About Me

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
I am married to my loving husband for more than 38 years now. I am a mother to 3 beautiful children, until 11 years ago when I lost my youngest son. Since then my life is forever altered but yet unbroken....

My Travel Journal

"There isn't much I haven't shared with you along the road and through it all there'd always be tomorrow's episode" - Elton John

I started traveling around the world since early 80s when I had the opportunity to combine business trips with vacations. Then later when my rezeki is in abundance, there were numerous other trips along the way for vacations, most of the time with hubby and the kids when the timing is right. I have also started to compile the journal and photo-pages covering almost more than 25 years of world wide travel. Some destinations I visited just once, others many times. Many of those places are the obvious famous places people would like to visit but some, the casual traveler doesn't even think to try. I have placed links to my travel at the side bar of my personal page, My Life Reflections, and will be updating them from time to time.

My wish is to continue my travel and complete circumnavigate the globe, insyaAllah…

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

The Ancient Caucasus: Tracing the Great Silk Route

"Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey..." - Pat Conroy

(Crossing the wild frontier of the Caucasus Mountains)

The Caucasus Tour
15 April - 3 May 2018
(Turkey - Georgia - Armenia - Nagorno Karabakh - Azerbaijan)

We have been away for almost three weeks on a road tour of the Caucasus visiting the former Soviet Union states and tracing the Ancient Silk Road along the way. Then later spent some time in Sofia, Bulgaria and Istanbul, Turkey before we flew back to KL, just in time for the PRU14.

Where in the world is Caucasus?

The Caucasus is a region located at the border of Europe and Asia, situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and occupied by Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. A less common definition includes also portions of northwestern Iran and northeastern Turkey.

The Caucasus region is separated between North Caucasus and South Caucasus, respectively. The Greater Caucasus mountain range in the north is within the Russian Federation, while the Lesser Caucasus mountain range in the south is occupied by several independent states, namely Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and partially recognized Republic of Artsakh also known as Nagorno Karabakh (NKR).

In the 6th century the North Caucasus became the arena of collision of interests between powerful empires of Byzantium and Persia. The reason was very significant — they fought for the control over vital trade routes of the Silk Road passing across the Caucasus.
(Our Caucasus Kembara group in Kars)

The routing of the Caucasus road trip:
Day 01: Istanbul, Turkey
Day 02: Kars, Turkey
Day 03: Alhaltsikhe/Khertvisi, Georgia
Day 04: Gyumri, Armenia
Day 05: Koyayk/Lake Sevan, Armenia
Day 06: Yerevan/Ararat Plain, Armenia
Day 07: Armenia - NKR border
Day 08: Shushi/Stephanakert, NKR
Day 09: Armenia/Georgia border
Day 10: Tbilisi/Gori, Georgia
Day 11: Tbilisi, Georgia
Day 12: Baku, Azerbaijan
Day 13: Baku, Azerbaijan
Day 14: Gobustan, Azerbaijan
Day 15: Istanbul, Turkey

Day 01: KL - Istanbul, Turkey

“We learn something from everyone who passes through our lives. Some lessons are painful, some are painless. But, all are priceless…”

(Dinner at Mis Adana Kebab Restaurant in Istanbul)

Day 01: 15 April 2018 (Sunday) 
Route: KL – Istanbul 
Hotel: Ekinci Residence Istanbul, Turkey 

Our QR0845 0900/1220 flight was delayed for an hour in KLIA due to congestion. In Doha Hamad International Airport, we had to rush through security checks to board our connecting flight QR025 1340/1820 to Istanbul.

(Very early breakfast at KLIA)
(After a long tiring journey)

Our group arrived at Kamal Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul on time. There was a problem with hubby’s passport and it took a long time to clear. A van transferred us to Ekinci Residence somewhere near Sabiha Gocken Airport. We had kebab dinner at a nearby Mis Adana Kebab Restaurant before we checked-in.

