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The Kukushka Railway

The Kukushka Railway, photo essay by Maurilio Mangano

After the Russian annexation of Georgia in the early 19th Century, the town of Borjomi and its surroundings were placed under the Russian military authorities.
The viceroy Mikhail Vorontsov, fascinated by local landscape and the unique properties of mineral waters, made Borjomi his summer residence and refurnished it with new parks and gave it its popular name of “the pearl of Caucasus”.
The bottled mineral waters began to be extensively exported.
For the purpose of commercial benefit of natural riches, the Russian royal family of Romanovs began construction of Khashuri-Borjomi railway line in 1894.
Construction of a narrow-gauge line began in 1897 and because of the difficult environmental conditions, lasted for four years.
Since January 1902, the first “Kukushka” train passed Borjomi-Bakuriani narrow-gauge line.
Since then the “Kukushka” train connects Borjomi to Bakuriani, a small city and skiing resort up to the mountains.
For the movement to high-mountainous areas, a steam engine of “Porter” type was brought from England.

Since 1967, the small-steam engine was replaced by an electric engine “Skoda” from Czechoslovakia.
Many tourists as well as locals have traveled by famous “Kukushka” train that passes through amazing forest and ascends great mountains.
The journey to Bakuriani is slow, through green valleys and gorges, along the breathtaking steep sides and on old bridges.
The villages around the railway are almost abandoned due to the economical and agricultural crisis of the Country after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Sometimes for the few families still living in the area, the “Kukushka” train is the only means of transport for reach the cities, because of the lacks of the roads and deep snow.
But for most of Georgians of every generation, the little train is connected with childhood memories of travels through enchanted landscapes and winter school vacations.
Travelling by Borjomi-Bakuriani railway is a trip through places where time passes slowly; people have a strong relationship with the landscapes, and a wild but warm fairy-tale atmosphere from the past is still very present.

(by Maurilio Mangano)

Borjomi-Bakuriani railway, Georgia – March 2017. Three children from Tbilisi go from Borjomi to Bakuriani for Winter school vacation.
Borjomi-Bakuriani railway, Georgia – March 2017. The “Kukushka” Train moves through the Borjomi National Park. The engine and rail convoy are the same since 1967, when the small-steam engine was replaced by an electric engine from Czechoslovakia.
Borjomi-Bakuriani railway, Georgia – March 2017. Agricultural lands close to Tsemi village. Farmers in present-day Georgia is leaving the farms moving to the Capital due to the economical crysis of the Country.
Borjomi-Bakuriani railway, Georgia – March 2017. Two brothers travel with mother and grandmother from Borjomi to the small village of Libani. The line is widely used by local residents to travel between the two towns and the small villages.

Q&A with Maurilio Mangano

Photography is…
Photography for me is the concrete possibility to freeze memories of places and people I meet, or just personal thoughts or impressions about the reality around me.
My camera it’s like a notebook, always with me, ready to record stories that I don’t want to forget.
I approached seriously photography when I started to work as a film documentarist in post war Countries of the former Soviet Union.
There were so many stories of people that I couldn’t include on my movies, that I started to think about the way to do that.
So I started to take pictures like movies I could not realize. And I found out that some stories are more suitable for this kind of narration than others, like movies, for example.
This why I decided to continue this way.

Photography and writing…
Before to start to write a story for a movie or an essay, I usually take pictures of places and people I want to tell about.
Photography is truth, and sometimes our eyes cannot see the truth as well as using a mechanical eye.
So, from a picture, you can find out a lot of details about actions, landscapes, people or just the emotions of your subjects that can support your subjective visions as a writer.

Who left the biggest impression on you?
I don’t know exactly who left the biggest on me or my work. Usually I am an eclectic author, and I take inspiration from different directions: literature, painting, photography, movies, comics…
But I think that the work of the Italian photographer Davide Monteleone was the most inspiring for some of my projects.

Borjomi-Bakuriani railway, Georgia – March 2017. A local walks through the rail close to his house. In winter due to the snow and the lack of good routes, many people uses the railway as a main road.
Borjomi-Bakuriani railway, Georgia – March 2017. A woman and her little granddaughter travel from Bakuriani to Borjomy. Because of the fairy-tale atmosphere and landscapes, for over one Century every generation of Georgian children rembers affectionately the “Kukushka” train.
Borjomi-Bakuriani railway, Georgia – March 2017. One of the old train stop on the way to Bakuriani. For local people that still lives in this part of the Region, the Kukushka train is the only means of transport to move to the towns.
Borjomi-Bakuriani railway, Georgia – March 2017. Abandoned farmers’ houses. After the collapse of the Soviet Union more than half of the farmers have abandoned their villages moving to the capital, Tbilisi.
Borjomi-Bakuriani railway, Georgia – March 2017. A student from Tbilisi travels to Bakuriani. Because of its location close to Tbilisi, the capital, there is a great deal of weekend tourist traffic. The trains leave two times a day in each direction.
Borjomi-Bakuriani railway, Georgia – March 2017. Tsemi Train Station is still working even if nowadays is totally empty and no employees left.
Borjomi-Bakuriani railway, Georgia – March 2017. A white dog runs after the Kukushka train, from one station to another, waiting for some food from the passengers.

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Maurilio Mangano

Maurilio Mangano, Palermo, 1980. In 2002 he began working in film industry as an Assistant Director as well as Production Assistant, to then finally… More »

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