A Marshrutka ride to Mtskheta

Georgia: A Marshrutka ride to Mtskheta

The itinerary for the day was to tour Mtskheta, the ancient capital of Georgia. After a light brunch, I got my day pack on with my camera and left to visit this ancient city. My plan was to get back to Tbilisi by nightfall.

Mtskheta lies at the confluence of the two rivers, Mtkvari and Aragvi a few miles north of Tbilisi. This ancient city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994 due to its historical importance. Also of great importance are the two churches, Svetitskhoveli and Jvari. To this day, it is considered sacred by the Orthodox Church.

Jvari Monastery from Mtskheta

Beside the Aragvi River; Jvari Monastery up on the hill.

Getting there

According to my research, the cheapest mode of transport to get to Mtskheta was by a marshrutka. Marshrutkas are mini-buses that work as shared taxis. They are found in Russia and in most of the ex-Soviet ruled countries such as Georgia. It’s a pocket friendly mode of transport around Georgia, perfect for backpackers. Something which the locals prefer to use. The marshrutkas to Mtskheta all start from a local bus station in Didube.

Didube Bus Station

Marshrutkas at Didube Bus Station

You can always arrange a personal taxi from Tbilisi, something in the range of 20+ GEL ($7.8+) and works out better if you more in your company. But if you are solo and frugal then the marshrutkas are best. There is also a train that goes to Mtskheta from Tbilisi. While I didn’t figure this out at that time, I eventually did when I went to Gori. First you get to the Georgian central station called Sadgurus Moedani. That’s 0.5 GEL ($0.2) with the metro card. From here, buy a ticket on the Georgian Railway to Mtskheta. You can even buy this online. But be aware that the trains are not always available. Their schedules are found here. So unless you are traveling to a place further than Mtskheta, I wouldn’t really recommend it.

Didube
Metro Station in Tblisi

Didube Metro Station

Since I was going to use the marshrutka I had to get to Didube. A metro-station on the Tbilisi Metro was only a few stations away from Marjanishvili in Tbilisi where I was staying. I had already familiarized with the metro in Tbilisi over the previous two days and figured this was a 20 minute ride. Outside the metro station at Didube is a market and a sprawling bus station with marshrutkas and taxis leaving to Kazbegi, Gori, Batumi, etc. They all have a different counter to buy the ticket from. Marshrutkas are plenty and you can get a ride almost every hour. It was always busy whenever I got there from my marshrutka journeys and it was equally easy to get lost at. After a bit of walking around in circles, I managed to find the ticket counter for Mtskheta. The ticket for the marshrutka cost me 1 GEL ($0.4) and was a 30 minute ride from Didube. All eyes turned on me as the locals noticed an Arab/Indian looking guy boarding a marshrutka. It is easy to grab attention when you are not a white with a backpack traveling the countryside. Their collective stares were quite amusing at that moment. No one seemed to make any contact with me in the marshrutka.

Old Capital Mtskheta

Old City of Mtskheta

The marshrutka dropped me at the gates of the ancient city. It’s not really hard to find out where to get off the marshrutka as you can see the church from afar. It felt as though I had gone back a few centuries. With a carefree smile and the sun shining on my back I walked in through the cobbled streets of Mtskheta.

Also read  Georgia: A day in Tbilisi
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral
Second largest cathedral in Georgia

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta

The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, the second largest cathedral in all of Georgia, known as an architectural wonder in the years of yore. Built in the 4th century, now a UNESCO World Heritage site and declared as a holy place by the Christian Eastern Orthodox Church. Apart from a good-looking throne, a chandelier and the big frescoes inside, there were also the tombs of some of the previous rulers of Georgia inside the cathedral. It is also said that a robe of Jesus Christ brought from Jerusalem lies hidden in this cathedral. It was somewhat crowded that day with a live Georgian wedding happening inside. The tourists and the wedding party made a large group of people. The cathedral also has a lovely courtyard around it.

Inside Svetitkhoveli Cathedral in Georgia

Inside the cathedral in Mtskheta

 

Inside Svetitkhoveli Cathedral in Georgia

A robe of Jesus Christ is supposed to be in here

From the courtyard, it’s not hard to notice a small church up on a hill on the other side of the river. This is the Jvari Monastery or the Church of the Holy Cross.

