Mtskheta - an ancient Georgian capital and christian heritage
Mtskheta is an ancient town and one of the historical capitals of Georgia, located about 20km out of Tbilisi. Mtskheta was the place of Georgia's adoption of Christianity in 3rd century AD and still is the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox Church. It's a both main tourist destination and a christian pilgrimage site. Not many people know, but Georgia was the 2nd country to adopt Christianity. Armenia was the first.
You can get a minibus from Dibude bus station, same place that you get a bus to Kazbegi. You will need to get a ticket from a small window at kiosk-like ticket office. The ride takes about 1 hour and costs 1 GEL. Prepare for the minibus to get seriously full.
Once you get to Mtskheta prepare to get "templed-out". It's a capital of Georgian Christianity after all.
Main sites to visit: Jvari (The Cross) Monastery. Samtavro (Place of the Ruler). Bebris Tsikhe (The Elder's Fortress). Located further up the main road from Samtavro.
We decided to go first towards the Fortress. It was fun climbing the ruins although a bit dangerous in flip flops :-). Than we came down to the river and found a place to cross and found an off road track leading up to the Jvari monastery . It's about 4 km hike, as there are a few trails crisscrossing you have to have your wits about you and check were you turning unless you want to get lost in the middle of Georgian nowhere.
We bumped into this pack of hostile bulls or buffalo blocking our pass, when we tried to approach them they would get up and make unfriendly advances at us. We ended up having to bushwhack across nettle field to get around them. Well, I'll take nettle stings over a buffalo headbutt any day of the week.
Jvari was a highlight of the day. A great view point over the town and the valley beyond.
A pretty ordinary actually... To hike Adam's peak - Sri Lanka's holy mountain from Dalhousie. Adams's peak is the most holy place in Sri Lanka and a major point for both tourist and religious pilgrimage. From Dalhousie it's only 5000 stairs... easy right?
Practicalities - it's easy enough to get to Dalhousie - the most common starting point. I took a bus from Kandi to Hatton where at the bus stop everyone knows where you supposed to be going and will put you on the right bus only a couple of hours away.
Dalhousie is no more than a base camp. It has a bunch of guest houses, market, bus stand and a monastery. Fairly easy I found a guest house for 800 rupee. The plan is to be on the top for sun rise which in March is at about 5:30 am. I decided to do an "under 2 hours challenge", there isn't really a challenge, but it wouldn't be fun if I haven't made one up for myself. So there it was. I left the hotel at 2 am and rushed down path. It's a beautiful feeling when you leap step over step as if you were flying up the hill, but it only lats about 5 minutes.... Than it gets hard... really hard, you have to work out a comfortable pace and make frequent stand up breaks and at least one sit down. Having said that, there were some 80+ grandmas who were hiking up like terminators- unstoppable! If you don't challenge yourself (spelled - make your life difficult) it can be quite an enjoyable walk, there are tea stalls and shops all the way through. Well, I did it in just 1 hour and 50 minutes!
There is a temple on the top. You can make a donation and have a prayer said (or sang) for you. Sunset from the top is brilliant:
I was about to go down, but than I saw a staircase leading in the opposite direction and a sign saying "Ratnapura". It'd be silly to go up and down Adam's peak the same way, wouldn't it? Especially because this is exactly what everyone else does. It took me about 15 seconds to make up my mind and decide on the following plan. I'll go down the Ratnpura route, which I knew was longer, but it's downwards, hence no biggy. Than I'll take a bus and get back to Dalhousie.
I was down by about 10 am, took me not more than 4 hours. Was quite a pleasant walk and a drastic contrast to overcrowded Dalhousie route. The idea is is that the harder it is to get to the top the more karma-points you get, hence the only guys who do it the long way are monks, well and me, but I'was going down so it doesn't really count.
There is a bus stop at the bottom of the trail-head and a shop with a few very curious locals. Wasn't long before I got on a 1,5 hour bus to Ratnapura town from where I was going to get an easy connection to Dalhousie. I got of the bus just to realize there was no bus stop toward Dalhousie, which wasn't a problem. It's often the case the destination name isn't written in English or you simply have to change buses, been there done that, all fine. I tried to ask around, and that's is when I realize that I'm well of the beaten track. No one speaks English, literally no one. Oh yeh - that was 2010 and I had dumb Nokia so no GPS or Map, and I didn't take a Lonely Planet with me, since it was a simple up and down jog. I try Dalhousie, Dauhooise, Dal-house, Dalhooisee, until I remember the little of Hindi that I learn on the road Sri Pada (Holy Mountain) - BINGO. The guys put me straight on the right bus, and I switched off almost instantly.
