Many moons ago, a priest friend of mine visiting Budapest begged me not to take him on an ABC tour. Him being a priest, Anglican, Baptist, and Catholic came to mind. I was a tad confused until he explained: I don’t want to see Another Bloody Church. I was reminded of this when Zaali suggested (read: stated) that we should visit the Prometheus caves before heading to the monasteries. I thought: not another bloody cave. But it would have been churlish to refuse, even though Sataplia was cave enough for me.
En route, we passed through the town of Tsalktabo, which once boasted a direct train to Moscow. It was here that Russia’s rich and favoured would flock to the various spas and sanatoriums where they would enjoy the healthy waters and medicinal treatments, not to mention fine food and wine and the excellent Georgian hospitality. Today most of these massive buildings lie empty, slowly falling down. The previous president apparently had plans to turn the town into a mini Vegas by closing all casinos around the country (and there are plenty) and relocating them all here. It would contain the gambling in one spot and rejuvenate the dying town. Plans have since changed. There is one spa currently in operation (from what I saw – there could well be more) and it looks half-built in places. The local park looks like it stopped mid-development, too. It’s for all the world like an abandoned movie set. Had we had time to stop and explore some more, I’d have done it. But we were on a schedule.
In the shadow of Khvamli Mountain – where Prometheus was allegedly enchained and relentlessly tortured by a raven – lie the caves that have taken his name. Discovered more than 30 years ago by some local students, the Prometheus Caves are now one of Georgia’s top attractions. Apparently quite a number of domestic animals had gone missing in the locale – they’d been falling into the cave network. Eight hundred steps need to be negotiated to see the full beauty of that part of the cave system that is open to the public. Some 25 km long in total, just under 1.5km is traversed by tourists on a daily basis. There’s a constant temperature of 14 degrees Celsius with 97% humidity. The pools are home to blind fish that have no eyes (don’t need to see) and no pigment. Weird.
As we made our way through the five main halls (Tip: If you take a guided tour, be sure to stay up front or you will miss most of it) I found myself in constant debate – I liked the lights and I didn’t like the lights. I couldn’t decide. But when we got to the main hall, we were treated to a spectacular light show accompanied by music: the score of Yellow leaves, composed by the famous Georgian composer (who knew?) Gia Kancheli. It was mesmerizing.
There are two options to get back to the beginning – take a bus/train (whichever is parked outside when you surface) or take a 300-metre boat ride. I’d boated before through the caves in Tapolca and was still living the experience so we got the train. The cost of the tour? 6 GEL (~ €2.50, 770 huf, $2.75). It was worth it just to hear the music.