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ourselves. When the Swiss is interrogated he smiles blandly ;
the salute on their side is not less gracious and more effusive ;
then they leave the steamer and we are free. What is the
incident ? If you measure it by the paradoxical nature of the
occurrence, it was more than an incident, it was an event. For
the rest we were not slow to discover the explanation ; there is
not in Russia a more courteous official or kinder personality than
the Director of Customs at Batum. M. de Klupffell is a veteran
sportsman, and, as such, a friend of Englishmen ; in my cousin
he found an ardent votary of his own science and a companion



Ascent to Aiinenia 39

in its pursuit ; and we were linked together by a number of
pleasant memories before the day of departure hurried us apart.

Five valuable days, of which not a minute was vacant, were
consumed in completing the preparations for our journey and
in procuring a supplementary supply of letters of introduction to
those in authority at the centres through which we should pass.
We were about to enter a country which, both for strategical
and political reasons, is hedged in with scarcely visible but
extremely palpable restrictions, and for the unprepared and ill-
recommended traveller is almost of the nature of forbidden
ground. There are wide districts in which our consul at Batum
is not permitted to travel ; I am sure he would not venture to
cross the threshold of Kars. To make certain of being allowed
to move about without hindrance and to enjoy the luxury of the
confidence that your presence will be tolerated and that you
will not suddenly be summarily expelled, it is necessary to
supply yourself with a special authorisation from the proper
Minister at St. Petersburg. But our ambassador at the
Russian capital refuses to put forward the application ; he has
made a rule which nothing will induce him to break through.
At Constantinople our embassy is of course completely helpless ;
there remains the doubtful method of private approach. The
days were swelling into weeks while we lingered on the
Bosphorus ; it was useless to proceed without some form of pass
in our pockets, but the precious months of summer were gliding
away. At length we were sufficiently provided with recommend-
ations to be warranted in trusting fortune to do the rest; we
owed much to the kindness of our Russian acquaintances at
Constantinople, and we were able to realise a fact of which we
subsequently received such abundant evidence, that the highest
Russian officials are as a rule enlightened men of the world as
well as the kindest and most hospitable of hosts.

On the side of Georgia there are two principal approaches to
Armenia, and the traveller who desires to consult his comfort may
be advised to restrict his choice to these two roads. The more
westerly ascends the valley of the Kur river and reaches the
highlands about Akhaltsykh by the romantic gorge and passage
of Borjom ; the other, further east, leaves the railway between the
Black Sea and the Caspian at the station of Akstafa, some fifty
miles below Tiflis, and, mounting from the trough of the Kur
along the course of the Akstafa, issues upon the open country on



40 Armenia

the west of Lake Sevan, near the posting-stage of Delijan.^ A
bifurcation at that point leads by one branch to Alexandropol and
by the other to Erivan. You may ride in a victoria and with re-
lays of post-horses on either of these roads. Both conduct you from
the steppes at the southern foot of Caucasus and from levels that
are comparatively low across or aslant the grain of the peripheral
ranges to the edge of the Armenian tableland. Those ranges are
the continuation upon the east of the mountains which we have
followed from the Bosphorus to Batum ; they stand up like a wall
from the flats of the Rion and from the plains which border the
lower course of the Kur, with much the same appearance as we
saw them rise with ever-increasing proportions along the floor of
the Black Sea. Beyond those lowlands a mighty neighbour, the
parallel chain of Caucasus, faces them on the north. Only at one
point do these two great systems join hands together, in the belt
of mountainous country which separates the watershed of the Kur
from that of the Rion and which the railway crosses by the
pass of Suram (about 3000 feet). This linking chain is known
to geographers under the name of the Meschic or Moschic ; geo-
logists are inclined to connect it with the structure of Caucasus ;
our senses might invest it with a separate existence, a transverse
barrier as it were, thrown from range to range across the hollow
which extends from sea to sea.

