Vank, Gandzasar, Askeran, and Tatev

First thing in the morning we had to go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nagorno-Karabakh because despite the fact that no country has recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as a sovereign state, they require a visa, which is checked when you exit Nagorno-Karabakh instead when you enter. The visa procedure was relatively easy. We needed to fill out a form, pay 3000 AMD (approx. 5,5€), and wait for 15 minutes. You could get the visa either in your passport of on a separate piece of paper. The Ministry itself is not hard to find, but it’s not exactly that they have an info desk, so it was easy for us to have the guide with us. You need to find the right door (door number one on the left side from the entrance) and ask there for a correct form to fill, make the payment, and then get your visa.

Our next stop was in a small village called Vank. It is a birthplace of some Armenian businessman, who has built his fortune in Russia and he has sponsored several of the village’s projects and has paid to build several buildings in the village e.g. a kindergarten, a school, and a Titanic-shaped hotel.

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Titanic-shaped hotel

The person in question also likes colors green and yellow, so all the benches and railings in the village were painted using those colors. There was also a wall near the hotel, which was built using Azerbaijani licence plates. Not sure of the meaning or how this remote village got hold of so many foreign licence plates.

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The wall made of Azerbaijani licence plates

There was also a rather pompous hotel in the village in front of which were peeing merboys.

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Hotel in Vank

There were also donkey statues because why not? 🙂

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Valiant donkey guards

And as a cherry on top there was this amazing cave. They even placed iron rods as whiskers!

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The lion cave

After marvelling at Vank, we headed to another monastery called Gandzasar. It was founded in 1216 and it has remained mostly in its original form due to its location.

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Gandzasar monastery
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Gandzasar monastery

This monastery had graves as well.

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Graves at Gandzasar monastery

There was also a lot of carvings on the wall.

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Gandzasar monastery

The view from the top of the mountain was breathtaking.

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View from Gandzasar monastery

After this we headed towards Askeran fortress, which was rather disappointing. The only part remaining of the fortress was this:

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Askeran fortress

According to our guide this fortress was the military headquarters of Armenians during the Nagorno-Karabakh war, but at the moment all that is left of the fortress is this part and a small part of the wall along the road.

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Ruins of the Askeran fortress

After this we headed back to Stepanakert and stopped briefly at the We Are Our Mountains monument, which was located a little outside of the city. It was unveiled in 1967 and it’s considered an important symbol of Nagorno-Karabakh. Almost all the newlywed couples take their pictures in front of this monument. The monument is also known by the name of Mamik yel Babik i.e. Grandma and grandpa.

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We Are Our Mountains (Mamik yel Babik)

We also visited the market in Stepanakert, where our guide bought some homemade berry alcohol for her father (60% alcohol, which was sold in old 1,5 liter soda bottles). In addition to this we bought bread called jingalov hats, which is mostly available only in Nagorno-Karabakh. There is a place in Yerevan, which serves it as well, but apparently this one is much better and cheaper. I didn’t manage to take any pictures of it because it was so delicious that I ate it all before even thinking of my camera. 🙂 But I found a pic online. So the bread was very thin and filled with butter and different herbs. It tasted amazing!

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Jingalov hats bread. Photo from here.

Herbs inside.

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Herbs filling. Photo from here.

The last stop of the day was at Tatev monastery, which was reachable by cablecar called Wings of Tatev. The cable car route in question is 5,7km long and it covers the distance between Halidzor and Tatev monasteries. One-way trip costs 3000 AMD (approx. 5,5€.) The equipment was made in Austria, which was a relief. My biggest annoyance in Armenia was the quality of building. It seemed like if e.g. sidewalk was just renovated, it had loose tiles in a matter of days and if something was just painted, it started flaking as soon as the paint dried. What a waste! 😦

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Wings of Tatev

The journey was very interesting and a bit annoying because everybody wanted to take pictures and apparently never heard of the concept of personal space. 🙂 The monastery can be also reached by road, but it takes twice the time of the cable car trip, so approx. 25 min when the cable car takes 12 minutes. Of course you also have to wait in line for the tickets and then for your cable car time slot. The winding road to Tatev can be seen from the picture below.

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Wings of Tatev

The monastery itself was located on the edge of the mountain.

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Tatev monastery

The place is extremely popular with tourists, but in April we managed to actually take pictures without a lot of people in them.

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Tatev monastery
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Tatev monastery
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Tatev monastery

If you keep driving a bit upwards the mountain, you can get a nice picture of Tatev monastery from above.

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Tatev monastery

After this we headed back to Yerevan. The distance is not huge, only about 250km, but because all the roads are winding and in bad shape, it takes 3-4 hours. We quickly stopped for lunch at a place near Tatev (once again for something like 10€ for two people) and then continued on to Yerevan. Despite the local driver I was a bit nervous because the roads were bad and it was dark and other cars overtook us in dangerous places, so I found it best to focus on my e-book instead of following the traffic. 🙂

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