The famous “Military Road”, has been built by the Tsar’s troops in the 19th century after Russia annexed Georgia and colonised the Caucasus on a trail known since pre-Christian times. This is one of the only three roads crossing the Higher Caucasus and nowadays the border between Georgia and the Russian Federation is closed.
This is an impressive and beautiful road leading you to Stepansminda and Mt Kazbeg (the third high Caucasus summit), and even squeezed in a mini bus, from the small windows, you cannot do else than admire and enjoy the views of the majestic mountains.
As this road is featured in literary masterpieces like Lermontov’s “A hero of our time” (which I red when I was student but honestly do not really remember), in works of Pushkin, or the “Voyage au Caucase” (Ce gigantesque rempart, cette majestueuse forteresse, cette muraille granitique aux créneaux éternellement neigeux. . . ) by A. Dumas, and many other you can be sure that you will see something really beautiful when you will travel on this road.
The mini buses usually stop in Annanuri where you have time for a look at the church, souvenir stalls and the lake (picture 1).
From there the road begins to climb seriously and at some point (which by chance is also a place where are souvenir shops!) the minibus has to stop for cooling and water refill (picture 2).
Then the road climbs up to the Gudauri winter sports resort before a last climb up to the Holy Cross Pass, and passes by a strange building (picture 3) . You then plunge in the Terek Valley; from the mini bus you just see the steep slopes (picture 4) and have to wait patiently it reaches Stepansminda (picture 5), the end of the journey.
I am sure that with an individual car, taking time, the trip must really be beautiful from Tbilissi to the Russian Border.
Are you going from Tblisi to Kazbegi the best way to do this is probably with a shared taxi. It cost slightly more then the minibus but is faster and more comfortable.
For Kazbegi the shared taxi is leaving from Didube. They leave when the taxi is full (four passengers) or with less people if they are willing to share the price. I paid 10 lari (June 2003) for the drive Tblisi - Kazbegi. Can't remember how long it took. Maybe four hours.
The family sharing the taxi had a lot of luggage (they were shopping big bags of hazelnuts and other things at the market before we took off).
So, I just wanted to add to these posts that I've been in Kazbegi this summer for just a one day trip to Gergeti Sameba Church and the transportation from Tbilisi is still the same. The minibus leaves from Didube bus station, the first at 9 am and is very easy to find. The last minibus from Kazbegi is at 5 or 6 as I remember, so don't be late there will be no more transport if you don't take the last one, or you will have to hire a taxi, which is usually expensive. The best solution about being late is staying at one of the guesthouses there. :)
The last Marshrutka leaves at 17:00, when we were there it was full, so we decided to grab something to eat and then head back to Tbilisi. Unfortunately, when we decided to go back around 18:30 there was no way to get back, the square was empty of taxis and the only driver there claimed 150 Lari for the trip instead of 60. Eventually the owner of the homestay which we were staying in arranged us a driver for 60 Lari. So if you are tight on time, make sure you have a way to get back.
Yamze, who we stayed with in Kazbegi, arranged us a Taxi back to Tbilisi, late in the evening, for 60 Lari.
The driver name is Beja, he owns an old Lada car. Does trips to and from Kazbegi, speaks some English and Russian, in addition to Georgian. He starts off from Didube, doesn't know Tbilisi to good, so if you are traveling with him from Tbilisi to Kazbegi its worth meeting in from of the metro station or something, otherwise you might have trouble finding him in Didube.
He is relatively careful in his driving and can also stop in a great Hinkali place on the way to Hazbegi, stop for you to drink "Narzan", which is natural carbonated water spring on the way as well as tell you a bit about what you see on the way.
To conclude - we liked the trip with Beja very much. Her is his cell phone number: 899773266
You can also ask him to drive you to Yamze's place at Kazbegi, with whom we stayed in Kazbegi and where very pleased, details in here http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/e6f24/1a3910/3/
The last hour on the road to Kazbegi leads through the what's left of the “Georgian military highway”, a bumpy and virtually unpaved path climbing up mountains in narrow U-turns. Considering the poor condition of the road and the traffic on this only route to Kazbegi, I would not recommend you drive. Rather take a marshrutka.
There are several Marshrutkas (minivans) per day from Tbilisi (Didube station) to Kazbegi in the summer time, from morning to early afternoon. The journey takes about 3-4 hours, with one stop.
From Kazbegi, marshrutkas for Tbilisi leave from the main square, in front of Stepan Tsminda Hotel.
At the time of my travel, a one way trip was 10 lari.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the closure of the border with Russia to foreigners makes the “Georgian military highway” a dead end, at least for the time being. Although a few miles from the Russian border, no chance to reach Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, unless you travel under a Georgian or Russian passport.
If you want to get to Tbilisi and are worrying about the choices dont sweat it. Minibuses leave the square near the new hotel every few hours and cost 10 lari despite what the hawks in the square may tell you. The last minibus to Tbilisi leaves at 5pm while the early bus leaves at 9am but prepared for a bumpy but gorgeous drive!
The border between Georgia and Russia is most definitely open (look out for convoys of cars heading for sale in Tbilisi), although foreigners are not always allowed to cross. The Georgian Military highway extends a further 10 kilometres or so past Kazbegi, continuing over the border to Vladikavkaz in the republic of North Ossetia. If you can get a Russian visa which allows you to cross here, then there are shared taxis waiting to transport you from Tbilisi's Didube bus station to both Vladikavkaz and the famous spa of Mineralniy Voda.
A grand name for a grand road, the Georgian Military Highway snakes its way through the mountains from Tbilisi over the Djvaris Pass and down to Kazbegi. The trip by bus takes around 3 hours and costs 8 Lari, leaving Tbilisi's chaotic Didube Station about three times a day, with the last one leaving around 4pm. Getting back to Tbilisi is fairly straighforward...go to the square and let people know you are going to Tbilisi ("me mivdivar Tbilis-shi" is a handy phrase), someone will put you in a taxi. Taxis, if shared, are only slightly more expensive than marshrutkas (minibuses), although be prepared for a white-knuckle ride, especially on the steep section.
Sights en route include (from Tbilisi) Ananuri church, Zhinvali Dam, Pasanauri, the steep climb to the ski resort of Gudauri, and the Djvari Pass.
The only public service to Kazbegi is the mini bus.
There are daily connections from to Tbilisi.
The journey take about 3-4 hours it is a great ride
thorugh the georgian military highway.
The roads are in not vey good condition everywhere.
You will drive through dark tunnels and high passes.
Don't be afraid the drivers are very experienced.
The first bus from Tbilis starts at about 8:00 from Didube
The last from Kazbegi starts at about 16:00 (sept 2003) from the main square
But it is better to ask ahead perhabs the times have changed.
We had a lack in the tire near Tbilisi.
Good that this had not been at a mountain pass.
The driver changed the tire in two minutes!
So a daytrip is possible
The journey costs about 5 $ One way.