VASHLOVANI, DFWatch–A few hours east from Tbilisi lies a magical place, where lonely pistachio trees give shade to rear birds and rolling hills slowly turn into sharp limestone cliffs, which once were deep under a sea.
Vashlovani National Park was established in 1935 to preserve its unique savannah-like landscapes and lush Alazani flood forests. Its name means “an apple orchard”, as pistachio trees look similar to apple trees at first sight.
First stop on the way to Vashlovani is Dedoplistskaro, where the park administration is. As Vashlovani is on the border with Azerbaijan, it is necessary for every visitor to register here to avoid border guards turning them away at the park.
After Dedoplistskaro, the road leads to Kasristskali, a small village on the edge of the park. Although it is about 45 km away, it will take more than an hour to get there.
The road looks as if it was bombed during World War 2 and never fixed since: you can barely see the remains of asphalt among deep and wide holes, which turn into puddles after each rain shower. An alternative road leads through the fields, but it is passable only when it’s dry, as the rich and black Kakhetian soil turns into a deadly mud trap otherwise.
When lonely houses and empty farms of Kasristskali reflect in the rear-view mirror, the dirt road goes further to lush green grasslands and rolling hills.
These green pastures have been attracting Tush shepherds for centuries. Each October tens of thousands of sheep start their slow journey from the mountain slopes to this corner of Georgia, where they stay throughout the winter until April, when they start their several days journey back.
River beds and rolling hills takes you past the border checkpoint to Alazani river, where lonely rangers are always happy to see foreign tourists or local fishermen, who come to spend a few nights in cabins next to a roaring stream and to look at Azerbaijan on the other side.
In spring Vashlovani is full of life: birds sing, chirp, peep and tweet in one unforgettable choir, coyotes howl at sunset and there is always something scratching and twitching in bushes behind and everything is covered with a rainbow carpet of flowers.
Come summer, and these flowers will fade away, streams will dry and the place will turn into a yellowish brown steppe,with almost no place to hide from beaming sunrays.