Hitchhiking Armenia’s Silk Road
For half an hour I stayed under warm woolen blanket, trying to come up with some idea for the day. By 8.00 AM everyone was up. Ashot, Mher’s older son, was getting ready for the school, and his mom was busy preparing his breakfast. Little Aren was running around asking for his part of the attention, as for me and Emée, we didn’t interfere much in their morning rituals. When children left, we were offered a breakfast with herbal tea. Then we left: with all the good-byes, handshakes, smiles, hugs and thanks.
“My idea for today,” I spoke to Emée as soon as we were on the street, “is to go….”
“Hello! Good morning! Would you like to come in for a cup of coffee?” An old woman on the balcony of the house we were passing by didn’t let me finish my thought as I was about to tell Emée of the plans for the second day of our trip, which was as pretentious as to visit the monasteries of Akhtala, Haghpat, Sanahin, Odzun and by the end of the day arrive in the town of Dsegh in the Lori province of Armenia (I didn’t really believe we would make it, but it was good to think we know what we’re doing, when in fact, we didn’t).
Coffee drinking is part of the morning rituals among many of Armenians, some kind of a social interaction between neighbors. I looked at the woman, then at Emée, and back at the woman. I remembered what a traveler friend of mine from Iran said once to me: “When people invite me over to their place while I am on the Road, I always accept it, for that’s what the Road is offering to you”. We accepted the invitation. “Just for 5 minutes,” I said to Emée. I knew it was a lie. Five minutes are not enough for the local hospitality, which as you already guessed is never limited to one cup of coffee. There were fruits, candies, chocolate, juice…
Her name was Nelly. Grey hair covered her head. And there was sadness in her eyes. Born in Stepanavan, she married to a man from Berdavan, as moved in here. The village became her new home. Something told me that the man smiling from an old yellowish photograph placed on the sideboard in the corner of their guest room was her late husband. While we drank our coffee she spoke of her life; of her late father who would always invite strangers over to their place, and that now she was doing the same; of her son who works in the military police; of her daughter-in-law who slept in the next room with their newborn child.
About 40 minutes later we were back on the road again, and after two short rides we found ourselves in the town of Akhtala situated on the left bank of Debed river on the sloped of Lalvar mountain. The town was well known for its copper and silver mines. But we were here to visit the fortress and the monastic compound of Akhtala, built in the late 10th century by the Kiurikids, a branch of the Bagratuni dynasty. It was a warm morning, and though the sun was shining bright in the sky, there was no one around, and the town seemed to be sleeping.
We walked up the road and entered the complex through the main entrance. Built on a cliff, the fortress is surrounded by canyons from three sides, providing a magnificent view of the surroundings. It was the best place for that November morning to be spent, and we fully enjoyed out time there.