I got of the bus rubbing my eyes and being ready for a nice Lankan curry... just to realize that I was exactly at the place where a bus picked me up some 5 hours ago. At that point it was already 3pm. I had a choice to get back on the bus and take my chances finding a ride from Ratnapura, which worked out so beautifully last time, or hike 10,000 steps up to the top and 5,000 down. This is what I call a "Impossible dilemma"... After conducting in-depth assessment of my options I rationally decided to toss a coin. The coin said - "you are walking up mother f**er", you can't argue with a coin can you?
This pic is taken on the way down, on the way up I have run out of battery.
So here it began, 6 most painful hours of my life... You start pushing up the stairs, just to run out of stamina i about 15 minutes. Then you work out the system: 1- count your steps - makes muscular pain easier to take. 2-break you step. do 20 lefts and 20 rights, otherwise your right (if you are a righty) knee takes all the damage, and you fall. I know, I fell and couldn't get up for 15 minutes or so. 3-don't eat, stress and overexertion can give you stomach ache. You can walk on hungry with a bad stomach it's much harder. 4-watch out where you sheet. That's an odd one... but there are leaches everywhere and they are after your arse... 5-have 2 cycles. A short one - 5 min stand up break every 15 minutes, a long one - 5 minutes - sit down break every 4 short cycles. If you master all of the above you turn into a robot and there is nothing that can stop you from having curry for dinner!
As you get closer to the top a hand rail starts... This was a beautiful site, I knew I was close! I grabbed it and pulled myself up, I haven't even realised how much strength I had left in my hands... It was so much easier than walking, just pulling myself up the rail. Why did I bother to walk at the first place?
By 10 pm, I was on the top. I dropped on my knees and praised Lord Budha for about 15 seconds. After that I was flying down the stairs like an antilop. It took me lest than an hour to reach my place, and surprise everyone big time. My host told me she was about to warn police as she realized I wasn't back, as everyone gets back by 8 am latest. Cooked me some of that carry I craved for and sent me of to bed.
The metrics: 15,000 - steps up and 15,000 steps down - an equivalent of 750 floor building. 24 - kilometers walked - just... felt hell of a longer! 23 - hours on the trail (includes 3 hours on a bus) 1 - knee - well messed up.
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The plan - to walk from Katoomba to Tarros Ladders than to Kanangaroo Clearing and double-back to Dunphy's camping area. Very easy hike which would let us to enjoy the beauty of the Blue Mountains without much strain. Or was it?
We went to one of Sydney's sports superstores and made the following investments: 2 - sleeping mats @ $5 each, 2 - sleeping bags @ $20 each, 1 superior quality tent @ $20 (please don't rain!!!). We bought a large plastic sack, moved all of our non-essential stuff and left it in Elephant Hostel in Sydney. I recommend the place, they have a bar with $3 beers!
We woke up early and grabbed a train to Katoomba from Sydney Central. Katoomba is within Sydney's transport network hence you can use same pre-payed travel card to get there for under $6.
We stocked up on Aldi's finest beans, muesli, snickers, potatoes, boiled eggs and 2 liters of water each we set off on this adventure.
The first day you walk on a nice leveled fire trail, we made a couple of detours to Castle Head view point.
We met a guy who was there for a day walk with his kid, and he told us that water situation wasn't great. But we were planning to go down in the wooded area hence we were going to be ok.
We found a little trickle on a side of the road, I have topped up one of the bottles and we went onward to our camping spot. A couple of kilometers before our designated campsite there was supposed to be a creek which unfortunately happen to dry out. There was another one on the map, but it was below a steep cliff and hidden in a canopy so we have decided to move on.
What a view! I have realized we had only 2,5 litters of water to share. This was OK for the night, but when day breaks and sun goes up you start to sweat water by pint. I actually found 3 bottles of water stashed in the camp. But they were dated 3 years earlier, how long can water stay safe in a plastic bottle for? Of course its possible that bottles were reused, but you hardly ever reuse bottle more than once, and probably straight after the first use. I've decided we shouldn't risk chemical poisoning and left them alone.
And this is what we woken up to!
Next morning we were going to walk to Kanangaroo Clearing some 10km away. A really easy day. We found the trail by the info sign behind the camp and quickly reached Tarros Lader.
Good job I bought a synthetic rope a couple of weeks ago!
Climbing Tarros Lader with a backpack on your back could be a quite dangerous endeavor.
