Armenia is wearing me out! Not just the cycling, the whole experience is truly wonderful and I can’t find words that do this small country sufficient justice from a cycle tourist like myself. The historical sights on their own would be enough, but then add the outstanding riding, local hospitality and it’s a dream country to visit. Here’s part two of my trip report:
My next stop as I rode around Lake Sevan was the small village of Noratus, famous for the largest surviving collection of Khachkars (stone crosses) in the Noraduz cemetery, the oldest dating back to the 10th century. One popular story associated with them is that during an invasion by Tarmashirin Khan’s army (Tamerlane) the local people dressed them in uniforms and helmets, which the invading force took for a battalion of soldiers and fled, hotly pursued by the defending army.
Noratus village sits half way up Lake Sevan just off the M10 road. It’s a quiet place but well worth making the short diversion to visit and doesn’t see the hoards of tourists the more popular venues do.
Hayravank monastery sits high on the lakeside another 10 km north of Noratus. It has undergone some renovation but the most disappointing is the use of new stone, particularly noticeable on the steps. It is still a very ‘iconic’ building with some wonderful architecture, both inside and out. It also doesn’t get as many visitors as the more popular Sevan churches.
I’m not sure about the odds and ends left here inside either, but you can light your own candle (available for a small donation).
I wild camped on the shores of Lake Sevan again, just outside the small village of Chalovka only a stones throw from Sevan. It was blowing a gale so I was quite glad of some cover offered by a series of covered picnic tables, which buffeted the wind significantly enough for me to sleep. I’d lost track of what day it was and next morning headed for the churches on Sevan peninsular. When I got there it was heaving with tourists, Sunday in August was not a good day to try and do a photographic tour of the area, but I was not about to return so got stuck in!
With a little patience…
It’s certainly impressive, the views across the peninsular are stunning and with it being so accessible I can understand why it is so popular.
There are trails leading off across the hilltops if you wanted to explore further, with another church high up on the mountain, a little too far for this tired cyclist! I settled for a walk along the clifftop.
I had no reason to linger in Sevan, so made my way up the lakeside heading north to Dilijan, called by locals “the Switzerland of Armenia”. I decided to take the tunnel rather than go over the Sevan Pass, it was getting late and I figured I’d done enough big climbs in the last few days. On the other side I got a reminder (as if I needed one) that I was still traveling on the silk road.
I dropped down the steep descent into Dilijan and called it a day, it had been a long one (not so much the cycling) and I was pretty shattered. The weather changed overnight from the clear blue skies to heavy rain. There was a lull in the morning as I set out, but the skies were overcast and thick with mist and I knew the rain would return. I never got to see Dilijan in all it’s glory.
As I climbed up the valley the first spots of rain began to fall and I quickened my pace. It was a long ascent of which I was about halfway up, so hoped to reach shelter before it really began to pour. Not a chance, the thunder roared, the lightening flashed and I was scared of being caught out in the open as the sky lit up and crackled. I saw a railway bridge ahead and raced for cover, I would shelter and cook a meal while waiting for the storm to pass.
The heavy rain continued for some time and at one point I even considered setting up my tent under the bridge, but thankfully it started to brighten up late afternoon and I figured I’d put in a few more kilometers and try and reach Vanadzor, then find a decent place to camp. Once I’d finished off the climb it was really nice riding up the valley, though Vanadzor was a pretty ugly (industrialised) and unremarkable town (IMHO) with not a lot to see, the exception being this rather unusual Church:
From Vanadzor I headed into the Debed Canyon, of which Lonely Planet says: “this canyon manages to pack in more history and culture than just about anywhere else in the country,” to which I wholeheartedly agree. You can’t help but be inspired once you start to get into the canyon and experience the towering walls with the Debed river running deep below.
Not long after entering the canyon I reached the tiny hamlet of Kobayr and stopped to look for the 13th century ruined convent, hidden in the trees up on the hillside. Unfortunately it’s under renovation by the locals themselves (no government money is available) and there isn’t much to photograph, though I did make an attempt at capturing the impressive frescoes:
What had gone before was only a prelude to the real pearls of Armenia though, as further up the valley I would find two Unesco World Heritage Status monasteries and capture images I could only dream of. You’ll have to wait until my next update though…