Racha

Racha (რაჭა) is a region that you don’t hear much about, comparatively speaking. Kakheti has wine, Samegrelo has spicy food, Adjara has great beaches. But Racha? More off the beaten path.  But I have been intrigued for years, mostly – and I admit this is quite silly of me – because my favorite traditional dance comes from Racha.

Feel free to play this video of the Racha song and dance (with a modern twist, although I will say exposed midriffs are incredibly rare here) as you scroll through some of my favorite scenes from our trip there last week.

One of our first stops, Shaori Lake, was stunning, with the clear blue water, vibrant green trees and bright blue sky.
We walked around the lake for a long time; this was taken from the path circling the lake.
We were so happy here that we wanted to frolic. So we did.
 
The 11th century Nikortsminda Cathderal was covered in frescos, some original! I didn’t feel it was appropriate to take pictures inside so you will have to take my word for it.
We spent more than two hours on a rough road to visit Shovi and drink its naturally bubbly mineral water.
The drive to Shovi was beautiful. The town itself was sadly deserted. While the town does get some summer visitors, it is incredibly hard to reach since the 2008 war. Most people came via South Ossetia, making it a few hours’ trip from Tbilisi. Now that area is controlled by Russian border gaurds and the town – and many would say, Racha as a whole – has suffered.
Since there was literally no food for purchase to and from Shovi, this might have been our favorite sight of the day – shkmeruli, or roasted chicken with milk and lots of garlic – since we were famished by the time we came down the mountain.

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Nabeghlavi

Nabeghlavi (ნაბეღლავი) is the name of a small village in the western Georgian province of Guria. It is also the name of one of my favorite beverages in the world, Nabeghlavi mineral water.

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Along with their main competitor, Borjomi, the water that comes in these signature green and yellow bottles is one of the most popular Georgian products both inside and outside of the country; we could even find it in some Eastern European grocery stores in Portland, Oregon!

Nabeghlavi water comes bubbling up from 3000 meters below the surface of the earth, picking up layers of minerals on its way, and is naturally infused with carbon dioxide to have a bubbly and effervescent character (additional CO2 is added in the bottling process). Because of the mineral content, it is supposed to have curative properties and is supposedly especially good at calming upset stomachs.

Since we arrived in Georgia, I’ve been drinking at least a liter of it every day. So naturally I was excited when, at dinner with a friend’s host family, they suggested we go up to the Nabeghlavi village on a little excursion the next day.

The next afternoon, up the winding road we went until we came across a large construction site — the home of a brand new Nabeghlavi factory in the works, which appears to be at least four times the size of the existing one next door.

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Beware of… everything?

We parked, got out of the car, and were told to grab whatever empty bottles we could find… so we could fill them up with mineral water, unfiltered, unprocessed and straight from the source! Heaven.

 

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It wasn’t the same as what’s in the bottles — a little more of a sulphur taste, a little less carbonation — but was crisp, cool and refreshing nonetheless. And such a treat to get that close to the source.

We got back in the car, went off to do some other things further up the mountain, and passed the factory again on our way back down. Our host and driver was on the phone, and suddenly he stopped the car and turned it around:

We were heading back to Nabeghlavi — to go inside the factory.

That’s how a lot of things happen here: you set about to do one thing, and before you know it you’re off on an adventure you had no idea was coming. It’s what makes each day exciting.

Within minutes we were walking around the factory floor of the Nabeghlavi bottling plant, where they also bottle a still water called Bakhmaro. I am an absolute sucker for food factories anyway (I can’t get enough of the TV show in the States), so to be inside, watching the bottles shuttling through a beautifully choreographed sequence of engineering magic… again, heaven.

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A “baby” Bakhmaro bottle before it is injected with forced air and heat into a mold.

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