Walking around the "Black Mountain Garden"
The menu now includes a visit to the controversial state of Nagorno-Karabakh. The desire to explore is soaring as most Armenians have encountered so far and been told the best and I can not wait to visit. At the same time however, there is a fear, because 20 days ago had lit the blood in the area, with tragic results of 9 dead people from the exchanged gunfire with the Azeris. In a survey we done about whether it is safe to visit the state, we were told that all these were rather the meeting of Prime Ministers of the two countries with Putin. The situation now seems to have calmed down and so we decide to take a look...
We are separate from the borders only 30 km. The ride is pleasant as it crosses a sparsely populated, uncultivated area with little vegetation and no trace tree. Vehicles we see on the street, is from another era... The first building that we find is an outpost which plays the role of the border of the Land with Armenia. Currently it is the only open border with another country.
The border procedure is quite simple. Just showing the passports, authorizations and visa we get from the embassy in Yerevan and in two minutes we're done. Please note that if you dont have get a visa from Yerevan, can reach a border, but you should go for ratification at the Foreign Ministry in Stepanakert. Our first stop today is the capital of the country, in Stepanakert, which is about 60km from the border. The route passes through mountainous areas with an altitude up to 1500m. The vegetation is more just before the border, but in general the landscape consists above all by cliffs.
We enter in Stepanakert and follow the main roads to find ourselves in the city center where we do an intra-day stop for coffee at one of the cafes located around the square. Prices are low, at least with what we see in the store directory. People are friendly and a little bit curious, because of motorcycles.
In the square many people circulate. The center decorates a fountain and a large statue of Stepan Shahumyan -well known as Lenin Kafkasou-, personality associated with the history of the country.
Nearby are the Houses of Parliament, the National Assembly and a large pedestrian steps, which starts from the stage and ends in front of the Presidential Palace.
The impressive thing is that while a few years ago had been damaged by hostilities, nowadays you can not discern anything but a neat and quiet town, testifying to the fast-paced development.
Before leaving the capital, we make a stop at the point that is the symbol of the city, and the whole state. These are two statues depicting two persons, a man and a woman, one of which has a triangular shape, wanting to imitate a mountain. There is an inscription which says: «We are our mountains», symbolizing the mountainous character of the state and the direct relationship of the inhabitants with it.
The monument had appeared in a spotlight in the Eurovision Song Contest 2009 in Moscow, where Armenia had reached the semi-finals. The spotlight had the monument as an important attraction of Armenia, leading to rise Azerbaijanis and the sign be removed from the spotlight of the final. Annoyed Armenians from that decision, showed the picture of the monument many times during the voting process of the competition. We leave behind the Stepanakert and drive for a few kilometers until the junction for Berkadzor. From there begins a more deserted path in relatively good condition, with some parts of the road have several patches and puddles. The scenery is beautiful, the vegetation grows gradually, as we climb altitude.
We are moving northwards and after about 40km we are in Vank. At the entrance of the village there are two columns on which are two lion statues. The Vank is a village which is known to most Armenians, as it has some peculiarities, in particular "architectural"... Levon Hairapetyan, a wealthy Armenian decided to make some things to make the village famous... And he sucided in a way...
Apart then from a big school, there is a hotel (Eclectic) in ship shape and an artificial waterfall that ends in a stream in front of the hotel. Often mentioned in tourist guides as "Titanic". Opposite there is a zoo and a wall of vehicle license plates. It is said that the plates from vehicles Azeris who fled the city during the war. Just outside the village and behind the also impressive hotel Tsovin Qar, on a rock has constructed a stone lion, even growls when you approach (due to presence motion sensor). River opposite a sailing galleon!
And the excesses do not stop here. Below is a Roman fountain, some ironwork plugged in various parts of the village, a cafeteria with an antique car and some ancient statues ... Unfortunately in trying to make so many things in so little space, rather had the opposite effect in terms of aesthetics, giving final a bad feeling and exaggeration.
We sat a little and continued to the monastery Gandzasar, located nearby. The name means "treasure mountain" or "treasure on the hill". The monastery is the most important in the country, dating back to 1216 and is dedicated to John the Baptist. Situated in an excellent location offers spectacular views of the surrounding area and so impresses visitors, both from afar and up close.The architecture is classical Armenian monasteries. Perimeter protected by a high stone wall, has a large interior courtyard and play areas supporting role, while the interior of the monastery in wins with its simplicity.
Outside the monastery is a type, which makes various acrobatic tricks on his horse. Those tourists visiting the monastery make a stop to enjoy it, to photograph and be photographed with him. One story says that the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, this particular type was captured along with his best friend. Then lived an incredibly horrific story as he saw before him slaughter his friend. Maybe by then began to lose his mind ... The promoters of the monastery, knowing his story, leave him to do these 'stunts' tricks in front of the monastery, thereby earning some money... We sit for a while and at 5pm we take the way back to Armenia, the same way we had come. Unfortunately there is no alternative route to return to Goris as there is only one road axis connecting the border to the capital.
We moved fast, as we want to see, a little bit hurry- the Sushi and the caves of Khndzoresk located almost next to Goris. Time is limited as we want to get to the caves before the sun sets, and should arrive in time at the hotel, before closing the kitchen and fucked up like yesterday.
In about 30 minutes we are at the junction for the Sushi, which welcomes us with many banners hung along the street. The imposing fortress marks the entrance to the city, the first sight of the cathedral church, which is indeed a marriage. On the move we see some major sights of Sushi and proceed to the exit of the city passing by a huge camp. We arrive at the border and after a short test continues apace with the caves, hopefully to catch before the sun sets.
About 10km before Goris, we find the sign for Khndzoresk and turn left. At the entrance of the village, a small sign shows us a dirt road that leads to the caves. Without a second thought, despite our weariness, we enter and we followed.
A few kilometers away from pop off the conical rocks, reminiscent respective Cappadocia, while most left we can distinguish the caves. The dirt road continues but not quite follow it, because when you reach a point near the sun will fall... Back to the hotel a quarter before closing the kitchen. Dash in the dining room and sit with full equipment motorcyclist waiting to serve us. We enjoy our dinner discussing our impressions from today's trip to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Eventually others waited to see and other saw... The inhabitants seem to have managed to carefully hide the scars of war, they have managed to rebuild the damaged Stepanakert, while great impression made us lack the military presence, either inside or outside the city. Not that we considered necessary the presence, but in such a volatile situation, the military always wants to make his presence felt. Maybe the military presence become more pronounced in the northern side of the Land, near the border with Azerbaijan, but is a point that we havent visited...