Each time I want to stay in a city for just a few nights, I end up staying a few more. In Yerevan it became 4, again in an Envoy hostel. The 3rd day there I went to Geghart monastery and Gorni gorge with Jennifer.
The day after Jennifer (Sgp), Jess (Aus), Steffi (De) and me went to Khor Virap. This is one of the many awesome Monasteries out there. Khor Virap means deep dungeon and is called so because under one of the churches there is a pit in which some dude (Gregory the Illuminator) spent 13 years of imprisonment. I forgot to bring my camera for this occasion.
On the way back we passed a town and bought some vegetables and fruit. That evening I made hutspot in the hostel for our little excursion group. It turned out surprisingly tasty :)
Nagorno Karabach (Artsakh)
That evening I also met Rinke and he told me about the autonomous region of Nagorno Karabach. Apparently the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan does not really exist and is accessible by car.
That evening I decided to go there the next day. The way there was awesome. Over high snowy mountains, forests, Sevan lake, and dark potholed roads.
We arrived in Stepanakert at around 22:30 and went directly to the hostel that Rinke recommended to us. It was almost like the lady of the house (Karin) expected us and gave us a warm welcome. She had a room available for us and had a fire burning in the fireplace. We went to get a beer at a local shop, drank it at the fire and went to bed.
The next day we decided to get our visa at the ministry of foreign affairs and to Tigranakert castle, a restored castle near the border of Azerbaijan. We would also pass Agdam, an abandoned city due to continuous war efforts and its location close to the border. Only a few families live there to farm and Azeris regularly come over to do some shooting around. After we got our visas from a super friendly guy who gave us his personal phone number for if we needed any help or information, we found a small museum with artifacts of Nagorno Karabach. The girl who works there was keen on telling us everything about the (quite terrible) history of the region and also Armenia. After 1 hour of shocking stories and info we walked out, a lot more knowledgeable about the place. We started driving towards Tigranakert castle. Against advice from Karin we still went off the road to go a little closer to Agdam to see the ruins and what seemed to be trenches. We drove up a hill for a view, but shortly after we arrived we heard explosions and saw a plume rising from the hills left of us. We got pretty @%$#^@ scared at that point because officially there is a state of war in that area. So we rushed back to the car and raced back to the main road. There, the people driving by looked like nothing happened and our hearts slowly stopped racing. We still decided to go to Tigranakert castle, which was a few kilometers down the road. Once there we got a free tour from a guide who also told us there was “no violence today”. As it turned out, they were mining for building material, or digging trenches in the hills. Not quite sure, but there was no danger. The tour was nice and the castle looked superbly restored. After the tour we drove up to the 1400 year old restored church on the hill next to the castle (some 400 meters higher). The view was awesome.
On the way back we stopped at the national statue of Artsakh, grandpa and grandma (we are our mountains) for some pictures and started looking for a place to eat. After some effort we ended up in the restaurant part of a hotel, where they only served pizza. We were so hungry that it seemed like a good deal. That night we were exhausted and just relaxed near the fireplace while checking our phones.
The following morning Jennifer had to leave for Yerevan for an interview so we said goodbye and went our separate ways. I decided to go to Gandzasar, an original monastery built in the 5th century. The road was good and the weather was great. Also the monastery was very nice. They were working on the surroundings of the main building. After that I decided to leave towards Goris and pass Shushi. There I parked and walked to an awesome gorge.
On the way to Goris, I found a nice spot to camp near the road, and stayed the night. That evening I saw the silhouettes of 6 massive trucks passing by carrying tanks. This conflict isn’t over yet.
When I woke up it was quite early and I decided to go for a little walk to the river down below. I took some pictures and shortly met the guy who has his bee farm there. He must have been around 80 and was amused to see me camp there. Once back on the road I decided to skip Goris and drive on to Tatev, which has the longest aerial way in the world. I parked Brutus near the entrance of the aerial way station and bought a ticket. The ride was amazing. The gondola passes over a 300 meter high valley with a river, 12th century monastery and natural bridge, the devil’s pass. Tatev monastery is really a sight to behold. It is built on the side of a mountain and has the most epic view of the valley.
After Tatev I spent a night in Goris in a hostel for about 8 euro’s. Good deal and doing a laundry was free.
Next time I’ll write about Sisian and my way to Iran. If you’ve made it until here, you are awesome