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 me lots of interesting landscapes and sightseeing.
Arriving at 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.
The decaying station and the rusted cabins itself look like they've not been maintained since the fifties. Some of the lines operate without an emergency braking system. If a leading cable would snap the cabins would fall down or roll 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.
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 departing. Halfway 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.
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.
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.
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.