From there we hiked towards Mount Mouin. By the time we reached the hill we realized 2 things: 1-there is no water anywhere near and we are down to one litter to share. We only managed to save that much by rationing and you could seriously feel dehydration. 2-there was no trail. I mean it was on my GPS but not in the real life.
We have bushwhacked along imaginary trail, climbing over loose rocks, bushes and watching out for snakes. I remember Dovile asking "how long till the trail head" me saying "600 meters", than her asking the same thing again half an hour later and me answering "600 meters", as if we were walking backwards! Not it was only hard work to fight your way through the bush, we were also burning a lot of water. Personally I was mentally prepared to do Bear Grylls and drink my pee. I thought that would make for a great facebook video too:-)
Than after covering slightly more than a kilometer in 2 hours we have reached Mount Warrigal. We found some compressed ground at the foot of the hill, which could have been remains of a trail, or just wishful thinking?
Mount Warrigal is a square rock which you can traverse on the left side. There is some shelter from sun and or miracle ...... a small drop by drop trickle of water. I don't have a picture, but here is a video of Dovile collecting water (don't mind my commentary):
By using sardines tin, a mug, bottle caps, sweaty hut and a hanky we have managed to collect just under a liter in about an hour. Great success!
At this point it was clear that with a speed of 1 km/h there was no way we were going to reach Kanangaroo Clearing, so we decided to get to Mobbs Swamp which was marked on a map as a campsite and tomorrow reverse back to civilization.
The liter we have collected did us little good, we drunk it in an instant and were still feeling dehydrated. Hence the Bear Grylls thoughts came back.
Then by some miracle we found a trail, it's only a couple of kilometers to Mobbs Swamp, and on a trail we can make it in no time. And the place is called Mobbs Swamp so there must be water! Oh some local fauna blocking the trail...
We stayed on a trail for about 7 minutes, than it turned into proper mangrove. A waist-deep grass with god only knows what beneath. And yeh, I am afraid of snakes, there I said it! Normally I would strike me pole on the rocks and trees when I walk in a snake territory so they can get out of the way, but now I'm a waist deep.... oh just keep on bushwhacking...
At about 6 pm we reached Mobbs Swamp site just to find out that Mobbs Swamp was well a swamp.
Well, that was literally it, a meter long half-meter wide swamp, full of worms and what not unsavory... We have deliberated for about an hour. Should we drink the swamp water or should we ration the last 0.5 litter we have and walk tomorrow back to civilization dry. We had to take into account that we were hugely dehydrated, that the walk to Dunphy's camping could be much longer than we anticipated and that we can minimize the risk by doing all of the below (Here I have even narrated a little video on how we dealt with the situation):
In case my video was too shite. We have tried charcoal filtering the water (gave up right away, too slow), than boiling it and than putting 4 times the dose of chlorine tablets so it smells like swimming pool!
Than a two caps turned up. An Aussie and and his Irish mate, they asked us if there was water as they were running short. I said "sure here it is, seems alright I drunk it", they looked at the swamp and said fuck that! We still have a liter each and should make it back. They were only on an overnight trip. They came from Dunphy's camping area via Knights Deck trail which they said was completely overgrown and very difficult to navigate and fight through, so a word of warning to all brave souls out there.
We stayed up until 10 pm going through process of boiling the water in a one cup that we had than cooling it off in a Hainz beans can until it's cold enough to be put in a bottle and than chlorinated. We also filled up our 5 litter water-proof bag.
I have never ever ever ever ever ever tasted water that good!
I hate to abandon my plan, but this time we really bit more than we could chew and we definitely got more adventure than we bargained for. So we decided that it's time to go back to civilization to Dunphy's camping area. Was a pretty strait trail, but look at this baby!
Shortly we reached Black Horse Ridge. Lookout, there is a trail, but it's far too easy to lose, if you have a map on you phone or a GPS gadget, keep checking it.
Shortly after we got to, or heaven Breakfast Creek! Water - clean water...
There we had our first encounter with Kangaroo, and shortly after we reached Dunphy's camping area.
A well equipped place with a barbecue, fire places, water catcher. We boilled some pot noodles and carried on to the next camp site just an hour down the road.
Generally uneventful day, you have to walk quite a lot along the road and than you join the "Six Foot Track". You have to walk up the steps closer to Katoomba, and than we picked a place on a cliff just minutes away from the motorable road.
A final look over the Blue Mountains.... P.S. Please comment on this blog if you liked it, this will be superbly helpful!!!!! Thanks!