Kassandras journey: the friendly beast of Betlemi, Georgia
One of the great natural wonders in Georgia and the Caucasus. And it was quite surprising to me. Not that we got there by “chance”; no, we went specifically to see the hot springs between Nokalakevi and Betlemi, maybe to find a nice place for a stay with our Camper Kassandra, maybe take a hot bath or washing clothes. Which is always an issue traveling and living in a mobile home.
But i expected to find just some kind of basin, natural or rather artificial. Colorful with the special algae and a foul smell from the sulfur, maybe some channels and few to no vegetation, that was about my idea of hot springs. This would describe quite well the hot spring of Dikhashkho (Vani), which is, strange enough, in the middle of the flat large gravel riverbed of the Rioni river, the biggest river of Georgia. But this one here is different. Let me take you through the plane of Imereti to the foothills of the greater Caucasus.
Mid of June it was cozy warm in these fertile rural plain, loving flowers and butterflies near the river, We drove hours along beautiful little farmsteads, getting more dense to gather at a bridge church, little shop and a children's playground, and turning larger and fewer till the next village. They are all fenced off the road with all kinds of metal fences, - not to keep the livestock in, but out of their terrain. Cows and pigs and geese live on the street and work as the local speedbreakers.
Along vast pastures we get to the first hills of the Caucasus. Steep mountain ranges grow behind them, one after the other higher to reach the sky with icy peaks of over 5000 meters height.
But for now we'll enter just the hills. The entrance of the narrow valley is well guarded by a big fortress, Nokalakevi. I thought it strange not to build it on the hill or at least around the slope, where it would overlook and control the big plain. But its merely hiding away nestled in the end of the deep winding gorge, which reminds me of a snake, or even a dragon? This castle might have been center of the kingdom of Colchis and home of the famous Golden Fleece. But this time it is not about Gold rush or wash nor about the Georgian Dragons.
Following the road along the steep slope, we suddenly notice a lot of big birds in a few tall trees on the opposite side of the valley. Cranes! Which are not only one of my favorite, but as well one of my Totem animals. At least part of them live here and built nests. Magic Spirits guarding the bow of the river.
Hot Spring Sculpt
Descending at the end of the gorge, crossing a bridge, the valley widens and there is a proper parking even with toilets, picnic area and rafting. Place for Kassandra to park and us to walk the few hundred meters down to the hot spring. Reaching the green high banks we find the first tiny sources of water and a surreal scenery of steam and green and two little rough made cabins, looking like toilets spilling out the steam and petrified outfluxes. An attempt to capture and drain the hot waters? Anyway it is flooding over the sill to the lower river bed, and we go around to get down there as well.
Imagine my surprise turning around on the gravel of the riverbed and seeing that beast! Giant and massive like an oversized white Gorilla, this masterpiece of nature combines the sculptures of a caring Jinn, an almost toothless howling whale and an Italian Renaissance Grotto.
It gave me straight away a very friendly and helpful impression. Though it steams up and streams down with burning hot water as if it just came out of hell. Which might be a good description of the fiery depth these waters just got spilled up from. The damp dark cave between its arms looks like a threatening mouth, but it feels rather healing and protective, a retreat in an alien world. But the water dripping down is much to hot to try and step in.
Did this cave give the name to Betlemi in Georgia?
If you like this AI-free article, please let me and others know. That will encourage me to tell you more about our journeys, 9 years of nomad Van Life; from beloved Portugal all the magic way through Europe and Turkey and Cyprus to Armenia.