A Travellerspoint blog

Iconic Armenia

sunny 30 °C

Day 37, Friday June 30 2017
Dilijan to Yeghegnadzor / 162 KM

  • SG is devastated - the draft file on her iPad has just disappeared along with all her notes for 3 days of experience in Armenia. Even AG cannot retrieve.
  • SG's system of daily diary writing is to type in thoughts, experiences & events throughout the day and then to later edit it into something more readable. It is an ongoing process and she is currently about 3 days behind 'real time '. She also takes photos of local information signs that may enhance her recall. Anyway for today & tomorrow's blog, the notes have all gone. Just like that. They have disappeared completely from both the IPad and hotmail. AG 's first suspicion is that SG has inadvertently pressed a delete button. But that is definitely not the case.
  • So everything must now be re-written. Many moments have passed and may never be included. This is exactly why a diary is being written - to remind where we have been and what we have seen. The pace of our trip is such, that without a record of some kind, our memories would be just a haze.
  • How wonderful technology is - and how it can really mess life up when it malfunctions.
  • So SG is not in the best of moods. Hopefully the accompanying photos will tell a happier story.
  • The scenery of today's drive promises to be spectacular - we are driving via the Selim Pass to Lake Sevan and beyond to Yeghegnadzor.
  • We start climbing more or less immediately. It is just after 9 a.m. and Armenians are already lighting up roadside BBQ's. We are curious whether they are starting weekend celebrations early. But no, they are taking up position for a day's work - selling food to passing drivers.
  • We've just had breakfast so we decline the huge corn on cob that Erik is cooking. But he is happy to have his photo taken, and is a very proud owner of a white Lada car.
  • As in the other Caucasus countries, Armenia is also Lada land. Especially in rural areas. When they try and overtake us, we know we have a potentially tricky situation ahead. They are not the fastest of cars any more. Nor do their owners seem to be the best of drivers.
  • We have a few tunnels to negotiate - the word is chosen with care. The lighting is very poor within and pedestrians seem to walk through as well. But there are no pavements. It's very hazardous for all concerned.
  • We leave behind the trees and abundant vegetation of Dilijan and emerge on the other side and at altitude where the scenery is completely different. See photos.
  • Selim Pass is at 2410 m. Apart from photogenic scenery, we also want to take a quick look at the Orbelian Caravanserai which sits just below the highest point of the pass. It is the best preserved Caravanserai in the whole of Armenia. Although it cannot compare with some of the Caravanserai we have seen in Kyrgyzstan & Iran a few years ago, it is nevertheless worth visiting.
  • Caravanserai were basically places of rest for weary travellers and traders on their journeys along the numerous trade routes that crisscrossed this part of Central Asia. Remember much is spoken about the Silk Route, as if it was one busy thoroughfare. But actually there were many different routes. The clientele who stayed in places such as Selim were essentially the forefathers of our modern day Truckie.
  • This particular Caravaserai was built in 1332 on the order of Prince Orbelian, the ruling family in the Kingdom of Armenia at that time. There is only one entrance and the carvings above the doorway are the only decorations to an otherwise plain but functional building. The animals and their loads would have rested either side of the arched hall. Travellers would have slept together in one designated room at the end of the hall.
  • After mountain scenery we now have lake scenery. We drive down to Lake Sevan, which by the way looks far more beautiful from a distance than at the water's edge. This has nothing to do with Mother Nature. No, it is thanks to poor quality and ugly man made structures, many of them unfinished and abandoned.
  • 'Drive down' is somewhat of a misnomer. At 1900 m Lake Sevan is one of the largest high altitude lakes in the world. It is well known for its excellent trout & crayfish.
  • Nowadays Lake Sevan is also a holiday playground for Russians & Armenians on a limited budget. The more wealthy head to the Black Sea Coast or further afield. Facilities all around the lake are in need of upgrade.
  • One of the iconic photos of Armenia ( and there are many ) is of the monastery of Hayravank set on a promontory overlooking Lake Sevan. The complex was built between the 9-12C . The best photo would be taken from the water. Impossible for us to do today.
  • It is here that SG notices Armenian visitors leaving the church walking backwards. It's the first time she has observed this method of departure from a religious place. But it is a characteristic of the Armenian style of worship. You cannot turn your back on God, represented by the cross and paintings at the altar. In a large building, with old uneven stone floors, this is not necessarily an easy way out.
  • Next stop is Noratus Cemetery, just inland from Lake Sevan but still with pleasant lake views. It is headlined in Lonely Planet as 'one of the most extraordinary cultural sights' in the country. We are becoming accustomed to LP hype. But if you are in the area, it is definitely worth taking a look. It has the largest collection of medieval Khachars in Armenia; there was once an even larger site but that is now in Azerbaijan territory and has apparently been destroyed.
  • What are Armenian Khachkars? They are stone slabs, often in shape of cross, but not exclusively so, that are embellished with carvings. It became an artform for which Armenian craftsmen were considered the best. Khachkars acted as memorial stones or focal points for worship. During our visits to Armenian medieval churches we see many variations. Unesco has placed Armenian Khachkars on its list of World Cultural Heritage. They should be preserved for posterity, not destroyed or vandalised...
  • The oldest examples in the cemetery date back to late 10C. The Khachars are spread over an area of 17 acres and there are more than 800. Of course we don't count them but that's what the signage says! They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, some lie flat and some are upright and the stone carvings vary enormously. Some are religious in theme whilst others depict secular images such as hunting, farm & work life & community celebrations.
  • After a quick picnic lunch beside a river, we navigate into Yeghegnadzor, where we are overnighting. Sadly not at a Tufenkian heritage hotel. Although surrounded by beautiful rural scenery, the town itself is not very appealing. Nor is there much to do here. We stay at Hotel Arpa which is centrally located and where the staff are friendly & helpful, even though our only means of communication is sign language. As usual SG checks the room for quietness and functioning aircon.
  • The plan is to drive 20 km or so and enjoy the spectacular Noravank monastery complex in the light of the setting sun. LP also rates a restaurant on site. Sounds perfect.
  • Except the sun is not cooperating for the moment.
  • And the restaurant is empty, has no chef and no menu to show us.
  • But Noravank is spectacular and if you are lucky with the weather you will get a photo of another iconic Armenian Monastery. Like in Georgia, the earliest churches and monasteries in Armenia were built in the most incredibly glorious settings. Even if you do not appreciate the fine ecclesiastical architecture or the spiritual heritage of Armenian Christianity, it is still worth visiting some of Armenia's most famous old churches. Even by today's standards Noravank is isolated - it is now connected by a 8 km road that leads off the main highway but in the era that it was built it would have been in the middle of nowhere.
  • The complex consists of 13C Surp Karapet Church which is built adjoining an even older little chapel which you can just about see in the photo. The main church with cantilever steps is called Surp Astvatsatsin and was constructed in early part of 14C. The famous Armenian architect & sculptor, known as Momik, is credited with the magnificent stone carvings above the entrances and with some of the Khachkars that are found in the grounds.
  • The sun does emerge fleetingly to highlight the beautiful colours of the stonework of the monastery and the surrounding cliffs. Armenian craftsmen built churches in a way that used the varied hues of local stone to great aesthetic effect. It is a technique that is replicated even today in modern civic buildings, in Yerevan for example.
  • We abandon plans to eat in the restaurant. Instead we eat on site but use up some more of the camping provisions we brought from England.
  • The portion sizes are inadequate to fill us up until morning. We need something else. We return to Yeghegnadzor prepared to eat local. We wander around town, follow the crowds and the noise but find nothing. Many of the residents seem to be congregating in the park - they are watching a junior boxing competition - between teenage girls. In between bouts, there is a 'pop' dance display to keep the audience entertained.
  • Back at our hotel, a Swiss coach party has just arrived and we end up eating what is on their menu: chicken broth, tomato & cucumber salad and stuffed dolma. At least we don't go to bed hungry and the chef is a charming Armenian lady who is proud to be serving us her home cooked food.

