On day 3 of our visit to Georgia, we planned to go to the Lagodekhi Nature Reserve and take a short ride to Machi Fortress.
Lagodekhi is located on the west of Georgia in the Kakheti region, which is famous for its wines. The part of the reserve we were aiming for is located in the border security zone, and everyone who plans to hike or trail ride there should register with local authorities.
On arrival, we were introduced to our guide, Daviti, and almost identical light grey ponies. Local breeds of horses that are good for trail rides are not higher than 14 hands, so they should be classified as ponies rather than as horses.
Local saddles looked like leather cushions with stirrups and, to say the truth, were very comfortable for the long rides. Another peculiarity I noticed here is that horses looked like they were wearing high heels because their shoes were calkinned to avoid slipping.
At the start point of our trail ride, we passed a wooden stand that showed the traces of animals that are found in Lagodekhi. There weren’t many, but the ones we saw made the ride a bit nerve-racking. :-) Apparently, because several types of roe deer exist, many wolfs, bears, and lynxes are also present. However, we didn’t see any.
In that time of the year, everything in Lagodekhi was so green that it made me dizzy.
About one kilometer to the fortress, we had to dismount and continued on foot because it was too steep for horses to climb. Daviti told us that tying them up was unnecessary because they won’t go anywhere on their own. We climbed up and up over the steep bank of Matsimis Tskali River, which serves as a border between Georgia and Azerbaijan.
It took us about another half hour to get to the fortress’s ruins. Machi, which was built in the eighth century, was the biggest fort in Kakheti and for some time even served as a summer residence of Kakheti kings. It stayed intact until the 17th century but was demolished by the Persian shah Abbas, which is very surprising knowing how difficult it was to get there.
The fortress ruins were preserved but never restored. Nowadays, once-massive fortress walls are concealed by overgrown subtropical plants. What surprised me the most is that these 12-century-old fortifications are in better shape than some 1980s buildings down in the valley. Ancient builders certainly knew some secrets. :-)
Many more hiking and riding routes are available in Lagodekhi, so if you want to visit the place, here are the contact details.