Tskaltubo – Prometheus Cave

Prometheus Cave

Prometheus Cave

Tskaltubo – Prometheus Cave

What’s there?

A wonderful and not too exploited and damaged natural wonder. There may be many of them in the world – after all so much of the world’s land mass was once under the sea – but that doesn’t lessen the amazement of what you see and pass that took millions of years to create.

And I think the Prometheus Cave is a good example of the different manner in which these limestone caves evolved into the natural wonders they are.

There are the classic stalagmites (rising up from the ground) and the stalactites hanging from the ceiling – the way we were taught to remember the difference when I was young was the idea that tights come down.

But as in all limestone caves there is everything in between – and more.

Cascades that look like frozen waterfalls. Huge globes of accumulated limestone which have percolated through the rock above. And shapes which are difficult to imagine how they were formed with the accumulation of a grain of sand at a time. Every time I’ve had the opportunity to visit such caves I’ve seen something I had never seen before.

Once you have an idea of the process of the construction of these weird and wonderful formations you realise how insignificant our short time is on the planet. When it takes a thousand years for a small stalactite to grow one centimetre and then you see huge pillars that have taken millions of years to reach such proportions we should reflect of the minor part we play in the Earth’s development although play the major part in its destruction.

We are told that Georgians have really embraced religion since the fall of the Soviet Union. How deep that religious feeling is I don’t know. When certainties collapse people have often, historically grasped for something to take its place. The fact that such beliefs can provide some comfort goes no way in solving the economic, social and political problems that gave rise to the uncertainty in the first place.

That being the case I always wonder how Georgians, clutching at these religious straws, rationalise locations such as the Prometheus cave. Why would a all-powerful God make something of sea creatures, then push that land high into the air and then ‘destroy’ the creation by forcing water through it? It must be great when you accept a religion (of whatever brand) as it allows you to avoid the awkward questions of life and you can just switch the brain off.

Why go?

Because if you are near by it would be a shame to miss it. You could take the approach that once you’ve seen one limestone cave system you’ve seen them all. But that’s not true. Every time you go around a corner you see something unique and unrepeatable. A result of the structured chaos that is nature.

And the way the whole cave is illuminated makes a difference. I thought, in the main, the lighting in Prometheus was used in a reasonably subtle manner. And digital cameras are great at creating a colour scheme that wouldn’t have been possible with film – unless you spent hours in a darkroom.

What’s presented in the slide show below is an idea of what you would see in an hour or so walk in the semi-darkness.

It might be worth mentioning that there are a lot of steps, both going up and down, on this expedition. It’s also wet, after all the water dripping through was what created the cave and its architectural wonders in the first place. If that’s a problem DON’T GO!

How to get there

From the nearest town of Kutaisi (unless you are staying in the spa town of Tskaltubo) take the No 30 Marshrutka from the other side of the Red Bridge to the town centre – to the west of the market area. They leave every 20 minutes, more or less, on the hour, 20 and then 40 past. The guide books say GEL 2 but the cost is GEL 1.20 (shown normally on a piece of paper above the driver’s head at the front of the mini-bus). Journey takes about 20 minutes and get off at the market area, just after you pass the large Hotel Prometheus on the left. The road into Tskaltubo goes around the outside of a park and it’s when you leave the park behind and head into the commercial part of the town that you want to get off.

When you get off the No 30 look for the No 42 – or if you look like a tourist they will look for you. This has no set timetable but will leave when there are at least 3 people. In the low season that might mean a bit of a wait – I was there for over an hour before two other people arrived looking for transport. The journey takes less than 20 minutes and you will be dropped off at the car park at the entrance to the Visitor Centre. Cost of one way journey GEL 2. The driver will wait to take you back – about an hour or so later.

Cost of visiting the cave

I thought it was against World Trade Organisation rules for there to be a different price for locals as opposed to foreigners. That is increasingly not the case as I have now experienced this situation in a number of countries.

