Walking Tbilisi, Georgia

Discover Landmarks of a Historic Crossroads of the Caucasus
Tbilisi, Georgia, 41°41'39" N, 44°50'01" E

A storied crossroads between Asia and Europe, between Islam and Christianity, between covetous empires muscling in from the north and south, east and west, Tbilisi’s history is a kaleidoscope of invasion and reconquest.

The Republic of Georgia’s strategic capital has been occupied through its 1,500-year history by Persians, Arabs, Byzantines, Ottomans, and Russians. Throughout this turbulent past it has retained its essential character: A polyglot outpost on the old Silk Road that has welcomed all traders and coopted all invaders. This easygoing attitude endures today. Its 1.5 million citizens bustle about a small city in the heart of the Caucasus that is replete with Georgian Orthodox churches, techno dance ...

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Photograph by Paul Salopek

Ghost of the Vine

In Georgia, science probes the roots of winemaking.
Dzalisa, Georgia, 41°57'39" N, 44°37'036" E

Meet Maka Kozhara: a wine expert. Young, intelligent, friendly.

Kozhara sits in an immense cellar in a muddy green valley in the Republic of Georgia. The cellar lies beneath an imitation French chateau. The vineyards outside, planted in gnarled rows, stretch away for miles. Once, in the late 19th century, the chateau’s owner, a Francophile, a vintner and eccentric Georgian aristocrat, pumped barrels of home-brewed champagne through a large outdoor fountain: a golden spray of drinkable bubbles shot into the air.

“It was for a party,” Kozhara says. “He loved wine.”

Kozhara twirls a glass of wine in her hand. She holds the glass up to the ceiling light. She ...


Glance Back: Mule Checkup

A Four-legged Update From the World Walk
Dereköy, Turkey 41°19'04" N 42°48'27" E

Huseyin Yilmaz is a friend. So is Kirkatir the mule.

They met each other recently, at my behest, in a remote mountain hamlet high in the ice-shellacked mountains of northeastern Turkey. Months ago, I had left my faithful cargo mule with a kind farmer there named Ahmet. Quarantine laws had foiled Kirkatir’s entry into Georgia. So Huseyin, a rural development expert who lives in the nearby city of Kars, and a man who knows animals, agreed to pay a house call. (more…)

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Caravan Stop

Heat—political and solar—blocks a walk across the world.
Tbilisi, Georgia, 41°41'48" N 44°48'01" E

Nodar says: Stop.

Stopping is good, he says.

Why? Because life is short, and only friendship lasts. Friendship is perhaps the finest treasure in life, Nodar says. It is beyond price, and possibly above all forms of love. How does one acquire this precious jewel, this rare prize—friendship? How does one keep it? By stopping. By pausing. By walking into Nodar’s little café in the old Armenian quarter of Tbilisi. There, one must sit down at one of the small wooden tables. One must order a coffee to sip. Or a beer. Or a yellow Kakhetian wine with an aftertaste of Georgian clay. The drinks matter little: It is the ...

Photograph by Matthieu Chazal

Trail Gallery: Anatolia Through Other Eyes

Tbilisi, Georgia, 41°41'48" N, 44°48'01" E

From its first dusty step the Out of Eden Walk was framed as a shared journey.

This long walk isn’t mine: It belongs to everyone, because all of our ancestors blazed the pathways I now follow—the compass points of human need and fear, of wonder and curiosity, that in the Stone Age led us questing out of Africa and across the unknown world.

Today, we make this idea concrete by launching “Trail Gallery,” a periodic feature that will showcase the creative work of the people who, for vastly different and complicated reasons, choose to join me as local guides and walking partners.

As I pause for the duration of an icy ...


Trail’s End

Near Poka, Republic of Georgia, 41°22'43" N, 43°46'36" E

“The atmosphere of the border—it is like starting over again; there is something about it like a good confession: poised for a few happy moments between sin and sin.”
— Graham Greene, The Lawless Roads

What are we doing here?

Up at 7,800 feet? At the pinnacle of the world? Atop a strange and motionless summit that is brighter than a sunlit cloud? A shadowless wilderness of blinding light? We squint into its vast whiteness. Into a luminance that erases distance, that flattens space, that deceives the eyes.

We are in trouble. We are freezing.

Four days behind us sprawls Anatolia—the colossal thumb of Asia ...

Photo by Murat Yazar.

Goodbye to Anatolia

Near the Posof border, Turkey, 41°28'13" N, 42°43'17" E

“Tell me again,” says the puzzled voice on the cellphone. “You want to bring a donkey into Georgia?”

“No—a cargo mule.”

“A mule?”

“You know—when you mate a horse with a donkey.”

“I know what a mule is.”

It is Nika Zurashvili.

Nika—an employee of a friend of an acquaintance of a colleague. At the behest of his boss, David Lordkipanidze, the director of the National Museum of Georgia in the distant capital of Tbilisi, and at the request of the Georgian ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Archil Gegeshidze, and also at the polite urging of the National Geographic Society, of Washington, D.C., Nika has been saddled with a delicate and ...

Photograph by John Stanmeyer

Glance Back: 180,000 Syrian Refugees Flee Into Turkey

The March issue of National Geographic features the latest print installment of the "Out of Eden Walk" journey across the globe.

Photographed by John Stanmeyer, "Fleeing Terror, Finding Refuge" describes Paul Salopek's walk through the largest forced migration in the Middle East since the fall of the Ottoman Empire a century ago—a deepening humanitarian calamity, he writes, whose "political fallout in the region is unfathomable and will be lasting."

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"What happens when you become a war refugee? You walk."

True, in order to save your life—for example, as militants assault your village—you might first speed away by ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Blood On Snow

Near Posof, Turkey, 41°26'47" N, 42°44'03" E

“You can’t stay.”

The lone workman at the highway maintenance shed turns us away. He will not shelter us, he says. Company rules. He warns us to descend the mountain immediately. A terrible blizzard is coming. But can’t he see that we are not in a car? That we have not driven to the top of this bitter 8,000-foot pass? That we are on foot? That we cannot escape this freezing wilderness on wheels? That we must descend one step at a time? He sees. But so cocooned are we humans in our motorized worlds that we often disbelieve our own eyes. The workman wishes us well, waves us ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Minaret Dreams

Karacaören, Turkey, 40°03'34" N, 43°18'44" E

"When it snowed and the roofs and the people were covered with white snow, the Arabs said, Ash hadha nazala mina’s-sama al-qut-ni, meaning, ‘What is this? It’s raining down cotton from the sky!’ The Turks said, ‘God be praised, look at God’s mercy!’ and they ate the snow. The Arabs gathered here and there and when they tasted the snow said, Lahha’ad barda’n-nar, meaning, ‘My goodness, cold fire!’"

-- Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi, on the reaction of two peoples to snow. Circa 1650.

We descend the 8,000-foot pass in a blizzard. We reel like sleepwalkers. We grope our way forward through a cascade of ...