I was disinclined for several reasons to traverse this barrier,
so that we might avail ourselves of either of the main roads.
Erivan was our destination, the railway and the valley of the
Akstafa our readiest means of access ; but I was already familiar
with the trough of the Kur between Tiflis and the Caspian, and I
had read so many accounts of this approach to Armenia that the
natural features of the several stages between the Georgian river
and Lake Sevan seemed imprinted upon my mind. I was also
anxious to gain some knowledge of the western portion of the
tableland, of which I had only succeeded in obtaining from the
literature of travel a wholly insufficient idea. To these districts
the route by Borjom is at once the best-known avenue and that
which combines with a lavish display of magnificent scenery the
comforts of a beaten track. But to worm myself up the valley
of the Kur to the Armenian highlands was, I thought, to miss an

1 A railway, connecting the capital of Georgia, Tiflis, with Alexandropol and Kars,
has been completed since the date of this journey. It winds its way up the valley of the
Borchala.



Ascent to Armenia 41

occasion which might not subsequently be offered of realising at
the outset of our long journey the essential features and character-
istics of the country we had come to see. In Asia so vast is the
scale upon which Nature has operated, so much system has she
bestowed upon her works, you may follow for hundreds of miles
the same manifestations, till from some favourable point of
vantage you may discover unfolded before you the clue and the
abiding principles of her extensive and majestic plan. What
approach was better calculated to offer large views over Nature
and to instruct us in her designs than one which scaled the walls
of the girdle ranges where they tower highest above land and
sea ? From Batum it might be possible to penetrate the mountains
of Ajara, and debouch upon some of the most elevated regions of
the plateau from which the upper waters and earliest affluents of
the Kur decline ; but the lower reaches of the Chorokh and its
alpine tributaries intersect a most intricate and savage country,
where the process of elevation has resulted in dislocation of the
range, and has produced convulsions which, while they afford a
most interesting field to the geologist and to the student of
mountain-structure, have placed obstacles in the way of human
communications which the traveller is not required to overcome.
By following the bend of the chain up the coast and along the
Rion until it again assumes a normal course, he ma}'' avoid this
knot of ridges and maze of valleys and at the same time obtain a
clearer and more definite conception of the geography of these
lands. We learnt that there was a road from the plain of the
Rion up the side and to the summit of the range ; we soon
decided upon the superior attractions which it promised, and took
our tickets for the capital of the country on the west of the
Meschic barrier, the ancient city of Kutais.

August 22. — Rain was falling as we slowly steamed away from
the station ; it is almost always raining at Batum. The clouds
cannot leap the gigantic bulwark of the mountains at this south-
eastern angle of the sea ; they cling to the fir-clad slopes or put out
hands and scale the escarpments until they become exhausted and
dissolve. The town was soon behind us as we wound along the foot
of the range on the narrow respite of the shore — Batum, with her
grim defiance of the written law of Europe, with her peaceful situa-
tion at the gate of the oil industry, of which she receives the products
by the railway from the Caspian to distribute them over all the
world; a creation of modern Russia on the familiar official pattern



42 Armenia

of spreading boulevards with fine shops and large hotels. Here
is the starting-point of the first train which skirts the coast of the
Euxine — and even this remote example of the species turns aside
from the mysterious seaboard to the cities of the interior after a
brief space of some twenty miles. Yet within such limits we are
carried through the wildest piece of country that may be found
between the mouth of the river Rion and the entrance to the
Black Sea, a district endowed with extraordinary fertility, which
still remains unexploited and unreclaimed. It is inhabited here
and there by a {&\\ straggling settlements, which contrast to the
splendour of his natural surroundings the squalor of uncivilised
man. We have outreached the furthest extension of the fringe
of Greek elements ; Georgian peoples live in the valleys of the
interior and are thinly scattered upon the malarious coast ; while
further east, where the chain has left the sea and is aligned upon
the plains, lowlands as well as mountains, the skirts of the range and
its innermost recesses are the home of a population of Georgian
race. Between Trebizond and the Russian fortress first the Lazis
and then the Ajars may perhaps be regarded as transitional factors
to the new order which commences after you have left Batum.
I should not venture to pronounce upon the racial connections of
the Lazis ; they may represent the aboriginal occupants of their
country, the wild tribes who harassed the army of Xenophon and
were the settled plague of the Byzantine governors and of the
emperors of the Comnenian line. The Ajars would appear to be
of mixed parentage ; like the Lazis they profess the Mohammedan
faith. The Georgian districts which we are now entering still
retain the names of the several independent principalities to which
they formerly belonged, and except in the case of Abkhasia, up
in the north at the foot of Caucasus, the Christian religion almost
exclusively prevails. First comes Guria along the shore and the
bend of the mountains ; Imeritia extends on either bank of the
Rion and as far as the pass of Suram ; Mingrelia is the name of
the country on the north of the Kolchian river, and it is bounded
by Imeritia in the east.