Tonight we met Mr Hazimin, our supposed guide for this Caucasus trip.

(Ekinchi Residence, cozy and spacious)

Day 02: Istanbul/Kars, Turkey - Alkhaltsikhe, Georgia

"When you face difficult times, know that challenges are not sent to destroy you. They're sent to strengthen you..."

(Bronze busts of rulers and scholars in Kars)

Day 02: 16 April 2018 (Monday)
Route: Istanbul/ Kars/ Turkgozu-Vale Border/ Samtske-Javakheti
Hotel: Hotel Almi Akhaltsikhe, Georgia

(The beginning of our Caucasus adventure)
(A long queue at the check-in counters)
(Light snacks on a budget airline)

Early morning we were transferred to Sabiha Gokcen Airport for our PC 2590 0900/1110 flight to Kars. Kars is 1,446 km from Istanbul by road. Our flight arrived in Kars Harakani Airport around 1:30 pm. Lunch was Lamb Shank local dish of Piti at Sini Yemekleri Restaurant in Kars.

(Kars Harakani Airport)
(A bright sunny day in Kars)
(Mr Hazimin, our guide in Turkey)
(A monument in Kars city centre)
(Piti, a local lamb shank dish served in enamel mug)

We went to Fathiye Jame Mosque to perform our prayers only to find the mosque was closed for renovation works. This mosque has a history of being originally a Russian church built during the occupation which makes it a unique monument. We performed our prayers at Abu'l Hasan Harakani Tomb and the Evliya Mosque Complex. The Evliya Mosque overlooks the old fortress, an old church and Harakani Tomb.

(Monuments next to Fathiye Jame Mosque)
(Fathiye Jame Mosque under massive construction)
(Another mosque in Kars)
(Harakani Tomb Complex)
(The Evliya Mosque of Kars)
(The prayer hall of Evliya Mosque)

From Kars we travelled 162 km to Posof, the border town between Turkey and Georgia. The journey to the border was interesting and the mountain route view was fascinating. Some mountain ranges were still covered with snow.

(A beautiful countryside village)
(The sun is setting on snow-covered mountains)

It was already late afternoon when we arrived at the Torguzu border. The border clearance on the Turkey border was slow and we were made to wait in the cold windy weather. Hubby's passport was once again not in order and took a while to clear. The rest of the group cleared border formalities quite easily.

It was unfortunate than Mr Hazimin, our travel guide was denied entry to Georgia because of his pending PR status in Turkey. Without the travel guide we were on our own and had to manage this Caucasus trip ourselves.

(A small Turkey/Georgia border)

On the Georgia border the passport control procedure was made worst when a bus load of locals freely jumped the queue. The custom checks was in a havoc state. All our luggage was scanned. All medication drugs were checked thoroughly. Those drugs without prescription were confiscated. Even paracetamol without original packing was thrown in the rubbish bin. Three from our group were asked to sign some sort of declaration and their medications were categorized as illegally drugs. Police were called and our passports were held until police gave their clearance. We were fortunate that our 20-day supplements and medications were spared.

(Our loads of  medications and vitamins)

The whole process of border clearance took almost four hours. We were lucky that the Georgian driver patiently waited for us on the other side of the border.

We arrived at the hotel about 11.00 pm exhausted and famished. We requested the hotel cook to prepare simple dinner. We were lucky that Anna, the receptionist, could communicate with us in good English. We will be eating trouts for our three day stay in Alkhaltsikhe.

Day 03: Akhaltsikhe, Georgia

"When everything feels like an uphill struggle, just think of the view from the top..."

(Khertvisi Fortress)

Day 03: 17 April 2018 (Tuesday) 
Route: Akhaltsikhe/ Khertvisi/ Vardzia 
Hotel: Almi Almi Akhaltsikhe, Georgia 

Georgia is a country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the south by Turkey and Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. The capital and largest city is Tbilisi.

