(Jah Khalib – translated from Russian)

A vacant breeze between the lines, we lose control.

I disperse the waves in the ocean of your pretty eyes.

You receive a modest smile from me, please do not hide it.

My sweetheart Leila-lo, heavenly Leila-lo.

Why would I want a world in which there is no place for us.

I want a world in which there is no one but us.

After all if you’re not around, everything around loses its colour.

My sweetheart Leila-lo, heavenly Leila-lo.

A scarlet sunset coloured silk dress.

She gives me motivation, sings in my soul.

The heart writes lines that send me towards the edge of reason,

Singing every day, heavenly Leila-lo.

We’ll leave our feelings far behind the scenes.

A coast quietly hugging the surf.

I hold you in a scarlet sunset background,

My Leila-lo, gentle Leila-lo

‘Today is my birthday’, our driver Ako announced the minute we stepped into his car. We all cheerfully sang Happy Birthday. He looked tired. The car’s audio system was broken. Ako played some music from his phone. A song got our attention. It’s called Leila by Jah Khalib. I did not understand the lyrics back then as it was sung in Russian, but there’s something about the melody that made me think of a strong feeling of longing for a lover. Ako told us about his recent break-up with his beautiful girlfriend, and his love for driving. He then opened his favorite version of the song with a video of highways shot from a moving car, and it all made sense. His Leila had left. But we were going to the Sighnaghi, the city of love, and we were going to drink tonight to celebrate his birthday.

Drinking is an important part of Georgia’s culture. The country claims to be the birth place of wine, and local wine is well featured in all restaurants’ menus. Its traditional winemaking method in egg-shaped clay vessels called qvevri was recognized as a National Monument of Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2012. Wine plays such an essential part in Georgia’s famous hospitality. Once passed through Customs, I was given a bottle of dry red wine as a welcome gift. A random shopkeeper invited me to taste some wine after just a few minutes chatting on the street. Funny quotes about wine and drinking can be seen on the walls of numerous restaurants and wine shops in Tbilisi. In addition to wine, Georgia also produces a strong distilled spirit called chacha, which is made from the mash leftover during wine production. Chacha looks like vodka but can be lethal as its alcohol level can reach 70%. We were caught totally off guard when our hosts in Kazbegi offered some chacha to warm us up when we arrived. After one sip, none of us tried chacha again for the rest of the trip.

We arrived in Sighnaghi at ~10pm after some exhilarating driving along the mountain roads out of Kazbegi, and hours of terrible traffic jam in Tbilisi. There was no energy in the room, and everyone wanted to go to sleep. Ako just sit down on a stair step, looking sad and disappointed. ‘You promised to come to my birthday celebration. C’mon, just one drink, then I’ll drive you back to the hotel.’ My friend and I felt bad, so we just chucked our luggage into our room, and climbed into his car again. Well, we should have known better. ‘Just one drink’ simply does not exist in Georgia, and needless to say, we had a blast that night.

Between rounds of Siberian vodka and Georgian wine, Ako and his two friends, who drove all the way from Tbilisi to see him on his birthday, introduced us to the art of toasting in Georgia. This cultural etiquette is performed before each drink. Ako assumed the role of the toastmaster, and we all took turn to make a toast. While my friend and I could only mutter a few simple words ‘Cheers’, ‘Happy birthday’, ‘We wish you good health, happiness and true love next year’, Ako and his friends were like philosophers giving time-tested quotes about life, love, friendship, health and any other topic under the sun in such an eloquent, charming, and endearing manner. I was simply in awe. They were just saying what was on their mind and in their heart, what was important in their life, but it sounded like poetry flowing out of their tongues so effortlessly. We all ate, drunk, danced, and talked into the wee hours of the night. Ako finally smiled and said ‘I’m happy’.



Leaving Kazbegi


We made a quick stop at the Russia–Georgia Friendship Monument


The view was amazing









We couldn’t figure out what the black round shape at the bottom right was







Sighnaghi – a small town in eastern Georgia. Sighnaghi was much less cold than Kazbegi, but still very cold for people coming from tropical countries like us.


Sighnaghi is famous for its well-preserved city wall



A beautiful corner in Sighnaghi






Colorful slippers






The garden of Bodbe Monastery covered in snow




Sighnaghi at dusk