Assuming anyone reading this is not Georgian then the prices are:

Adult entrance: GEL 23

For the boat trip at the end of the walk: GEL 17.25

Prices for children are roughly half the adult fare.

Sitting in a boat in a cave doesn’t really rock my boat but it might some. More for the children, I think.

Once out of the cave system turn left, uphill a bit, and about 10-15 minutes later arrive at the car park where the No 42 Marshrutka that brought you will be waiting.

Opening times

10.00 – 16.00

but last ticket will be sold a little more than an hour before closing time.

Closed on Mondays.

Sataplia

There’s another cave system close to Kutaisi, this time at Sataplia. This is not that easy to get to by public transport as some guidebooks would suggest. The direct marshrutka wasn’t running the day I visited and I had to take the one that dropped me off at the bottom of a 2.5km climb up quite a steep road. The road is a dead end as it only goes to the cave.

Sataplia is now open everyday, 10.00 – 18.00. Cost is GEL 17.25 for foreign adults (less than half that for locals).

There is a guided tour with set departure times. They alternate between being Georgian/Russian and Georgian/English. Apart from the cave there’s also a small ‘museum’ with information about the park (in Georgian and English) as well as a moving (and roaring) model of a meat eating dinosaur.

A cafe and viewing platform – with a glass floor – has also been constructed which provides a view down on the valley of the River Rioni as well as the town of Kutaisi.

Personally I was disappointed with Sataplia. Perhaps I had been led to expect more. I thought Prometheus by far the better of the two. And unless you have your own transport it isn’t always convenient to get to and away from.

Dinosaur footprints

Sataplia is also unique in the fact that it is the site of an small area where dinosaur footprints, dated more than 100 million years ago, can be found. What also makes it quite unique is the fact there are prints of vegetable feeders as well as meat eaters – although separated by a few thousand years.

This, I must admit, I found slightly underwhelming. The fact they are there is more interesting than the reality. Preserved footprints, however old, don’t look much more interesting than a dog’s footprint in modern cement. But then I might just be being churlish.

Gori – Stalin Museum

Stalin - outside entrance to Museum

Stalin – outside entrance to Museum

Gori – Stalin Museum

The Stalin Museum in his birthplace of Gori, in the centre of Georgia, is one of the few places in the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) where you will see any reference (let alone a positive reference) to the leader of the world’s first socialist state.

(Before the success of reaction in the Soviet Union, in the 1990s, there used to be a much larger museum dedicated to Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, just off Red Square, in Moscow. This was called The Central Lenin Museum. That museum space is now devoted to the successful war against the Napoleonic invasion of 1812 – by ignoring their Soviet past the Russian people have had to go back more than 200 years before they can hold their heads high.)

I don’t know when they were created but the life-size Stalin statues outside the museum and the copy which stands on the first landing of the stairs to the exhibition halls are probably some of the worst likenesses of JV Stalin to be seen – apart from the terracotta wine container I obtained in Tbilisi. This, I can only assume, is deliberate. Georgian sculptors are no less able than those in different parts of the world to re-create an accurate image of an individual. To not do so is not a matter of artistic incompetence but a political statement attempting to erase the past. 

And one thing that demonstrates the dis-ingenuousness of these statues is the fact that Stalin’s right hand is resting on a book of his own writings, with his name in Georgian script on the spine. Never in his lifetime would Stalin self-reference in such a manner. If his hand would be on a book it would have been either on one of Marx, Engels or Lenin – never himself.

Comprising mainly of artistic representations of Stalin’s life (paintings and statues) and reproductions of photographs – many of which anyone with an interest in the period would have seen before – there are also a few personal artefacts. Uncle Joe wasn’t really into ‘consumerism’ and so there are few of the latter.

The aim of this blog is to provide a video and photographic impression of the museum for those who have not yet had the opportunity to visit this unique location. To go to a video of the various parts of the museum click the link on the individual Rooms (numbered from 1 to 6, plus the Illegal printing press in Tiflis (Tbilisi), the reconstructed Kremlin Office and Stalin’s Birthplace). (Apologies for the low quality of the videos – no Oscar for me this year.) Then there’s a quite extensive photographic slide show/gallery at the end of the post.

