Located in the northern range of Geogia’s Caucasus Mountains, the top of the Kazbegi region buts up right against Russia. The Military Highway that cuts north-south through the land, with its tunnels and whip-lash turns, is a major artery linking the Caucuses, Turkey, Russia, and the Central Asian republics beyond—an inheritor of the Silk Road’s importance. While Russia has made inroads into stealing Georgia’s lands a bit farther east, a physical border of two steep cliffs crossed by duo customs offices keeps the national lines distinct.
The few kilometers surrounding Stepantsminda, a long-established transport hub just before the border, is marked both by the grit of its industrial history and the grandeur inspiring a burgeoning tourist economy. Abandoned villages sit silent and untouched at the foot of steep rises toward Mt. Kazbek, the bones of cattle mixing with the detritus of those who disappeared. Daily life in traditional villages like Sno, which harbors a celebrated fortress, continues at the same agricultural pace as it ever did; yet at the same time, new structures emerge slowly for tourism opportunities, the brutalist concrete aesthetics at odds with the stone and wood houses arranged in arcs according to ancient custom. The pool of a brand-new hydro-electric plant gleams, flanked on one side by a line of dusty semi-trucks sitting idle as only a set number is allowed to pass. When the phalanxes move, they will pass just below a monastery complex, though not the famous monastery of Gergeti Trinity Church. That, they passed a few kilometers back during passage through majestic mountain-scapes. Only a hardy Soviet 4-wheel makes it up that vertiginous climb of mud and ice for a sweeping view on what has remained intact for hundreds of years, what has passed on, and what is around the corner.
The resultant series “Kazbegi” is part of a larger project, “On the Route to Ruins: From Baalbek to Bukhara,” wherein I follow the renewed Silk Road buoyed and challenged by an urgent drive toward developing a local and international tourism economy.