- Population: 5 million (UN, 2005)
- Capital: Tbilisi
- Area: 69,700 sq km (26,911 sq miles)
- Major languages: Georgian, Russian
- Major religion: Christianity
- Life expectancy: 66 years (men), 74 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 lari = 100 tetri
Georgia is the part of the world God has reserved for Himself with its unparalleled natural beauty enhanced with the hands of loving Georgians. Georgia is in the heart of Asia, but its heart is in Europe. And although it is a nation not as renowned or acknowledged as perhaps the most famous Georgian to date Joseph Stalin, Georgia is a country much more loved and celebrated. From the Greek Mythology, Georgia is the site of Jason’s Golden Fleece. Georgia is not exactly your mainstream tourist destination, but this small land of Kartvelians has the elements for potentially becoming an ideal getaway for the alternative independent traveller. The food is great, the drink even better, and people’s hospitality are off-the-charts, with a multiplicity of amazing off-the-beaten-path options at super low low costs. Most travellers might also find it comforting that Georgia is one of the earliest Christian nations, from 330 AD until the present time.While the oldest person in the world, Antisa Kvichava born in 1880 is Georgian, she stands no comparison to the millennia-old culture and civilizations that have long existed way ahead of her. There perhaps is some crucial reason why in all the years she exists, she opted to stay where her homeland is, and looking through her eyes, this is what the rest of the world needs to see.
Georgia is strategically located east of the Black Sea, at the Great Caucasus Mountains (42 00 N, 43 30 E) making it largely mountainous to the north, as well as in the south with Lesser Caucasus Mountains, all 69,700 km2 of it. The incredibly high Gora Kazbek is the summit of Georgia at an altitude of 5,048 metres above sea level. Lowlands roll in from the foothills of the Kolkhida Lowland in the west, to the east at the Mtkavri River Basin, where river valley plains finally rest. The landscape also includes beautiful lush temperate rainforests that cover 40% of Georgia’s territory, as well as snow zones and glaciers.
The climate in Georgia is diverse but with two main climate zones, that is the East and the West. The mountainous regions behold lower and cooler temperatures, while the overall general climate is in truth warm and pleasant. Thanks to the Caucasus Mountains that act as barrier and protect this small landmass from the cold air masses from the north, and dry and hot air masses from the south. The weather in Western Georgia is Mediterranean-like to the Black Sea, while Eastern Georgia is subject to humid subtropical-continental climates, where winters are freezing and summers are scorching hot. An escape to highlands and foothills, especially the Caucus are suggested as perfect timing at the height of summer, where Tbilisi, the capital, and the lowlands become insufferably warm.
Georgians is the official address to the 4,615,807 citizens of Georgia, but the locals do not call themselves this. Georgians refer to themselves as Kartvelebiand Sakartvelo, their homeland, Georgia. The Georgians or Kartvelians form 83.8% of the population, a relatively huge demographic, and the Azeri, 6.5%. Armenians, as well, comprise the ethnic make-up of Georgia constituting 5.7% of the population, significantly higher than the Russian demographic 1.5%. The remainder 2.5% of the population are so diverse from Chinese to Greeks to Turks, to Ukrainians and so on.
Corresponding to these facts, Georgia is, thus, a nation of linguistic diversity, with two official working languages, Georgian and Abkhaz, the latter mostly used in the region of Abkhazia. GEORGIAN is widely used, 80% of the population to be exact, while as a former Soviet, RUSSIAN speakers shares 9% of the linguistic make-up. A sizeable number speak ARMENIAN (87%) and AZERI (6%), while the 7% are minor languages.
As among the fundamental nations to uphold the Christian faith in great population proportions of almost 85%, with traditions that venerates, cherishes, and treats women with courtliness, Georgia is one of the most women-friendly places and societies in the world. Highly tolerant of other beliefs, Islam is widely and freely practised throughout the nation, as well as Armenian-Gregorian Orthodox (3.9%), Catholic (less than 1%), and Jewish. Cathedrals, churches, mosques and synagogues are characteristically sheltered in similarly communal areas.
Georgia has maintained little contact with the outside world, and up until the United States strategic friendship with the country, their culture has remained unchanged for centuries. Indeed, attractions equal satisfaction, more than ever to the non-package tourist who can enjoy the early 5th Century basilicas of Bolnisi and Urbnisi and many other architectural feats of the 11th through 13th centuries. Speaking of cathedrals, the Tbilisi Sameba Cathedral is one the traveller shouldn’t miss especially its 5 underground chapels beneath Elia Hill. Breathtaking, jaw-dropping, and knee-weakening are sturdy impressions on the elegant edifices from St. George’s golden statue, to the parliament, to basic music schools have nothing “basic” about their designs. Now, I clearly understand how Georgia puts a different meaning to “beauty” and “opulence”.
Three hours from the capital is an entirely different world offered by Kazbegi, a sleepy mountain town 1,750 metres above the sea. Metekhi is the historical district of the whole of Georgia with a church built by legendary Demetrius II. For a relaxing afternoon, Narikela is the place to be for its sulphur baths and botanical gardens teeming with rich natural beauty, but as old as this place is like the 4th century fortress, Narikela is also a place to enjoy a laidback afternoon while sipping aromatic coffee on its scores of cafes. Georgian grapes are also a diverse speciality in Kakheti, Georgia’s lovely wine country, not just heaving with hundreds of kinds of grapes, but also historic sites including like the Davit Gareja cave monastery. But, the consummate feature of an adventure to Georgia is a trek or hike to the Caucasus Mountains, to its green highland pastures, immaculate forest scenery, and fairytale view from the snow-capped summit.
When it comes to food, though, any place or town in Georgia will make sure of a gastronomic experience of a lifetime, being a nation with its own culinary traditions and specialty. But when it comes to something the world will love, there are as compound meat dishes as there are vegetarian dishes, something for everybody, that’s right. Georgian cuisine may have gained prestige in Soviet Republics, but as it has not been reached areas of the world where most its people have gone, Georgia is simply the best way to be introduced to the food culture.
Khachapuri and khinkali are the country’s national dishes that come in many variations by itself. Khachapuri is a cheese pie that can either be an appetizer or a satisfying snack, while Khinkali is a dumpling dish filled with meat, vegetables or both and savoury juices. Shashlik is a staple here, and Georgians pack a mean happily grilled kebab. On the other hand, pirozkhi is a quick fix when the traveller is out on the streets. This is a personal size meat pastry with potatoes, cheese and other fresh ingredients. The vegetable dish ajabsandali is similar to ratatouille with versions as much as the number of Georgian families. Meat stews, pasta, soup…they have a cuisine that will easily change your palate forever. Desserts here in Georgia like gonzinaqi, churchkhela, and pakhlava are generally nut-based and are eaten as snacks, and only frequently after meal in celebrations or feasts.
To say Georgian food is heavenly is even an understatement. Ingredients from vegetables, fruits, to meat are unbeatable in terms of freshness and flavour. Just a couple of eat-iquette reminders and the traveller can celebrate in Georgian festivities. Wine is for toasting, beer is not because this act means betrayal. This is an efficient CIA code of behaviour to know where an individual is from. If they don’t toast beer, you’re drinking with a Georgian. On top of that, eating the top hat of the khinkali is evidently a show of severe poverty.