For a distance of some fifteen miles the landscape was
monotonous ; on the one hand the almost vertical bulwark of the
mountains, on the other the little grey waves breaking on the
stony shore. I^ut just before we arrived at the station of
Kobulety the oppressive proximity of the range was relaxed, the
country opened, and between low forest and maize-grown clearings



Ascent to Armenia 43

the soil-charged waters of a river wound their way down towards
the sea. It was the commencement of the scenery which is
characteristic of Guria, a tract of virgin woodland which clothes
the spurs of the receding chain and the alluvial flats and marshes
of the coast. Rolling hills take the place of the abrupt wall of
rock ; they are covered with a jungle of bush and little trees, which
is broken here and there by irregular patches planted with Indian
corn. Dark streams heavy with loam descend between high
banks. Not a village could we see, nor any human habitation ;
distant prospects were obscured by a veil of mist. Yet the day
was fairly fine, and, if the clouds were deeply banked on the
horizon, the zenith often burst to pure blue. As we proceeded,
the forest increased both in grandeur and in luxuriance ; clusters
of magnificent trees rose from the bush and above the brushwood,
until the features of hill and spur became lost beneath the lofty
overgrowth and transformed to masses or ledges of tall stems and
spreading branches outlined against the sky. The withered forks
of lifeless trunks stood out in grim relief from this ground of
shadow, or were projected in weird tracery upon the field of light
— an eloquent proof that no human hand had yet disturbed the
natural order of these primeval woods. The sea was lost behind
leafy brakes festooned with luscious creepers, which flourish with
almost tropical development in this warm climate and upon this
soaking soil. Not a single road did we see ; the stations are
mere stages, and the only sign of the presence of man was one of
the long-legged dappled pigs so common in Imeritia, which was
trespassing on the line.

Such are the characteristics which broadl\- prevail between
Kobulety and Lanchkhuty, a space of some twenty-four miles.
But we had not yet reached the latter station, which is situated
due north of the capital of Guria, Ozurgeti, when new features were
discovered in the scene. On the left hand the view opened across
an even country where the sappy stems and reed-like forms and
flowers of the maize-plants alternated with stretches of unreclaimed
bush ; and in the distance a bold hill, only partially wooded,
projected into the plain'from a long, vague line of mountains which
closed the horizon on the north. We felt that these must surely
be the spurs of Caucasus, and that the Phasis would shortly be
disclosed.

You cross that fabled river — the modern Rion — by the
commonplace method of a railway bridge ; it flows between high



44 ^ rmenia

banks through the wide expanse of these surroundings on the
southern margin of the plain. Some distance east of these lower
reaches the impetuous current that has pierced the Caucasus, from
which it issues at Kutais, has been deflected by the mountains
of the southern border, which turn it towards the west. You do
not follow its tortuous course, which skirts the outworks of these
mountains as they stretch inwards from the coast ; the ground is
flat, the railroad points more directly for the capital at the foot of
the great chain on the north.

Mile upon mile the plain of the Rion was unfolded about us,
a fertile province which might be made the granary of Georgia,
but which would now appear to produce little else but the lowest
of the cereals, an endless succession of plantations of Indian corn.
The land is ill-reclaimed ; little labour has been expended, and
the bush starts up among the canes. At the stations we remarked
groups of women and young girls clad in loose cotton dresses
with cotton kerchiefs on their heads. Geese strutted along the
line or paddled in the shallow streams, and we became familiar
with the strange appearance of the Imeritian pigs. But still no
village ! At rare intervals a wooden hut with a large verandah,
and here and there among the maize one of the rude wooden
stages erected to command a prospect over the fields.

