Khor Virap – Tatev (Armenia): how we became hitchhikers, but remained cowards
Having left our backpacks at the couchsurfer’s place (we will once write about couchsurfing, until then it is a great way not to pay for the hotel and learn more about the country you are visiting), we decided to go to Khor Virap – a monastery at the border of Armenia and Turkey, at the bottom of famous mount Ararat (the one where Noah’s ark landed) which now belongs to Turkey. By the way, Ararat is a volcano. The well-known and easily recognized landscape – Khor Virap and Ararat on its background is a sad reminder of what Armenia lost: the mount was and largely is the national symbol of the country, and still appears, for instance, on its banknotes. It is also a sad reminder about complicated relations between Turkey and Armenia: the border between two countries is closed as Turkey did not acknowledge the Genocide of Armenians and supported Azerbaijan in Karabakh war.
There is a marshrutka from Yerevan to Khor Virap which costs 1200 drams (or 2 euros). On the way to marshrutka stop, a bit of Yerevan:
That is how marshrutka looks like:
Marshrutka reaches the turn towards Khor Virap, and then 4 kilometeres till the monastery itself remain. We decided to walk in spite of the hot weather and many good things we heard about hitch-hiking in Caucasus. The walk lasted for about a kilometer, and then the locals as if could not tolerate our stubbornness anymore, and a car stopped. Later, there were many cases like that: even if you are very independent, they want to help. These are wonderful people!
A view of Khor Virap:
Khor Virap and Ararat:
Unfortunately, Ararat was hiding over the clouds:
Inside Khor Virap:
In summer Armenians come back for holidays from Moscow and other Russian cities (or other countries) where they work and often undertake the pilgrimage around the churches. So there are always many people.
From the chapel one may go down to underground prison, where insane Armenian tsar Trdat III was detaining St. Grigor for 15 years. According to the legend, Grigor then healed him and baptized. This is the prison, or the ladder to the prison, to be precise, where Grigor was kept:
The prison itself is a round room of about 3 meters in diameter, it is difficult to grasp it on the photo. Khor Virap is also situated on the place of former ancient Armenian Capital Artashat.
We easily hitch-hiked to the highway which goes further to Tatev, and as we became much braver, decided to hitch-hike till Tatev as well (217 kms on mountain roads). After some time the truck stopped and picked us up.
The driver was Iranian, so we did not have common language to speak. But the language of gestures helped a lot, and in an hour we became true friends: at the stop he bought beer for us and we bought mineral water for him. Nastya had a nap on the bed inside the track, while Vitya was enjoying beer and views.
The views were nice, but the loaded truck was extremely slow: we were going up the mountains with an average speed of 25 km/h. It seems that the driver was tired as well, as he often stopped to have some rest or drink coffee. The things went faster when we finally reached the mountain pass:
After the pass, the driver stopped at the café and with the help of locals (he could speak Armenian) explained that he was going to stay there for the night, but accommodated us to go by another car.
Hitchhiking in Armenia is amiable, but extremely unhurried. But we should not complain, of course. The next car stopped by the village at their relatives’ where we spent at least half an hour, and only then went further. This car did not go till Tatev though, and dropped us at another turn. Then the Jeep stopped. Its driver David was from Karabakh (Tatev is on the way to Karabakh) and was heading back home. David seemed very nice, and after few minutes started to invite us to his place. Being aware of embracing hospitality of Caucasus, we almost agreed. But then chickened out. David started telling about war, how he had been there fighting for four years; he started to smoke a cigarette after cigarette, his hands were shaking. We imagined he could become even more emotional (he was inviting us to his dacha for drinking as well). Moreover, we had been reading many horror stories about Karabakh border. Nastya remembered that in her backpack, she had a pad with notes on Azerbaijan which actually could be read as spy notes. Meanwhile, David as if hearing our thoughts started to talk about tourists coming to Karabakh saying they are spies and nothing else! To cut a long story short, we were scared. It may be in vain, but who knows. We told David that we need a visa to Karabakh (which is partially true: you can get it in Yerevan, but also in Stepanakert – Karabakh capital – on the arrival. As it was Friday evening, we realized that we would have to stay till Monday to get this papers from Stepanakert). That is what we explained to David, but he of course understood our truer fears. By that time we had almost reached Karabakh and passed Tatev. David turned back towards the nearest settlement, stopped, and waited with us until a car picked us up. Karabakh from the other side:
It is said that it is just the beginning, and Karabakh itself is incredibly beautiful. David showed to us a cave on the other side, where his grandfather had been born. In the evening, he called us to make sure that all went fine.
The next car drove us to Tatev (a group of four men were not going there, and finally went just to help us as it was getting dark). We could not find the guesthouse for a long time, but the guys were very patient. In the end, we stopped next to the Devil’s Bridge, called the hostess of the guesthouse Zarina, and figured out that we need to make other 7 kilometers up the steep hill. There was a car going there, and we jumped into it.
Zarina’s family was very cordial, everyone was participating, making tea, offering food, etc. The hostess herself had fallen down the ladder on the same day, and was not feeling well, so after having tea and delicious cake they accompanied us to the house of her relative, Gochi to sleep there on the same terms (5000 drahms per person). Gocha offered tea and apricots. After talking a bit, we went to sleep, though they also offered apricot home-made vodka. We saw the gadget for making it the next morning before the walk around Tatev itself.