The Cable Cars of Chiatura Georgia
The historic cable cars in Chiatura are hailed by Instagram as one of the primary reasons to visit this small village in Georgia (the Country). The cable car network, what locals call “Kanatnaya Doroga” was built in the 1950s.
My research into this village (unfortunately) came after my short one-day visit. There is so much more to this village than just the cable cars. Most importantly, the mining history that virtually created this village and subsequently nearly brought it to a ghost town.
History of Mining in Chiatura
- Maganese was discovered in the hills surrounding Chiatura during the 19th century.
- Extraction of manganese started in 1872.
- By 1913, Chiatura was a huge player in the exportation of Manganese. Suppling 50 percent of the world’s market.
- World War I completely ground the manganese industry to a halt.
- Georgian production began again in 1921 with the establishment of the Soviet regime.
- The Soviet regime collapsed in 1991 and the production of manganese struggled to continue and the town suffered a great economic decline.
- Under the stewardship of (Florida based) Georgian American Alloys, mining operations are underway.
Stalin’s Rope Roads
The network of cable cars was installed to transport workers around the entire valley and up to the mines, literally covering all corners of the village. As a result of its Soviet origins, the cable cars are sometimes referred to as “Stalin’s Rope Roads”.
There are conflicting reports on how many of these historic cable cars are still in use today. On my visit to Chiatura in July 2019, the cable cars that I visited were not operating (possibly inspection/maintenance).
The mining operations in Chiatura are managed by Georgian Manganese, LLC. (GM) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Miami, Florida-based Georgian American Alloys (GAA).
When reading more about the mining operations as it relates to both personal and environmental issues, it saddens me to learn that an American corporation is responsible.
Miners work 12 hour shifts for 15 days straight with reported only 15 min break during each shift. The miners are required to be on the mine premises and not allowed to leave during their 15 days ‘on’ shift. They work, eat, sleep on the premises.
There is an excellent article from National Geographic in 2017 covering the mining operation in Chiatura. At that point, “Miners receive a mere salary of about 700 Georgian lari a month (about 290 USD), says Sulaukari. And work with few protections against injury or death. Unions have little power, labor inspections are often corrupt, and strikes produce few improvements.”
On May 16, 2019, approximately 2500 miners went on a hunger strike. Threatening to sew their lips shut if their demands weren’t met. Their demands? Higher pay, health insurance, and ecological issues were all issues to be negotiated.
The strike ended on May 27th. The company has agreed to improve nutrition for its employees and will not allow its heavy vehicles to move in the town and pollute the environment. “Miners’ salaries will gradually increase by 25% starting July 1, and further by 10% within one year (but no later than July 2020)” SOURCE
Nurses working at the mines, providing meal distribution are paid a mere $18usd per month. Air and water pollution throughout the village is a major concern for all residents.
It’s my hope that worker conditions and living situations in the village of Chiatura will improve in the months and years forthcoming. If you plan to visit Chiatura, be mindful of how destitute this village is and consider putting more of your tourist dollars to good use here.
There is currently limited tourism infrastructure in place. I would suggest that rather than organizing a tour from Tbilisi (where the money isn’t going directly to the village), instead; book your own trip to Chiatura and put your dollars directly into the local businesses.
Visiting Chiatura (without a tour)
It’s actually very easy to visit Chiatura without a tour. Instead of posting another summary of how to get to Chiatura and repeating recommendations that others have already outlined extremely well, I’ll post some great resources that you can check if you are planning an excursion to Chiatura.
Fearless Female Travels explains in detail how to get to Chiatura and gives some advice on choosing a hotel in Chiatura as well as tourist sites. Additionally, she outlines here experience riding the Chiatura cable cars.
Red Fedora Diary includes tips for single and multi-day itineraries around Georgia (including Chiatura).
My personal visit to Chiatura was a part of a larger trip to Kutaisi. We stopped by Chiatura as an afterthought on our way back to Tbilisi from Kutaisi. Since we had our bags with us, we searched for a place to drop them for a few hours so we could explore the village unhindered by the extra wieght. Cafe Paris was outstanding. Great service, and they held onto our larger bags while we explored.