Friday – Leaving Yerevan, two monasteries and a bushcamp

The day dawned bright and sunny. Our sojourn in Yerevan was over and we had quite a late start to the day, leaving at 10.00 am. The plan is to head back towards the Georgian border and camp over night. We have to go to Georgia to get into Turkey as the Armenian/Turkish border is closed due to the strained relations between the two countries.

As we left the modern city centre, old houses (looking more like shacks) appeared on the steep banks on the side of the road. These were in marked contrast to the designer mansions on top of the banks looking back towards the city. Soon both are left behind and we are in the countryside again.

At one point we are looking over into the mist where we should be seeing the long disputed Mount Ararat. The darned thing has been swathed in mist since we arrived. We can only hope that we get a better view from the Turkish side later in the month. At the moment this seems somewhat disloyal to the people who have been so nice to us in Armenia and for whom the ownership of Mount Ararat is such a big issue.

Gold trees line the highway. These give way to fields and mountains and we look down on a town sloping away from the road. There is little traffic. We pass a man guarding his cow as it grazes by the roadside in a gap in the sharply painted blue and white safety barrier. I think this is the first safety barrier I have seen since we left the M25. It proves to be very short lived!

Now and again a person sits in isolation by the side of the road with a small pile of apples. What chance of anyone stopping I wonder…..

Before long we stopped at the base of a hill by a lake. Perched on the top of the steep incline is the dome of a church. After rather breathlessly climbing up to the top (the air is a bit thin – we are back at 6,000 feet above sea level) we arrive at the Sevanavank Monastery. It is built on a site which once boasted a pagan temple. These monks certainly know how to pick their locations don’t they? Looking down over the beautiful blue lake, now fringed with trees in their autumnal colours, it was quite stunning. There were actually two churches dating back to the 9th century. One, St Katapet, devoted to John the Baptist and the other, St Astvatsatsin dedicated to the Holy Mother of God, apparently. As always the Russians had ‘tidied’ the old monastery ruins in between the two churches and had ‘topped them off’ with some nice white concrete, to encourage tourists (?!?). They had also created something of a resort around the bottom of the hill. Now the Armenian President has a summer residence there as it is really just a step from Yerevan.

What about the monks you might well ask. They have very sensibly built themselves a new monastery site around the back of the hill. Not so good on views, but well out of the way of the tourists. I have a vision of them creeping out after – say – 7.00 when all the trippers have gone to enjoy the tranquility of the place. It was a lovely spot.

Having clambered back down the hill, we set off again. Our journey took rather an interesting turn when we went through a long tunnel where a woman’s voice could be heard making a rather mournful announcement throughout our time in it. Even if we spoke the language, I would defy anyone to know what she was saying. It was a but creepy….. Happily after this we were out into to a deeply sided wooded valley. The road twisted and turned along the bottom of it. The trees are all colours – from green to gold and every shade through to rust.

Our final visit of the day was yet another monastery – the Haghpat Monastery. It sits on what the guidebook describes as the ‘lip’ of the Deped Canyon. The place did nothing for Keith – he later described it as ‘thoroughly underwhelming’ which I found a bit disappointing – but I think it will remain one of the highlights of my trip. I found it had an amazing atmosphere, not least because one of the two churches had three singers practising plain chant. The acoustics were unbelievable. If only you could picture sound! Their voices rang out over as I wandered around the area in the late afternoon sunshine. There has been a church on the site since the 4th century although the current buildings are thought to be 9th century. One of the ancient inscriptions on the wall describes one of the churches as a ‘cathedral site’.

I just found the whole area had a wonderful ‘aura’ and I did not want to leave…..

While we visited the Monastery, Simon and Zaza were negotiating with the local farmer to use his field for our bushcamp. Permission granted, we parked about three hundred metres down the road from the churches in a field with mountains on two sides and the valley and church hill on the two others respectively.

I was on the cooking duty and we soon knocked together a Thai curry. Keith made a fire – but this was all done before 8.00 and it was dark. Bed was really the only option. At least it was not raining and the wind that had been very evident when we arrived on the hill, had completely disappeared. Great.

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