As we advanced, the dim and misty boundary of the Caucasus
took shape and colour about the lower slopes. The soft hues of
vegetation, the brighter flashes of naked strata were distinguished
from the uncertain background of rock and cloud ; bold ridges
with fantastic outlines stood up on the horizon ; but here and
there the white vapour was still clinging to their highest parapets
and spreading fanwise to the brief circle of clear sky. Above
them lay a world of half-lights and banked cloud -masses, the
veiled presence of the main chain. Behind us rose the wooded
ridges of the southern range, till they vanished in the folds of the
murky canopy which they hold so firmly and love so well ; but
the marshes had disappeared and the lowest spurs which met the
plain were almost devoid of trees. On our point of course the
two great ranges appeared to mingle together and arrest our
even progress towards the east.

For a second time we were overlooking the stream of the
Rion to regain the left bank. It was flowing with a rapid current
in a direct line from the Caucasus, channelling the beached-up
shingle of an extensive bed. In places the waters spread in



Ascent to Armenia 45

shallow lakes and deposit a thick sediment of soil. This upper
portion of the plain is barren and stony ; it is partially covered
with a low jungle of bush. It is confined on either side by the
meeting flanks of the mountains ; and as we made our way due
north with the river serpenting beneath us, all prospect on our
right hand was shut out by rising ground clothed with a forest of
low oak trees.

On the opposite slopes, among the deepening tints of wood
and clearing, beneath the growing distinction of light and shade,
we could discern the white faces of a few scattered houses and
then the gardens among which they stood. Two larger buildings
were apparent, crowned with conical cupolas, of which the roofing
was coloured a soft green. Such are the outskirts of Kutais ;
the town is hidden from the plain. Towering above the scene
and almost infinitely high, we might feel vaguely but could
scarcely see the gigantic framework of Caucasus, except where
here and there a dazzling light among the clouds revealed the
presence of a snowfield in the sky.

We were tempted to linger in the capital of Imeritia, and I
can confidently reconnnend to the more leisurely traveller a pro-
tracted stay in this fascinating place. You will never tire of the
beauty of site and grandeur of surroundings, while few street
scenes are more picturesque than those which are disclosed during
an afternoon ramble in the Jewish quarter of Kutais. It is a
convenient centre for excursions into the recesses of Caucasus,
and you have only to follow the windings of the valley of the
Rion to be introduced to the inmost sanctuaries of the chain. In
the ruins of the noble cathedral beyond the outskirts of the town,
in the neighbouring and well-preserved monastery of Gelat, with
its enchanting prospect from the slopes of Caucasus over the
open landscape of the south, both the archaeologist and the student
of architecture will discover an abundant source of interest ; while,
if the study of Nature herself be among the objects of your
journey, what richer field could be offered to the geologist or the
naturalist than these mountains and untouched forests and flowery
hills ? But we ourselves were hurried away by the exigencies of
travel after a short sojourn of two and a half days, and my present
purpose must be confined to the elucidation of those natural
features which accompanied the early stages of our ascent to
Armenia, and which were unfolded to our view in an extensive
panorama from the declivities about Kutais.



46



Aj'inenia



I shall therefore take my reader to some convenient stand-
point in the environs, let us say to the cHffs on the right bank of
the Rion and the hill upon which the massive ruins of the
cathedral rise on the sky-line above the leafy brakes (Fig. 6, c?).
I can show you the position from the opposite bank of the river
in a picture which was taken over a mile above the town from
the road which ascends the valley and which we followed on our
way to Gelat (Fig. 6). The Rion is flowing from you into the
middle distance coming from the north ; Kutais itself is hidden




Fig. 6. Banks of the Rion above Kutais.



by a wooded promontory (Fig. 6, d) ; but you see the group of
buildings which compose the Armenian and the Catholic churches,
and which crown the extreme northerly projection of the site
(Fig. 6, /;). Three bridges span the Rion where it sweeps past
the town confined between lofty banks, and lead from the busy
streets to the peaceful heights which overlook them and command
all the landscape of the plain. I cannot imagine a more charm-
ing walk than by the hill church of St. George (Fig. 6, c) to the
pleasant eminence which I have already described.

