Why the Khada Valley road should not be built
And the alternative route chosen.
HISTORY AND GEORGIA’S CULTURAL IDENTITY
The Khada Valley and Gorge is one of the most historically important valleys in Georgia. It is the original route of the Georgian Military Highway and is said at one point to have over 60 towers – most of which are now part collapsed. As the former main route between Asia and Europe, it has been a participant in most of the nation’s dramatic political events in the last 2000 years. It should be recognised and preserved as a unique part of Georgia’s heritage – not filled with a modern road, bridges, intersections, tunnels, and everything they bring. In one noisy stroke the proposed road will eliminate the quiet, historical atmosphere of this key entrance into the high Caucasus.
Most Georgians will agree with this need to preserve their threatened cultural identity – especially as here there is an alternative route.
Even without its history, the Khada Valley stands out as one of the most beautiful in Georgia. Many photographers and artist come merely to capture its many fine views, particularly from 11th century St Mary’s church at Korogho (see photo). As it becomes better known, they will do so in increasing numbers, and the gorge become a celebrated feature of Georgia’s landscape and identity. Its quietness is a key aspect of its attractiveness, also increasingly rare in the nation’s historical beauty spots. The new road would eliminate this permanently.
RELIGION AND THE RIGHT TO TRANQUILITY
This is the peaceful valley where St Nino – who introduced Christianity to Georgia in the 4th century – first declared Georgia as a Christian nation. It has several churches, which today still maintain that same quality of contemplation she brought to the nation. The new road runs right next to the valley’s main church – the medieval St George’s, Bekot Kari; actually skirting the rim of its graveyard. In many other countries this would not be allowed – both out of respect and because it breaches the curtilage of an important historic building (the church and bell tower).
HIKING AND ECO-TOURISM
Because the valley remains largely authentic and undeveloped, over the last few years it has been attracting growing numbers of tourists, both Georgian and international, as hikers. This is due to its proximity to Tbilisi (an easy 1.25 hours drive) and superb variety of one day walks in a wonderfully self-contained landscape, with bird watching (the Black Cinereous Vulture, Europe’s largest bird, and rarest vulture, is often seen here). Because it offers a rare 12 month access to the high Caucasus mountains, this 9km long valley could easily become one of Georgia’s more popular, all year, eco-tourism venues. Today this is more important than ever, as ecological tourism is rapidly gaining in global popularity. Every one of Georgia’s travel companies agree and have already written a joint letter expressing this. Acknowledging this fact by preserving the valley would show Georgia and it government as a progressive nation developing a modern outlook toward tourism.
LOCAL EMPLOYMENT AND SUSTAINABLE INDUSTRY
The Khada valley lies right next to, yet is separate from, Georgia’s main ski-resort, Gudauri. From May to December, the snowless but significantly developed Gudauri, becomes redundant and virtually economically lifeless. Few of the many hotels remain open and the local industry has to lie dormant until the first good winter snows in December.
By developing Khada’s trekking and eco-tourism opportunities for the summer and autumn months, Gudauri would gain a new economic lease of life – as happens in equivalent Swiss and Austrian ski resorts. This is a golden and ecologically friendly opportunity awaiting both the Khada Valley and Gudauri. The construction of a mass-transit corridor right up its centre would hugely damage, if not ruin this.
HISTORIC RESTORATION AND GEORGIA’S FUTURE
Georgia’s future economic success depends on its tourism. Vital to this is the attractiveness of its unique mountain architecture – particularly the towers. Khada potentially stands as one of its most powerful, and accessible examples. The restoration of the valley’s historic towers would play a significant role in the country’s future as a cultural destination, and help it be recognised as such around the globe. The recreation of such an atmosphere would be cancelled out by the presence of a new, noisy, polluting, modern road – and another golden opportunity lost.
RELOCATION OF VILLAGERS
The current plan involves the compulsory purchase and the relocation of a number of villagers homes, particularly in Skhere – which would become the main construction hub and deposit for tunnel spoilings. By routing the road out of Khada, this disruption and expense would be avoided, both for the developers and local people.
THE ALTERNATIVE ROUTE IS MORE HARMONIOUS AND USEFUL
Instead of running straight up Khada, we propose an alternative route beginning 2.5 kilometres along the proposed new road. Once up on the Zakatkari plateau this would then steer left away from the Khada valley towards a different tunnel option beginning just below lower Gudauri. It’s exit would be at the same place as the proposed road, near Kobi, about 11km away. This option was shown in the Roads Department public consultation document, but rejected in favour of the slightly shorter Khada route. Significantly, in addition to saving the historic Khada valley, this route (called Corridor 2 in the December 2018 Environmental Impact Assessment) would provide a much needed, new road up to the Gudauri ski resort, avoiding the grinding switch-back up from Mleta – particularly hazardous in winter.