The Georgian Military Road, part of the E117 road, is a highlight to any trip to Georgia, and one of South Caucasus' most scenic roads, steeped in trade, wars, and legends. This ancient passage across the Caucasus towards Vladikavkaz in Russia is a spectacular adventure.
The road is 198km long and runs between Tbilisi (capital city of Georgia) and Vladikavkaz (in the North Ossetia region, in Russia) across the Great Caucasus Range. It follows the traditional route used by invaders and traders throughout the ages. The Georgian Military Highway has existed as a route for traders and invaders since before the 1st century BC, but had only evolved into a crude horse trail by the time the Russians finally converted it, through the Herculean efforts of 800 soldiers, into a carriage road in 1783.
The surface of the road is asphalted, but in some sections, because the snow and the bad weather, the surface is pretty bad. The drive runs through the Terek valley, crosses the Rocky Ridge in the Darial Gorge, past Mount Kazbek, and Gergeti Trinity Church, then leads through the canyon of the Baidarka River to the Jvari Pass, where it reaches an altitude of 2.379 meters (7,815 feet). It continues along the Tetri Aragvi River past the medieval fortress of Ananuri and Zemo Avchala, a hydroelectric dam and follows the right bank of the Kura (Mtkvari) River past the ancient town of Mtskheta to Tbilisi.
The highest point of the road is the Jvari Pass, also known as Krestovy Pereval or Cross Pass. This part of the road is notorious for avalanches, but galleries have been built for winter traffic and the pass stays open for all but a few days most years. Altitude sickness (associated with the heights over 2,300 m) should not pose a problem on the road itself but it may affect travellers that venture off the highway into the mountains.
The weather on this zone is harsh and highly unpredictable and it does not take much time for the bright sun shine to change over to moderate to heavy snow fall. The road can be closed anytime due to heavy snowfall, blizzards and low visibility. This highway was considered a masterpiece of quality in its time, with iron bridges and multiple lanes used both for strategic military and civilian transportation between Russia and Georgia. Today, it offers tremendous scenery and a quick route into a very interesting region of the world. Today it serves as the best route via which we can enjoy the dramatic scenery, crystal-clear air and indescribable grandeur of the mighty Caucasus Mountains.
The road encompasses miles of stunning views through twisty hair pin corners, high elevations and steep grades. There are many viewpoints on the way, including one spot where you’ll find natural mineral (sparkling) water, very popular among locals. The landscape - formidable mountains, great defiles of gorges and isolated valleys - inspired Tolstoy, Dumas and Gorky to feature it in their writings.
Pic: Beqa Odzelashvili