For more information about one of the world’s most important revolutionary leaders follow these links to Stalin’s political works and biographies/ appraisals of the life of Stalin.

Young Stalin

Young Stalin

Room 1 – Early life, through Revolution and Civil War to the death of VI Lenin

Highlights of this room include: a full size statue of the young Stalin; a maquette of his birthplace; a bust of the young Stalin and a maquette of the illegal printing press (see below).

The house of the illegal printing press, Tiflis

The house of the illegal printing press, Tiflis

The illegal printing press in Tiflis (Tbilisi) 1906

Just before the entrance to the second room, in the middle of the floor, can be found a maquette of the building which hosted the illegal printing press that Stalin was instrumental in establishing (and for which he wrote many articles and leaflets) that existed for a short time in 1906 in Tiflis (present day Tbilisi). From looking at this model you can appreciate the amount of effort and planning that went into the hiding of this press from the Tsarist reactionary forces (and especially its ‘secret’ police, the Okhrana). It also makes you think about the determination of the Georgian/Russian revolutionaries to defeat the exploiting class. Such imagination, determination and dedication of present day ‘revolutionaries’ would be more than welcomed.

Stalin with the future

Stalin with the future

Room 2 – From Collectivisation and Industrialisation to the beginning of the Great Patriotic War

Highlights in this room include: Stalin at a meeting with workers in a locomotive works; Stalin with Collective Farm workers; Stalin greeting a young female collective farm worker; a series of postcards produced in the 1930s and a large bust of an older Stalin.

Stalin tank lamp

Stalin tank lamp

Room 3 – The Great Patriotic War

Highlights in this room include: a lamp incorporating a Stalin tank; a section on Stalin’s family (his wives and children); military maps describing some of the major campaigns of the Great Patriotic War and Stalin with his generals.

Soviet power annihilates Nazism

Soviet power annihilates Nazism

Room 4 – A review of his life and the 19th (final) Congress

Highlights in this room include: a carved wooden shield with Stalin in profile amongst a number of symbols representing the Soviet Union and the image of a Russian sword smashing through a swastika at the bottom right; pictures taken a various stages of Stalin’s life; two large carpets with an image of Stalin (one of them also with Kliment Voroshilov); an image of Nazi banners being dragged through the dirt of Red Square in front of the Lenin Mausoleum and a picture of one of Stalin’s last public appearances at the 19th Congress of the CPSU.

Stalin lying in state - 1953

Stalin lying in state – 1953

Room 5 – Stalin’s Death

Highlights in this room are: Stalin’s death mask; a painting of Stalin lying in state and a maquette of the Mausoleum in Red Square bearing the names of both Lenin and Stalin.

Stalin and Mao

Stalin and Mao

Room 6 – Presents

It’s in this room where there are more artefacts and this consists of presents and other objects bearing the image of Stalin, of other Communist leaders and items brought from former Socialist countries representing their culture. There are many objects (many depicted in the slide show) but it’s worth mentioning a picture of Stalin and his daughter, Svetlana, as a young girl; a textile print of a meeting between Stalin and Chairman Mao Tse-tung; a number of large carpets with Stalin as the central image; a couple of images of Stalin with his mother; a large, Chinese silk portrait of Stalin and a large, circular, metal plate with a mosaic of Stalin in the centre.

Stalin's office in the Kremlin

Stalin’s office in the Kremlin

Stalin’s Kremlin Office Reconstruction

On leaving the first floor, where the majority of the exhibits will be found, by taking the right hand staircase this will lead you to the reconstruction of Stalin’s Kremlin Office (the first door on the right). Really the office is just the collection of chairs and sofas with a desk immediately on the right as you walk through the door. The rest of the space is taken up with further images of Stalin, both in paint and intricate marquetry; one of his ceremonial uniforms; two maquettes of the Stalingrad War Memorial and (quite unique) an image of both Lenin and Stalin made from tobacco leaves (just above the piano).

