What I love about my research for WHY GEORGIA, is that I’m constantly getting pumped with inspiration. Meeting people I can learn things from, discovering things I wouldn’t believe existed. Let’s say, there is a place which is growing to a real cultural hub of Eastern Georgia, not being a fortress from XI century or an important religious object. It is located in Udabno, a village which sprang up after the experimental relocating of several Svan families from their remote green mountainous villages to this dry fruitless area, in order to create kind of a defensing point against possible threat from Azeri side. This happened in the end of 80s. Now nothing has changed: the dominating ethnic group among the villagers is still Svans, and the conditions didn’t became better: +40 degrees in summer, dry winds, cold winter… Udabno means “desert” in Georgian, and it is the best name for such a place.
In each desert there must be an oasis, right? In Udabno it was created by a Pole named Ksawery. He didn’t plant the trees or dug a lake; he “only” mastered a place where international travelers come to have rest on their way to Gareji Monastery or back, and locals finally find some entertainment. In the whole village with around 800 inhabitants there is a school and a shop, and endless dry steppes – basically that’s it, as we speak of entertainment or leisure time. So Oasis Club is a real oasis for people who have never seen something like this.
After I discovered Oasis this year, I am going there once per month. Recently my friends and me (15 people from 11 countries in total) decided to spend there the whole weekend, and I got a chance to put my nose in the situation. Despite of the fact that the place was packed during those days, Ksawery found some time to tell me more about his Udabno story.
– In 2012 I was traveling with tourists all around Georgia – at that moment I already knew the country quite well. Meanwhile I was looking for an opportunity to start business, – he says. – Udabno appeared to be a good one: on the way to David Gareji, an interesting touristic landmark, there was nothing at all, so why not to do anything here? From the beginning I saw how it should look like: those white walls, colourful doors…
– Did the locals mind that a foreigner arrived and started doing things here?
– Well, they had their own ideas about renovation and so on, had plenty of things to advise, but I always kept my line. First, in 2013, we opened a bar here. All the staff also lived right in this building… The good thing is that Oasis became a place where people can deliver and sell their products, earn something. Our cooks are also Georgian. – Your menu looks very non-typical.
– We consider the peculiarities of Udabno: you know that this village was inhabited by re-located Svans? So, our menu contains Svan sauce, kubdari, and other specialties. We depend on what products we have, so some items of menu are changing according to season. It is important that our food is always freshly prepared. Another peculiarity is our experiments with taste: in Georgia the combination of sweet and salty is uncommon, but we dare to combine smoked suluguni with sour plum and sweet watermelon sauces, for example.
(Author’s Remark: My word – it tastes so delicious, that I would eat a kilo of this!)
– So, you opened the bar with this menu with Svan background, and then…?
– Then we opened the cottages, and this year the hostel has been opened. Before we were closing for wintertime, but this year, if everything goes smoothly, we gonna provide hostel with central heating and open a small restaurant there.
– Also we start constructing an art center here, – Ksawery adds. – Swiss Embassy helped us with its financing, so relatively soon we can show movies under the stars, organize exhibitions (twice a month), concerts (twice a month), and a weekly Sunday regional market. I think it can influence the regional tourism positively, if people from Sagarejo and surroundings will be able to come and sell their products to tourists – as you see, they are coming quite often. Before starting the market, we plan to make several workshops on packing and presenting goods, to explain the local people, how it would look better, what foreigners are interested in.
Then Ksawery went back to his work, and I stayed outside with a book and impression, that he question WHY GEORGIA? is answered simply: it is a good country, and one feels comfortable even in a desert, in case there is a purpose and willingness to do things.
What I know for sure is that I will be coming there for any reason, if I have time. Thanks God, there is a daily Gareji Line bus, which drops you there and picks you up for 25 lari… Hard to believe, but God-forgotten Udabno is becoming a small magnet for international tourists. And the most positive thing, in my opinion, is the influence on inhabitants of the village. I saw our American fellow explaining the rules of frisbee game to the local children, I heard them trying to speak English – Ksawery and his international crew also taught them extra in wintertime. Local guys and girls come for a drink and talk with people from outside. There are books and board games in the bar. There is a good spirit and feeling that life _is_ happening – even though a bit slower that in big towns. But actually this is what one needs for a real day off.
P.S.: the other posts from WHY GEORGIA? series can be found under this tag. More materials from me – at this website and my facebook page – Dariko. Wish you a pleasant reading! 🙂