(A typical local breakfast)
(Hotel Almi, our lodging for two nights)

Akhaltsikhe literally means New Castle formerly known as Lomsia is a small city in Georgia's southwestern region of Samtskhe-Javakheti. It is situated on both banks of a small river Potskhovi, which separates the old city in the north and new in the south. In the old part of the city one can see the great Rabati Fortress, built by the Ottomans around a mosque and St. Marine's Church. The Sapara Monastery is on the hills nearby the city.

This morning, with Anna's assistance, the money changer came to the hotel for us to change our USD to Georgian Lari. They do not accept currency other than Lari here.

(The Georgian Lari)

We travelled about 45 km south to Khertvisi then later for another 11 km to Vardzia to visit the Kertvisi Fortress and Vardzia Cave Monastery.

(The plain and the mountains)
(The Kura River)
(One of the suspension bridges)

Khertvisi fortress is one of the oldest fortresses in Georgia and was functional throughout the Georgian feudal period. The fortress was first build in the 2nd century BC. As the legend says, Khertvisi was destroyed by Alexander the Great. After visiting the castle we walked on the suspension bridge over River Kura.

(Free entrance to the Khertvisi Fortress)
(One of the oldest fortress in Georgia)
(A steep climb to the fortress)
(Exploring the interior of the fortress)
(The remnants of the partially destroyed castle)
(Sentry hole with a view of the valley)
(Indiana Jones exploration team)
(Panoramic view of the valley and Kura River)
(Photo opportunity from the top of the castle) 
(Walking on the suspension bridge over Kura River)

Our next visit was to Vardzia Cave Monastery, a site excavated from the slopes of the Erusheti Mountain on the left bank of the Kura River, 30 km from Aspindza. The caves stretch along the cliff for some 500 m and in up to 19 tiers. The Church of the Dormition dating to the golden age of Tamar and Rustaveli, has an important series of wall paintings. The site was largely abandoned after the Ottoman takeover in the 16th century. Now part of a state heritage reserve, the extended area of Vardzia-Khertvisi has been submitted for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

(The view of the Cave Monastery from the valley)
(The history dating to the Golden Age)
(Archaeological artifacts excavated from the caves)
(A long uphill walk to the monastery)
(Head phones available on rental)
(The view of the Kura River and the valley)
(Exploring a few of the many caves)
(Smaller caves used for meditation by the priests)
(A church building still standing strong)
(A church perched on the hill slope)
(A view of the valley from the church)
(Stairs leading to the upper level of the cave monastery)
(A leisure down hill walk)
(Beautiful wild flowers along the path)
(A cool glass of freshly squeezed fruit juice)

After the visit, we traveled back to town. On the Akhalsikhe-Vardzia route, we enjoyed the beautiful scenery of River Kura and the green valley along the way.

We performed our prayers in the hotel and had baked trout lunch in the hotel restaurant.

(The Rabati Fortress overlooking Alhaltsikhe city)

In the afternoon we visited Rabati Fortress, built as early as the 9th Century by Guaram Mampali, a Christian Georgian Orthodox prince from the Kartli Empire. The Rabati Castle is a medieval structure originally called the Lomisa Castle until it was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans ruled the land for centuries until the Russian invasion. The Ahmadiyyah Mosque, a minaret, a synagogue, a Christian church, the Jakelis’ Palace, a museum and a citadel are the restored antique buildings in the fortress.

(The entrance ticket to visit Rabati Fortress)
(A well-maintained Ancient Fortress)
(There are many entrances and exits)
(Arches and walkways in the complex)
(The many gardens in the fort)
(An Orthodox Church in the complex)
(The Ahmadiyyah Mosque)
(The inside of the mosque)
(Stone inscriptions and artifacts)
(The fortress is still standing strong)
(Alhaltsikhe Local Market Place)

We visited the local market on the way back to the hotel but most fruit stalls were closed after 6.00 pm.

(Tasty pan-fried trouts for dinner)
(Tired and hungry after the full day trip)