Stalin's armoured carriage

Stalin’s armoured carriage

Stalin’s Armoured train carriage

Outside the museum, to the left of the building, is Stalin’s armoured carriage. He didn’t like to fly and travelled to the major conferences with the US and UK ‘allies’ at Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam in this carriage. This can be visited as part of the general ticket to visit the museum.

Stalin's Birthplace, Gori

Stalin’s Birthplace, Gori

Stalin’s Birthplace

The humble building in which Stalin was born is almost unrecognisable now. Although restored to an almost new condition the two room building – of which on the tour you only see one – has been surrounded by a grand and almost temple like Doric structure. This is topped by a glass dome on which is a magnificent star and in each corner there’s a hammer and sickle symbol. This was erected in 1939. This is lit up at night and looks quite impressive with the various light temperatures, giving off a golden and green glow at the same time.

Practicalities

Location

The Museum, Stalin’s Birthplace and the railway carriage take up what is the top of an inverted triangle of Stalin Park, with Stalin Avenue on either side and Kutaisi at the top. It’s right in the centre of town and not difficult to find.

Opening times

1st November – 1st April 10.00-17.00

2nd April – 31st October 10.00-18.00

Closed 1st January and Easter Sunday

Entrance

Visit of exhibition halls, memorial house and Stalin’s Railway Carriage:

General 15 GEL

Students 10 GEL

Schoolchildren 1 GEL

Under six Free

It’s not necessary to take the tour but for that extra bit of information it’s worthwhile. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any set time for the tour but English tours take place quite regularly, at least between April and October. They take about 45 minutes so if you miss a tour my suggestion is that you find out the time of the next tour, more or less, have a walk around the museum and then head back to the entrance of Room 1 at the time the next tour will be starting. The tour takes in both the train carriage and Stalin’s birthplace as well as the museum.

Stalin Museum Website (in English)    

GPS

 

 

DMS

N41º 59.210

E44º 06.798

The ‘East is Red Square’ Nanjiecun

The East is Red Square, Nanjiecun

The East is Red Square, Nanjiecun

Nanjiecun (South Street Village) is in Linying County, Henan Province in the central part of the People’s Republic of China. What makes this place special (with a population of no more than 13,000 people) is the fame it has achieved as being ‘the last Maoist Commune in China.’ 

Whether it’s really possible for such a small place to maintain a Socialist Revolution is more than questionable, having to depend upon both loans from the Chinese capitalist banks as well as external, Japanese, investment. It can really be no more than a tolerated anomaly, a curiosity or a tourist theme park. If it ever posed a threat to the present day ‘capitalist roaders’ in Beijing then Nanjiecun would be crushed, both literally and figuratively, out of existence. 

The fact that Nanjiecun exists (as does the politics and the actions of its people in the village of Marinaleda, in southern Spain) only goes to show the limitations of a small group of people attempting to build something better in a huge ocean of exploitation and oppression. Their efforts may be applauded and, at times, admired but we should never forget that to extend such ‘experiments’ demands the destruction of the present capitalist structure and until that is achieved (on a long-term, multi-generational basis) all is but chimera.

However, the merits or otherwise of Nanjiecun are not the subject of this post. A proper analysis of what has happened there – and why only there – since the destruction of Socialism in China would need a thorough study to understand why the Chinese people, in general, have rejected a past where the potential for the betterment of all has been rejected for the benefit and advancement of a relatively few corrupt thieves who are now some of the richest people int he world. It would also require a proper analysis of how we actually measure ‘poverty’. Capitalist standards are only concerned with ‘things’ and not the, sometimes, financially unquantifiable social capital that Socialism brings – the ‘iron rice bowl’ in the Chinese context.

No, this post is concerned with a single area of this present day commune – The East is Red Square.

