A guide to the New East
Photography

High-wire: a vertiginous ride in Chiatura’s Soviet-era cable cars

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Chiatura, a once-booming mining town in western Georgia, won’t strike you as a quintessential tourist destination. The city’s only landmark is the Mgvimevi monastery, set on the edge of a natural cave. Chiatura’s main attraction, however, is “Stalin’s rope road”, a network of cable cars built in the 1950s to transport workers to the manganese mines in the mountains. After visiting Chiatura in 2010, photographer Lasse Ihlow returned in late 2017 to photograph the remains of the mining industry. “The only way I could discern that time passed was through the faded paint jobs on the houses and cable cars,” he reveals of a city where time seems to stand still. His photos show the farthest cable cars at the eastern end of the valley, where most of the active mines are located. “A majority of the working population is still dependent on the mining industry, which is in decline. The city is visited regularly by daring tourists who pass through for a thrilling ride on the city’s main cable car, before traveling on.” Few stay longer than a day, travelling in from Tbilisi or Kutaisi, sometimes only for a few hours. Though a ride on the cable-cars is a must, the photographer recommends heading to Chiatura for more than a flying visit: “Everyone is welcoming and hospitable, always ready to share their famous Georgian wine and talk despite the communication barrier.”

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