Tourist Information Center

There is a tourist information center right outside the church. Here they can arrange a ride for you to the monastery up on the hill. Marshrutkas are pretty rare to find due to its location. They can either arrange a taxi only for you or you can have more people to share the ride with if you can find some. It cost me 15 GEL ($5.9) if I remember correctly. I had to take this ride alone failing to find other backpackers to join along. It wasn’t so bad either. I spent the next hour or two with a non-english speaking Georgian and we conversed entirely through Google Translate. Now that was an experience! And one of many to come in my time in Georgia.

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Jvari Monastery

Yet another point of interest in the old city is the small monastery sitting on top of the hill, the Jvari Monastery built in the 4th-5th century.

Driving to Jvari Monastery in Georgia

En route to Jvari Monastery

It was a short ride to the other side of the river. There seemed to be no shortage of Georgian weddings happening that day and I kept bumping into more couples at the monastery too. Some wedding goals, huh!!

The Confluence of Mtkvari and Aragvi Rivers

The Confluence of Mtkvari and Aragvi Rivers

As you hike up the hill to the monastery, you’ll discover the picturesque view of the confluence of the two rivers, Aragvi and Mtkvari. At the monastery, the afternoon mass was taking place and more couples were waiting in line for their oath taking ceremonies. The smell of the burning incense, the smoke rising upwards against the rays of sunlight beaming inside the church through its small glass windows and the poetic prayers in the Georgian language gave an incredible vibe. After the mass was over, the crowd began to gather along with the wedding party and I had to flee!

The Jvari Monastery

A couple after their wedding at the Jvari Monastery

Back in the old town
Streets of Mtskheta

Cobbled streets of Mtskheta

We drove back to Mtskheta in hopes of viewing the sunset and an early dinner in the old town. Back on streets of Mtskheta, I walked round and about to see what was on display. I met a man selling fresh juices of cherries, berries, oranges, and pomegranates and had a nice glass full and a few more. There were a few stalls selling souvenirs and I bought myself a cool looking Georgian hat.

A horse carriage in the streets of Mtskheta

A horse carriage in Mtskheta

Horse carriages on the street gave the small town a medieval feeling. I watched the sun go down while sipping on some killer Georgian red wine with Khinkali, the Georgian version of the Tibetan dumplings filled with spiced ground meat and fillings. By far my favourite dish from all of Georgia.

Dusk in Mtskheta, Georgia

Twilight in Mtskheta

The food was good and was the ambience. It was a pleasant evening and I felt like staying back in the small town to capture more of it. Slowly, I walked back to where the marshrutka had dropped me earlier. In a few minutes a marshrutka rolled in and I was on my way back to Didube in Tbilisi.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in the night in Georgia

The cathedral in the night

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A Marshrutka ride to Mtskheta

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16 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing. It’s not often that you read posts about Georgia. I got those same stares when I visited the UAE. LOL. The pics are beautiful and I love the cathedral at night!!

  2. I’m surprised how much the Mtskheta scenery looks like Southern California other than the historical buildings and no crowds. Would love to take the Marshrutka ride sometime and take a hike up to Jvari Monastery too. Loved your night time photo of the cathedral!
    Nancy recently posted…Sicily in 4 days (part 2)My Profile

  3. I love visiting UNESCO sites when I travel and would love to visit Mtskheta. The cathedral is so beautiful even though it looks so old on the inside. I like the design on the outside with the different tiers.

  4. Such a cheap price for some amazing views! And what an amazing place to get married – that couple certainly chose an incredible location for their special day!

  5. wow, first of all I was trying to do the math in my head of how much it costed you to get there via public transport in American, I think you spent like $5 US! Haha, that is awesome but then when you showed the pics, I would have spent way more! What a sight!
    The inside of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is beautiful and that pic of the confluence of the two rivers was breath taking. I could have stayed several nights in that old town!
    Eric || The Bucket List Project recently posted…Gift Guide for the Bucket List AdventurerMy Profile

    • Haha Eric. You bet. In fact my whole trip to Georgia in 12 days came up to about 800$. Even after I made a conscious effort to spend a bit more than usual at some places.

      I would have loved to stay here for more days but I was short of time and had to return back to Tbilisi.

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