In the Socialist societies in Europe (including the Soviet Union) the Communist Parties sought to commemorate the revolutionary past (and present) with statues. (One of the fallen statues, of Frederick Engels, from the Ukraine has even been recently installed anew in Manchester.) This preponderance of statues was not the case – at least to the same extent – in China. Yes, there were innumerable posters of Chairman Mao and his image was everywhere, on posters, in paintings and on the badges worn by most of the population. However, statues as such were relatively few. This means that when a statue has been installed – at the same time as the renegades within the Communist Party of China are going further and further away from Chairman Mao’s ideas – there’s always a story behind the decision, although sometimes that story might be difficult to find.

The large statue of Chairman Mao in front of the railway station in Dandong (the principal border crossing point between China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) is a case in point. So far I have failed to find out any information of why or when.

The situation is clearer in Nanjiecun.

The people in the village decided to reject and roll back the ‘de-collectivisation’ and privatisation that was becoming the norm in China with Deng Xiaoping’s claim that ‘to get rich is glorious’. Selfishness, that had been challenged in the years following Mao’s declaration of the People’s Republic in 1949, was turned into a virtue and the predominantly peasant population of the country fell back into the insularity and individuality of their backward, pre-revolutionary, rural culture. 

Nanjiecun’s ‘experiment’ must have been relatively successful in the 1980s as there was enough surplus for them to pay for the installation of a large statue of Chairman Mao in what is now known as ‘The East is Red Square’. The statue was erected in 1993 and I assume it was inaugurated on the 26th December – the centenary of Chairman Mao’s birth.

At some time in the next decade the four large portraits of the ‘greats’ of Marxism-Leninism – Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Joseph Stalin – were added to the monumentality of the square. (I, personally, would have added a fifth – Enver Hoxha of Albania – but I know a number of Maoists would not agree.)

There’s always a potential problem when it comes to Socialist art – nuance can be everything. To give an idea of how this is an issue I’ll refer to capitalist commentators who can ‘see’ subversion in a painting or a musical score produced in the Soviet Union that went unnoticed by the authorities (i.e., the ‘intellectuals’ were too clever for the ‘stupid’ Communists) only seconds after arguing that art is ‘apolitical’ and that capitalist art doesn’t aim to perpetuate the system. It’s not their analysis I dislike and detest – it’s their crass hypocrisy

I’ve always argued that art IS political and so it’s valid to critically evaluate any new monuments or ‘celebrations’ of the past (in whatever form they might take place) that might be appearing in China. As the present leader, Deng IV, seems to be attempting to take on some of the trappings of Mao – stripped of any revolutionary, Communist ideology – this might become an issue in the not too distant future.

It’s possible to attack Mao by praising Mao – this was something that took place during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. After attacking the so-called ‘personality cult’ of Mao from the late 1970s those enemies of Maoism could well create a new ‘personality cult’ of Mao based solely on the person.

Chairman Mao in Dandong

Chairman Mao in Dandong

The Chinese Revisionists and Counter-revolutionaries have been unable to achieve the same rejection of Mao as happened in the Soviet Union with Lenin and Stalin or in Albania with Hoxha. Mao is still seen in China, by the overwhelming majority of the population, as a great Chinese leader – millions still queue every year to visit the Mao Mausoleum in Tienanmen Square in Beijing. It’s possible, therefore, that those who seek to establish greater legitimacy and maintain their hold on power will try to play the nationalist card and turn Mao into a purely ‘Chinese’ personality – the antithesis of how Mao would have seen his achievements – thus turning the country inward. This is not that far-fetched as it might seem as the level of nationalistic fervour has been stoked up in recent years to justify China’s imperialistic ambitions.

All this doesn’t accept what made Mao great in the first place – that was the taking of Marxism-Leninism, applying it in the Chinese context and by learning from both the success and mistakes of the past Socialist revolutions developing the theory of the Cultural Revolution and taking Marxism to a new level, (although becoming a bit of a mouthful) to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.

