Situated on the border with Azerbaijan is Davit Gareja, an impressive monastery complex. It’s a popular and easy day trip from Tbilisi, with several companies and taxis offering tours.
I used the Gareji Line black marshrutka which departs from the car park on Puskin Street next to Liberty Square at 11 am daily, direct to Davit Gareja for 25 GEL return (see facebook.com/gareji.line for details). I arrived at the departure point around 10:45, and there were already a large number of people waiting, perhaps with it being a Sunday. Fortunately there was a second bus to cope with the additional numbers. The bus departed on time, and made a brief stop at a petrol station on the way out of Tbilisi – this is your last chance to stock up on water as there is no place to buy water on site, although there is large plastic canister labeled ‘drinking water’ at the Lavra monastery. We arrived there around 1:15, and the bus waited in the car park at the monastery for around 2.5 hours until everyone returned. This was ample time to explore Lavra and Udabno monasteries and surrounding area.
Lavra Monastery, founded in the 6th century by David of Gareja, is still in use today with ten orthodox monks residing there. Consequently, some parts of the complex are off limits to visitors, although there is still plenty to see including the Church of the Transfiguration with David’s tomb, the original cave in which he settled, and several other rooms that have been carved out of the soft limestone.
Upon leaving the monastery we passed the 18th century watch tower, climbed to the top of the hill which took around 15 – 20 minutes. Here there are impressive views of the barren Azerbaijan landscape. Walking along the ridge to Chapel of Resurrection we passed above the Udabno monastery, which consists of several dozen caves. The path down, which is fairly steep, takes you past David’s Tears Spring and back to the watchtower. There is a church shop next to the car park which was selling bottles of wine produced by the monks (12 GEL per bottle).
On the way back we stopped for around one hour at the Oasis Club in Udabno, a small village near Davit Gareja. This small restaurant serves traditional Georgian fare, and the prices are quite reasonable considering there is no competition. I think it was 9 GEL for khachapuri and a bottle of beer – it was quite a relaxed place, although it looks like it would be extremely bleak in winter.
We arrived back in Tbilisi just before our expected time of 7 pm. Although the Gareji Line trip isn’t as comprehensive as the one offered by Envoy Tours, it’s considerably cheaper, and worth investigating if you only want to visit Davit Gareja (and have spectacular views of Azerbaijan).