The Valleys of Vayots Dzor

Areni Valley, Armenia
Jul 24, 2018

Heading east out of Yerevan, the yellow-gold of dry scrub vanishes, replaced by arid hills. The asphalt ribbon snakes between hills, climbs a couple of passes and winds its way into the Vayots Dzor province. The yellow-brown-beige hillocks dominate with patches of green where the rivers flow and land is cultivated. It reminds me of Ladakh and Iran, Tajikistan and Afghanistan, places with similar terrain and places I remember fondly. I feel almost at home.

More than other crops, it is the vineyards that make Areni famous and the highway is peppered with stalls selling bottles of homemade wine. Peaches, the valley’s other main crop are piled in bowls and buckets, dripping with juicy deliciousness. Of late, Areni has the distinction of being home to the oldest leather shoe in the world. On display in the museum in Yerevan, it is much touted in tourist brochures, hoping to draw visitors to overrated Areni.

The sight that draws most visitors is the monastery of Noravank, apparently a must-see sight in Armenia. Hidden in a gorge, the location is more intriguing than the monastery itself.

Flanked by a field of kachkars, Surp Karapet and the Surp Astvatsatsin churches stand amid the ruins of a once-thriving monastery.

Tombstones line the floors of both and the walls sport a few carved panels. But look closer and you find most of the pillars and walls, cornices and panels etched with crosses.

They run the gamut from basic to ornate, with ornate designs and shapes. Not quite the flights of fancy like Ethiopian crosses, these are nonetheless beautiful in design and craftsmanship.

 

Vardenyats Pass
2410 m
Jul 25, 2018

Visited only by tour buses stopping at the caravanserai at Selim Pass, the road leading upto Selim Pass is delightfully off the radar. Devoid of taxis and touts, it is home to a handful of sleepy villages. Bales of hay fill lofts and chickens squawk in the dirt. Fields of orchards abut those of wheat and vegetable gardens sprout tomatoes and onions, potatoes and beans. Broad smiles greet me and greetings are quickly followed by invitations to have tea or coffee. I would have been delighted to accept but those I shared the car with, unfortunately declined.

At the top of the pass is the 14th century caravanserai built by Orbelian Princes as evidenced by an engraved stone, written in Armenian. Built entirely of stone including the covered roof, the design is different from all the other serais that dot neighboring countries. This probably is not deemed as important as the churches since it is in poor condition despite being restored only sixty years ago. It is pretty sight with the view stretching down the valley but visibility unfortunately is as poor as elsewhere in Armenia. The farther reaches are lost in the haze of pollution.

The Yeghegis valley, close to Yeghegnadzor is yet another area that I wanted to visit. Among other things, it is home to the intriguing find of a Jewish cemetery. An unexplained puzzle, it is an irresistible lure. But my companions for the day could not be persuaded. More than a little annoyed, I remind myself to be more selective when choosing travel partners. Perhaps a pre-travel quiz is on order.

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