2,379m:

georgian military highway gudaur abyss

Jvaris Ughelt… The highway is in a rough state through here and is only open from May to November in this section:

georgian military highway jvaris ughelt

As you can see, the highway enters a broad plateau after clearing Jvaris Ughelt/Cross Pass:

georgian military highway

This group of shepherds had set up camp on that plateau:

georgian military highway

Those white dots on the hillside are hundreds and hundreds of sheep:

georgian military highway

We’re starting to descend into the Bidara Valley here… The tunnel is one of a series of tunnels on this side of Jvaris Ughelt/Cross Pass used as protection from avalanches during the winter. The red rocks to the right are stained by an iron-rich spring that flows above:

georgian military highway krestovy pereval

This looked just like Afghanistan to me:

georgian military highway cross pass

georgian military highway

A very, very common road hazard on the Georgian Military Highway:

georgian military highway

A small village high in the Caucasus Mountains:

georgian military highway

This is the village of Stepantsminda, formerly known as Kazbegi, where we spent the night:

stepantsminda

Stepantsminda has a population of only 4,000 and is definitely out on the frontier, so conditions can be a bit primitive. However, the town serves as a good base for exploring the area:

kazbegi

North of Stepantsminda the mountains become quite rugged and one can find several glaciers. It is also just a short distance to the border with Russia:

georgian military highway

georgian military highway high caucasus

georgian military highway

I was impressed by these basalt columns which reminded me of Devil’s Postpile National Monument in California:

georgian military highway basalt

The Russian border… This is the end of the line – at least for those of us without Russian visas. To the left is South Ossetia and just ahead is North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan:

georgian military highway border

The true end point is at Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia (Russia), making the Georgian Military Highway just over 100 miles from beginning to end. Vladikavkaz was founded in 1783 to serve as a base for the subjugation of the Caucasus, which makes it slightly ironic that it was knocked about fairly heavily during the recent Chechen wars.

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13 thoughts on “Driving The Georgian Military Highway

  1. What wonderful photos. Thank you for sharing them with us. A good friend a well known writer here once told me that the written word and photos all allow us to share in journeys and expirences without being there. All the best

    Geoffrey W W McRae
    wwww.gatewaytosouthamerica.com

  2. One of your best photo series, and that’s saying a lot. We have similar hexagonal basalt columns in the Columbia Gorge, but not that beautiful countryside and villages.

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  5. i’m sorry but why you called Gudauri osetian village, it’s a part of Georgia and is under control of Georgia. it’s beautiful ski resort

    • Yes, actually we did. That came from the people there and that was how they described themselves. How would you describe them?

  6. Gudauri is sky resort and in fact in summer there don’t live many people, Gudauri is a part of Kazbegi district and actually it isn’t osetian village

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  10. Thank you so much for this post. I found it extremely helpful in trying to get a sense of the road before I visited. I just left Stepsantsminda today, and the journey was so beautiful. And I hope you’ll be pleased to hear that the dog who lives at the memorial is alive and well! Thanks again for your help!!

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