View From Dilijan Hotel - Very Pleasant

View From Dilijan Hotel - Very Pleasant

Tufenkian Heritage Hotel, Dilijan - 19C Stone Buildings Converted into Rooms

Tufenkian Heritage Hotel, Dilijan - 19C Stone Buildings Converted into Rooms

Erik & his Lada

Erik & his Lada

Mountain Scenery @ Around 2400 m

Mountain Scenery @ Around 2400 m

Our Trusty Truck High Up on Selim Pass

Our Trusty Truck High Up on Selim Pass

AG Enjoying - Getting the Truck to the Top

AG Enjoying - Getting the Truck to the Top

It's Poppy Season Up on Selim Pass Too

It's Poppy Season Up on Selim Pass Too

Orbelian Caravanserai

Orbelian Caravanserai

The Only Entrance to Caravanserai & the Only Decorative Carving

The Only Entrance to Caravanserai & the Only Decorative Carving

Main Hallway Inside Caravanserai - Only Natural Light

Main Hallway Inside Caravanserai - Only Natural Light

Lake Sevan - a Gorgeous Blue

Lake Sevan - a Gorgeous Blue

Hayravank Monastery, Lake Sevan

Hayravank Monastery, Lake Sevan

To Keep the Trout in Sellable Condition in the Summer Heat, They Are Lightly Smoked

To Keep the Trout in Sellable Condition in the Summer Heat, They Are Lightly Smoked

I'll Have That One Please!

I'll Have That One Please!

Delicious Smoked Trout

Delicious Smoked Trout

Upright Khachars in Noratus Cemetery

Upright Khachars in Noratus Cemetery

Noratus Cemetery - A Huge Graveyard of over 800 Khachkars

Noratus Cemetery - A Huge Graveyard of over 800 Khachkars

Khachkars Come in Lots of Different Shapes & Sizes and Decoration Evolved Down the Centures

Khachkars Come in Lots of Different Shapes & Sizes and Decoration Evolved Down the Centures

Noravank Monastery Founded in 1105 and Built in the Remotest of Places

Noravank Monastery Founded in 1105 and Built in the Remotest of Places

Surp Astvatsatsin Church Noravank

Surp Astvatsatsin Church Noravank

Surp Karapet Church @ Noravank Designed by Momik

Surp Karapet Church @ Noravank Designed by Momik

Momik's Stunning Stone Carving @ Noravank

Momik's Stunning Stone Carving @ Noravank

Cantilever Steps of Surp Astvatsatsin Church & Beautiful Stone Carvings by Momik

Cantilever Steps of Surp Astvatsatsin Church & Beautiful Stone Carvings by Momik

Entrance Door to 14C Surp Astvatsatsin Church

Entrance Door to 14C Surp Astvatsatsin Church

Window Detail at Noravank

Window Detail at Noravank

Surp Astvatsatsin Church @ Noravank

Surp Astvatsatsin Church @ Noravank

Cross Stone @ Noravank by Famous Sculptor Momik

Cross Stone @ Noravank by Famous Sculptor Momik

Posted by sagbucks 05:14 Archived in Armenia

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