Hitchhiking Armenia’s Silk Road
Later, in Zaven’s house, while having our morning coffee, Zaven tells us that the abandoned house belongs to his friend who now lives in Russia with his family. Meanwhile Emée and Zaven’s mother are engaged in a conversation about how the old lady makes cheese. Since pensions are small and enough only to cover the utility payments, she makes cheese to sell it at the market.
Soon we leave their house, and Zaven takes us up the narrow path to the ruins of the 12th-century Kobayr monastery that sits on the edge of a cliff above a deep gorge. He carries a chainsaw on his shoulder. “My friends are waiting for me up there, we have to cut some wood to hit the house,” Zaven explains. Together with two of his friends he, in fact, is in charge of the renovation of the monastery.
One of the important cultural centers of medieval Armenia, the monastery of Kobayr was founded in 1171 CE by the daughter of the King Kyurikeh II, Mariam, who built the oldest church of the complex, the Mariamashen church. In 13th century Kobayr was acquired by the Zakarids and converted into Chalcedonian monastery. Several members of the nobel family are buried here. Inscriptions written on Armenian and Georgian are found on the walls of Kobayr. After the Chalcedonian monks left the monastery, it remained abandoned for several centuries, and after returning to the bosom of the Armenian Apostolic Church, its doors were open again in 17-18th cc.
Zaven shows us the frescoes in one the churches, and briefly introduces the process of renovation of the monastery. He then bids us goodbye and slowly walks up the mountain slope, his head down, the hand holding the chainsaw. Left alone, we wander around, exploring the area. While Emée takes photographs of the frescoes, I examine the tombstones and the Georgian inscriptions. We then walk back to the village to pick up our backpacks to continue our Road. “I will always remember you,” says Zaven’s mother just before we leave their house.
In about two hours we arrive in the village of Dsegh, birthplace of Hovhannes Tumanyan, Armenian writer and public activist, Armenia’s national poet. We discover that Dsegh has a more or less decent tourist infrastucture with eco hiking routes and guest houses. We pay a visit to Tumanyan’s House Museum, explore the 13th-century St. Gregor the Illuminator Church, walk along one of the eco trails, spending relaxed time in the village. Then we hit the road again.
Two rides take us all the way to the city of Vanadzor, the capital of the Lori Province, where we drink tea and eat potato pies in a little Soviet-style place called “Buffet”. “I just wanted to create a relaxed atmosphere for people were nostalgic for Soviet times,” says the owner, Aram. We enjoy the place, but not willing to get stuck in the big city for the night, we soon go back to road and walk our way out of Vanadzor. It takes us an hour or two until we get our next ride. A man named Artak agreed to take us to Fioletovo, a Russian village between cities of Vanadzor and Dilijan, populated by Molokans, members of a Christian sect that evolved from “Spiritual Christian” Russian peasants.
Molokans are well-known in Armenia for their cabbage and pickled vegetables. “I buy cabbage from them, and then sell it other towns,” says our driver. At dusk he drops us off on the road near Fioletovo. An old couple sells cabbage on the roadside. Woman’s head is covered with a scarf, her husband wears a long white beard. We approach them and I ask in Russian if it’s possible to spend the night in the village. They assure us that all we have to do is simple walk in the village. “Someone will surely invite you over to their house,” says the woman. We thank them and walk towards the village.
(to be continued)