We reach our point, and there before us expands the open
landscape of which the second photograph embraces a consider-
able part (Fig. 7). We are standing on the southern slopes of
Caucasus, with a wide belt of hill and ridge behind us, and, beyond




CL



Ascent to Armenia 47

and far above such familiar natural features, the white serrations
and air-borne snowfields of the inmost chain. The atmosphere is
fresh and crisp even at this season and with this temperature ; ^
and banks of white cloud float in the sky. At our feet lies
Kutais, with head upon the hillside and foot upon the margin of
the plain ; the eye follows the winding river which has just
escaped from Caucasus and is flowing outwards towards the
opposite range ; the horizon is closed by that wall of mountain,
emerging solid from a tender veil of mist. The plain itself is
flat as water ; it is coloured with the golden hues of the ripening
maize-fields and featured by a labyrinth of vague detail. On
the left hand, outside the photograph, a little north of east, you
just discern high on the slopes beyond the left bank of the
Rion the site of the monastery of Gelat ; and the other day we
thought we could descry from its lofty terrace, at the base of a
distant promontory of Caucasus the shimmer of the sea in the
west.

Let us realise for a moment the meaning of the landscape,
and allow the mind to assist the eye. The opposite mountains
belong to the girdle of ranges which buttress the Armenian
tableland, the same which we have followed along the coast of
the Black Sea, and which we left at our entrance upon the plain
of the Rion stretching eastwards away from the shore. Here
they constitute the barrier which separates the lowlands of
Imeritia from the highlands about Akhaltsykh in the south ; and,
if you w^ish to examine the structure of this barrier more closely,
you will find that the back or spine of the system consists of a
ridge which extends in an easterly direction to about the longitude
of Tiflis. The Caucasus, with an axis inclining south-eastwards,
steps up to this latitudinal chain, and just east of Kutais the two
systems join hands in the belt of picturesque hill scenery which
divides the watershed of the Kur from that of the Rion, and which
we already know^ under the name of the Meschic linking range.
East of Tiflis the axis of the Armenian border ranges is turned
towards south-east, and follows a direction parallel with that of
Caucasus along the trough of the Kur towards the Caspian Sea.
Like the Caucasus here in the north, its opposite neighbour, that
southern bulwark extends from sea to sea ; and some geographers
have applied to it the name of Little Caucasus, a misleading and,
if we attach importance to the phenojnena of Nature, a most

1 At I I. I 5 A.M. 83° F.



48 Amnenia

inappropriate name. For while the northern range may be
described as an isolated and independent structure — independent
in appearance at least — which rises on the one side from about
the same levels as those to which on the other side it declines,
that on the south is in reality nothing more than a succession of
steps or buttresses which lead up to and flank the Armenian
highlands. The first stages of our journey will conduct us
up the slopes of those mountains, from a plain which does
not much exceed the sea -level, across a ridge of which the
pass has an altitude of about 7000 feet, to plains which range
between a height of 7000 and not less than 3000 feet above
the sea.

August 25. — From Kutais to where the southern range percep-
tibly commences to gather, about the village of Bagdad, is a direct
distance of close on fifteen miles. So even is the plain that the
road makes little deviation and covers the space in seventeen miles.
At half-past eight on the morning of the 25th of August our
victoria, drawn by four horses abreast, made its start from the
little hotel in which we had lodged ; it was followed by the cart
which we had engaged for the luggage and to which was
harnessed a siniilar team. We had hired both conveyances for
the whole of the journey to Abastuman on the further slopes of
the southern range ; the regular avenue of communication with
that summer watering-place is by the valley of the Kur and
Borjom, and it is necessary to make your own arrangements if
you desire to take the Imeritian road. We spent five hours upon
the first stage of only seventeen miles ; our coachman was obliged
to harbour the strength of his horses for the long ascent to the
summit of the chain, and we were always halting to take photo-
graphs and to realise the interest of the magnificent scenery
which forms the distant setting of these lowlands. We were
crossing the uppermost portion of the plain of the Rion, where it



Online LibraryH. F. B. (Harry Finnis Blosse) LynchArmenia, travels and studies (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 49)