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Chiatura, the cable car city

After my visit to Tbilisi, I traveled to my next destination. Chiatura; a small mining village down a mountain valley. Escaping the hectic traffic of Tbilisi the route revealed to me lots of interesting landscapes and sightseeing.

Arriving in the town you immediately notice the enormous mining structures. Back in 1915, around 3,700 miners would work for 18 hours a day. Not returning home and sleeping in the mines. Always covered in soot because there were no facilities to take baths. After their workweek, the miners would begin their journey home. Because the mine was located along a steep-sided river valley it took them hours to get down.

To get the workers to work faster gondola lift systems were installed in 1954. Most of them disappeared over time, but the main station still operates up until today (2018), providing two lines going up each mountainside.

UPDATE (2019): the last active cable trains have been decommissioned.

Chiatura, the cable car city
Central Station.
Chiatura, the cable car city
A steel cabin inside the station, waiting for its passengers.
Chiatura, the cable car city
Another cabin which will transport you in the other direction up the mountainside. This line has a slope of 90%. Making it the steepest cable car climb in the world.
Chiatura, the cable car city
Chiatura, the cable car city
Chiatura, the cable car city
Two dogs playing in front of a street art piece, displaying a mine worker.
Chiatura, the cable car city
A man waiting for the bell that notifies everyone the cabin will go up.
Chiatura, the cable car city
Crooked but still sturdy. 💪🏼
Chiatura, the cable car city
Chiatura, the cable car city
Chiatura, the cable car city
A mosaic artwork displaying the former Soviet-Union leaders, Stalin and Lenin.

The decaying station and the rusted cabins themselves look like they've not been maintained since the fifties. Some of the lines in the area operate without an emergency braking system. If a leading cable would snap the cabins would fall down or glide straight back down. Exactly this occurred in Tbilisi back in 1990. Two cabins in Tbilisi crashed after the cable broke. Killing 20 people and getting 15 injured.

Luckily the two lines at this station have emergency brakes. In 2007 they've been put to the test when one of the traction cables broke. 17 passengers including some children were stranded 50 meters above the ground. They had to wait for 12 hours for an emergency team to arrive from Tbilisi. They extracted the passengers one by one via cables. Bringing everyone to safety.

Ready for the thrilling ride I waited for one of the cabins to return. The lovely lady who guiding the passengers also joined every ride making the call to the operator when the cabin was ready for departure. Halfway through the ride she noticed the excitement of me and my friends and pulled out a small piece of paper from her purse, reading out loud in her best English that this is the oldest active gondola lift build in the former Soviet Union. Always nice to catch these interesting facts.

Chiatura, the cable car city
Chiatura, the cable car city
Inside the steel cabin, no possibility of looking outside sadly. This because of the dirty windows. There were some tiny holes in the steel plate floor that would give you an idea of your progress though. 😅
Chiatura, the cable car city
Luckily a window could be opened to get a view. 👀

Arriving at the top, the mountainside showed us a nice view of the mining town and the river. Besides that, there wasn't really anything interesting to discover sadly.

Chiatura, the cable car city
Just arrived, waiting for new passengers to arrive.
Chiatura, the cable car city
The station on top of the mountainside.
Chiatura, the cable car city
Inside the station.
Chiatura, the cable car city
Chiatura, the cable car city
A nice view overlooking Chiatura and the rough mountains up in the North. 🏔

Returning at the station to get back down again our excitement got noticed again. The women operating the gondola lift shouted at us from a tiny window above. Waving at us to walk around the station to come inside and have a look. We entered the dark and noisy room. The lady quickly returned to her seat operating the lift again. She was sitting in front of a tiny window looking all the way down the mountain steep to the other end of the line. Behind her, the enormous machines pulling the cabins up and down the mountain made a lot of noise. She seems to get used to it not caring at all. Again she waved to come and take a look at here control panel. I never saw a person so honored of her/his job. She proudly controlled the old machine pushing big buttons and pulling levers.

Chiatura, the cable car city
Chiatura, the cable car city

After the ride down we walked to the town market in search of some food. The streets were crowded and looked very much alive. After our quick lunch, we prepared for our next destination, Tskaltubo.

Chiatura, the cable car city
Chiatura, the cable car city
Chiatura, the cable car city
The operator cabin on top of the mountainside.
Chiatura, the cable car city
Chiatura, the cable car city
Chiatura, the cable car city
Groups of people waiting in front of ATM's. Probably waiting for their salary to be deposited.
Chiatura, the cable car city
Chiatura, the cable car city
The town market consisted of farmers gathering and showing off their goods from the back of their cars. 🍊
Chiatura, the cable car city
Chiatura, the cable car city
Chiatura, the cable car city
The indestructible Lada Niva was noticeably present in the area.
Chiatura, the cable car city
The Kvirila river.
Chiatura, the cable car city

The Unspeakable World Series

Together with some friends, we've started a video series called 'The Unspeakable World'. Capturing forgotten places across the globe. Our explore of Chiatura is featured in our first episode. Take a look and experience the cable car city.

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