A future ‘heaven’ for tourists? Photoreportage from the Dashbash Gorge in Georgia
To create a future tourism paradise – this is the purpose of a new project which has started this summer in the area around Dashbash, just two hours south of Tbilisi.
Many locals seem to be excited and are full of expectations about the project. One of the dwellers who is looking forward to these changes is Leila. She is a woman around forty who has a small shop at the gate to Dashbashi canyon - the main touristic attraction in the area.
The village and canyon are located around three kilomenters from the town of Tsalka in the southern Georgian region of Kvemo Kartli. The area around Dashbash is quite a serene place, though in the summer it can be full of tourists, especially on the weekends. However, there are just a few locals trying to benefit from the influx of tourists. Leila is just one of them.
Tourists who visit the canyon usually stop in Leila's shop to buy some cold beverages or to sit in her garden and take in the incredible views of the surrounding nature.
"There is nothing else in Dashbash. Only an increase in tourism could really help us," said Leila, who didn't hesitate to talk to us when we walked in.
Her hopes just might be fulfilled in the near future. The Georgian Agency of Protected Areas announced in the beginning of May a new project which is supposed to be realized by investors from Israel - the Kass Land company. This project includes a 240-meter long glass bridge across the canyon with a bar in the middle.
"The project starts in August and finishes in 2020. We expect that the new tourist attraction to draw 2,000 – 3,000 visitors per day during the season. We plan to invest around 60 million USD,“ the manager of the project of the Kass Land company, Ana Shanidze, told us.
Apart from the bridge, new hotels, restaurants and cafes are expected to pop up as well. The Kass Land company even plans to organize a music festival near the canyon. But the entrance to the canyon is not going to be free anymore. The estimated price will be around 15 lari.
"I am happy about that. It means new jobs and opportunities for locals," express his opinion a young man from Dashbash village who has got a job as a construction worker.
An explanation for the excitement and expectation regarding the new investment can be found mainly in the low quality of life in this district. Job opportunities are few in Tsalka municipality. This very multiethnic and multicultural area where Georgians, Armenians, Azerbaijani and Greeks live together is located at high attitudes covered by meadows and plains. The primary economic activity is agriculture. The huge flock of sheep's accompanied by cowboys are still iconic marks of this region.
“Our contract does not obligate us to give jobs mainly to locals. But we will offer them some jobs,” assured Ana Shanidze, the project manager.
But not everybody from this region wants to rely on promises about new jobs and tries to work out their own plans. This is the case of old Lernik who recently opened a new small shop in town of Tsalka, located only three kilometers from Dashbashi canyon.
"Perhaps I will open the hostel for tourists if more of them come in the future. I have a big house in Dashbashi. I only need to renovate it," he said.
It is without doubt that the life of locals can change significantly. But the project also brings new challenges for the environment. The Kass Land company, however, claims that they don't plan to disturb or damage the unique nature because all construction in Dashbashi is going to be built out of protected areas.
We tried to verify this information and ask Georgian Agency of Protected Areas about that but they didn't response any of our questions. On the other hand Georgian environmental NGOs and activists responded but they do not have any further information about the project which has started in August.