Armenia’s Silk Road: From Monasteries to an Abandoned House

Hitchhiking Armenia’s Silk Road
Part Four

Prologue: How it all started
Part One // Part Two // Part Three

As we leave the Akhtala monastery and walk back to the main road, a driver named Robert offers us a lift on an old green Soviet “Lada” for a few kilometers and drops us off on the highway. He questions us of our trip, and gives us a big smile before driving back to the town. We wander around the railway, taking photographs of a rusty cable car hanging above us, and then walk along the road. We are now headed for the town of Haghpat to visit its famous 10th century monastery – one of the few UNESCO World Heritage sites in Armenia. A ride with three guys gets us to the Haghpat intersection. We take a rest under a tall tree, and just as I take out Emée’s little travel guitar to play a song or two, a minivan stops by us. “To Haghpat? Sure! Get in,” says the driver. An old woman on the front sit, who turns out to be his mother, greets us.


The little square in front of the Haghpat monastery is not crowded when we arrive. We bid goodbye to our driver and his mother, and walk towards three or four grannies sitting by the entrance to the monastery and waiting for the occasional tourist to sell their handmade socks, hats or scarves along with honey, herbs or nuts to. November’s a low season here. We pass by, casting an eye over the products. In their turn, grannies cast a look on us – a look of disappointment and somewhat anger. A chubby woman who turns out to be the town’s mayor’s wife, offers us a cheap stay at their own guesthouse. We refuse, and leaving her disappointed, too, we walk up the stairs and there at the gate we meet a priest – grey hair and short beard, black robes. He greets us with a warm smile, we exchange few words, introducing ourselves and telling our story. As we go to explore the monastery, he walks to some old women to continue their conversation.

The monastery of Haghpat was founded by Saint Nishan, a saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church, in the 10th century during the reign of King Abas I of Armenia from the Bagratuni royal dynasty. The small church of St. Nishan is the earliest surviving structure of the complex, the construction began in 966-967 AD. In 1996, described as a “masterpiece of religious architecture and a major center of learning in the Middle Ages”, Haghpat monastery was placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

We walk around the buildings and take photographs. Our minds are busy with proper composition settings, and we do not notice father Aspet approaching us. “Would you like a cup of coffee?” he asks and smiles. We accept the invitation and soon we find ourselves sitting in a gazebo, engaged in a beautiful conversation over a cup of Armenian coffee (you may know it as Turkish coffee, or Arabic, or Bosnian, or Greek, or Cypriot). We learn that father Aspet, in fact, is the head of the monastery, and the only one priest serving here. Born in Lebanon, he served the Armenian Apostolic Church in the USA for many a year, and came to Armenia about 5 years ago upon an invitation from His Holiness Catholicos Karekin II, the current head of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

We spend some time with the priest. He then takes us to the bell tower. We part as good ol’ friends. I feel somewhat sad. But I promise myself to come back to Haghpat to visit him again one day. We leave the town of Haghpat walking along the road, observing the life here, while I play guitar and sing road songs. A Mercedes takes us to Alaverdi. There we take a scary ride on an old and rusty Soviet cable car, and all the way up to the town of Sanahin I pray to all gods and spirits to protect us. But it provides us with a magnificent view of the surroundings. We pay a short visit to the Sanahin monastery. I find it not that impressive as its neighbour and somewhat boring. It is getting dark and we have to hurry out of the big city. Our idea is to find shelter in the village of Kober, where the 12th century Kobayr monastery is located.

On the road to Kober we meet my beautiful French friend Sylvain, who was hitchhiking to Tbilisi. Upon seeing us, he asks his driver to stop. We see him running to us – hugs, smiles, short conversation, parting. We hitch a ride all the way to Kober. Our driver’s a mid-aged man from Gyumri, who travels around in the northern regions of Armenia and sells vegetables. When he drops us off by the Kober station, it is completely dark outside. Few lights are seen in the windows of the houses. We walk up to the first house. I notice an old woman inside. Not willing to scare her to death appearing in front of her with my beard out of the darkness, I suggest Emée to knock the door and wait for someone to come out.

And once again the Road saves us. A family of three – the old grandma, her son Zaven and his wife Ruzan – invites us over for a cup of coffee. We ask if there’s a good place around the monastery to spend the night in our tent. They offer us an abandoned house. I can hardly believe it. After a warm conversation Zaven takes us to the house. It has no electricity or water, but they provide us with candles and drinking water. We light candles, put them in cups and set around the big room. We dine, and then take out our pens to write down stories of the day’s adventures.

A portrait of a deceased woman is placed on a shelf, and her look gives me goose bumps. Every once in a while we hear strange sounds, which becomes a topic for talks about ghosts. Abandoned house, candles burning, the photograph of the woman, spider webs… perfect atmosphere for a horror movie. Tired, we place our bodies on an old and dusty double-bed and fall asleep. In the morning we discover rat shit on the bed. Disgusting? None of us really cared.

(to be continued)

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12 thoughts on “Armenia’s Silk Road: From Monasteries to an Abandoned House

  1. What a great adventure, to stay in a house in Kober! Have they finished the restoration on Kobayr monastery? I read it was supposed to be finished in 2008, but when I visited in 2009, it was still in progress!

    • Well, not really. One of the workers there said that the fubding has ended, so no work is done and they are waiting for some decision to be made by the government.

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