A Polish blogger named Comilla Napoura (Kami) writes about Chiautra, one of the cities in Georgia. Kami mentions that she knew nothing about this place Chiatura during her first visit to Georgia in 2011. But the moment she saw a picture of a rusty cable car going upwards, almost at a right angle she knew she had to go there!
In her blog, Kami tells the history of Chiatura briefly and suggests some advice for travellers.
Chiatura is home to the largest manganese reserve in the Caucasus Mountains. During the Soviet times, the extraction of manganese ore was a huge business. When the regime collapsed in 1991, a steep economic decline ensued, causing a severe impact on the industry. As of 2016, there were just over 3,000 workers in Chiatura’s seven mines and eight quarries.
The mining town of Chiatura, is surrounded by steep cliffs, and crossed by a network of aging Soviet-era aerial tramways that are still in use today. In the early 20th century, after the U.S.S.R. annexed Georgia, Soviet authorities were intent on extracting the vast manganese deposits beneath Chiatura.
After years of prosperity nowadays Chiatura is a sleepy town that lives at its own pace, hidden in a mountain valley.
In her article, Kami also explains how she got to the city, which is located near Kutaisi, the second largest city of Georgia and quite convenient for flights to and from Europe.
“Less than 2 hours after leaving Kutaisi I arrived in Chiatura, ready to explore. By the way, I probably would have managed all of this by myself but if you’ve seen how the Georgian language looks you’d know how much of a challenge travelling around can be and the help of locals was invaluable in this situation!”
The main reason why Kami wanted to visit Chiatura was all the crazy, rusty cable cars. Due to the steep sided river valley, production workers spent a large amount of time walking up from the town to the mines, which caused a reduction in productivity. In 1954 an extensive cable car system was installed to transport workers around the valley and up to the mines.
Still utilizing the same infrastructure installed originally in the 1950s, today around 17 separate aerial lift cable car systems still exist around the town. Some of the most interesting lines are just outside the city.
The locals call the cable car system “rope road,” that still connects almost every corner of the town. Today, the cars transport locals from their villages to the city center as well as factory workers and tourists.
Kami found it a little bit difficult to reach the cable cars as some of them were not working and almost started questioning the whole idea of visiting Chiatura – was it really worth all the efforts?
“I mean, I liked the industrial feel, all the railway tracks, the Soviet style architecture and a mosaics of Lenin and Stalin which I found on the wall of another station but that’s still not why I came to Chiatura!”
She was ready to admit defeat and head back to Kutaisi but still decided to check inside the station. And that was when the whole adventure began!
“As I entered the building a nice lady was about to board a cable car and depart all the way to the upper part of the town. She asked me if I wanted to go too and I happily agreed, feeling all giggly and excited. If I had had any time to think about it I don’t think I’d have been brave enough to enter the car but as the situation surprised me I ended up being totally spontaneous – and now I am glad that I did!”
Even if it was a gloomy November day, the autumn colours peeked through and seeing the view from high up, the deep gorge / valley and Chiatura were just breathtaking. The journey that Kami was dreading so badly turned out to be a rather enjoyable one as soon as she focused on the views and not the cable car itself.
“Once up I was feeling ecstatic, I could hear the adrenaline pumping in my ears – it was a mix of disbelief and pride that I managed to overcome my fears and ride this damn cable car. Now even I’m laughing how silly that sounds!”
According to maps.me there are 17 cable cars in Chiatura and its surroundings but as Kami mentions, she has only seen 2 in the center which are operational. Some of them are located outside of the center so you need a car with a driver to take you there.
Other than the cable cars, Kami advises to walk around the center, which is really pleasant. If you like the Soviet architecture you will appreciate the place even more.
On the way, not far away from Chiatura, Kami could see another of Georgia’s top tourist attractions – Katskhi pillar – a 40 meters high monolith with a small monastery on top.
“If you are visiting the area by car this should be your must stop too! If, like me, you are using the public transport be sure to sit on the right side of the bus when leaving Chiatura – you will see the pillar just fine!”
At the end of her story, Kami says that at first she was slightly disappointed with Chiatura and was not so sure if it was worth going all the way there just to see some old rusty cable cars. But as soon as she started riding them her impressions changed dramatically.
“Visiting Chiatura is until now one of the craziest travel experiences I have ever had and I am really hoping to return there to ride all available cable cars!”
On her blog, Kami also gives readers some practical information about Chiatura. How to get to Kutaisi airport, which hotels you can stay, what recourses she has used for reaching the city itself and etc.