The statue of Mao in Dandong is one such example of this new, depoliticised, depiction of the great Chinese leader. There’s nothing on, or around, the statue which refers to what made him such a great leader in the first place, his uniqueness as a leader of the world proletariat and peasantry – his being a revolutionary Communist. It’s a great statue but you get the impression that, like the statues of the Roman Emperors, you could just replace the head with whoever was in power at the time and there would be no real difference. As it stands at the moment it’s just a statue of a 60 year old wearing a big overcoat who, for some unknown reason, has his right hand raised and pointing to some unknown location in front of him.

The statue of Mao in Nanjiecun doesn’t suffer from that defect. Coming from those who knew the importance of the politics, of the necessity of a Communist Party, of the necessity of a revolutionary ideology, all these attributes are represented in the statue itself in a very simple and almost unobtrusive manner, but there nonetheless, – and that’s the star on the cap he holds in his hand.

The Red Star

The Red Star

As I’ve written in a number of posts about the Albanian lapidars (such as the mosaic on the Historical Museum, the mosaic of Bestrove, the Durres monument to the anti-Fascist struggle, amongst others) where the star has often been the target of the fascists and reactionaries – eradicate that and they think they can eradicate Communist politics. So including it in a ‘new’ monument the people of Nanjiecun made their own political statement.

That political statement was made even stronger with the addition of the four portraits of the Marxist ‘Greats’. Whether whoever designed the layout of the square considered how it would look when completed what we have now is a history of the development of Marxism thought through; successes and failures; revolutions and counter-revolutions; twists and turns; suffering and sacrifice; elation and despair, to arrive at where we are now with Maoism being the pinnacle of the development of the revolutionary theory of the working class. We are not in a situation that we would have wished just over a hundred years after the October Revolution of 1917 but we are where we are. At least the revolutionary theory has moved forward. Whether we make the most use of all that history is another matter.

In a sense the statue and portraits in The East is Red Square are in a bit of a time warp – that of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Mao’s image is of what he would have looked like in the mid 1960s and the paintings of the four Marxists are almost exact copies of the coloured posters that were available throughout the world from the late 1960s until the counter-revolutionary coup of Deng and his goons after the death of the Chairman in September 1976.

JV Stalin

JV Stalin

The portraits are behind Mao as he looks to the east. In front of him, on either side, are two large billboards with a lot of text in Chinese characters. (In fact for a Socialist political monument there’s a lot of text full stop – including on the plinth upon which Mao stands. Although unusual it shows the level of literacy that the Socialist state had achieved during the time of Communism. The people can actually understand what is written – unlike most religious locations throughout the world where emphasis is upon image due to the high level so of illiteracy.) 

The one on Mao’s right also carries an image which looks very much like the photo of him making the declaration of the People’s Republic in Tienanmen Square in October 1949. Unfortunately I’m not able to understand Chinese characters but would surmise that the text is that very declaration.

Declaration of the People's Republic of China 1949

Declaration of the People’s Republic of China 1949

On his left the image is of an older Mao, probably from the 1960s, so I would hazard a guess that the text is from one of the exhortations he made from the podium over the Gate of Heavenly Peace to the massed Red Guards in Tienanmen Square.

The area has changed over the years. I’ve seen photos where there were trees behind the statue. They might have been OK as bushes but started to become a bit much after a few years and they have been removed so the immediate area around the statue is now clean and clear. I’ve also read that there was a permanent ‘guard’ at the site but there was no evidence of that during the (regrettably short) time I was there. Also there was no music playing (as is often reported) so don’t know if this is the now permanent situation.

I made a number of mistakes and got to the village quite late in the afternoon and many of the places immediately next to the square were closed so I wasn’t able to get a feeling of how the area had been developed for the growing number of tourists that visit Nanjiecun. 

Getting there

It’s possible to stay in the Commune’s own hotel, which is located right next to the square. The problem is one of communication as the staff only speak Mandarin.

If a day trip is all that is looked for then getting to Linying railway station is the best bet and then walking a kilometre or so or getting a taxi to the village. There are also regular buses from Zhengzhou (the nearest big tourist destination) to Linying.

GPS:

33.80611111

113.95416667

DMS:

33º48’21.9”

113º57’15.2”