Silk Road of Armenia: Haghpat Monastery
As we left the Akhtala monastery and walked back to the main road, a driver named Robert offered us a lift on an old green Soviet “Lada” for a few kilometers and dropped us off on the highway. Our next stop along Armenia’s Silk Road was village of Haghpat to visit its famous 10th-century monastery of the same name, a UNESCO World Heritage site. A short ride took us to the Haghpat intersection, where we sat under a tall tree to rest. Some 3-4 minutes later, a minivan stopped by us. “To Haghpat? Sure! Get in,” said the driver.
The square in front of the Haghpat monastery was not crowded when we arrived there. Three or four grannies were sitting by the entrance to the monastery, 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. A woman offered us a cheap stay at their guesthouse, but we refused. At the gates, a priest greeted us with a smile. He had grey hair, a well-groomed beard and wore black robes. and walked up the stairs and there at the gate we meet a priest – grey hair and short beard, black robes. We exchanged a few words, introducing ourselves and walked on to explore the monastery.
Coffee with the Abbot
Founded in the 10th century by King Ashot III and his wife, the Haghpat monastery (along with the nearby monastery of Sanahin) was given a UNESCO World Heritage status in 1996, described as an outstanding example of the ecclesiastical architecture that developed in Armenia from the 10th to the 13th century. We walked around the churches of the monastic complex, taking photographs and enjoying the sun.
Busy with our cameras, with didn’t notice the priest approaching us. “Would you like a cup of coffee?” he asked. We accepted the invitation. Soon we found ourselves sitting in a gazebo in the yard of the living quarters, engaged in a lively conversation over a cup of Armenian coffee. We learned that father Aspet was, in fact, the abbot of Haghpat monastery. We spent about an hour, sharing our stories, telling jokes.
Parting as friends, we soon left the village of Haghpat, walking along the road, observing the local life and the surrounding landscapes. A Mercedes took us to the city of Alaverdi, from where we took a rather scary ride on an old and rusty Soviet cable car up to the village of Sanahin. The ride provided us with a breathtaking view of the Debed canyon.
It was getting late, so we decided to pay a short visit to the Sanahin monastery to see its beautiful arcs and then continue our way to the village of Kobayr, our stop for the night. When we arrived in Kobayr, it was so dark outside that we couldn’t even see the way up to Kobayr monastery. Our plan was to camp by the monastery. There were very few windows illuminated, so we decided to walk to the first house and ask for directions there. I noticed an old woman inside the house, but not willing to scare appearing in front of her out darkness, I suggested Emée to knock the door and wait for someone to come out.
A family of three – the old grandma, her son Zaven and his wife Ruzan invited us over for a cup of coffee. We asked if there was a good location around the monastery to pitch a tent. Instead, they offered us to stay in one of the abandoned houses. “It’s the house of our friends. They now live in Russia, the house is empty, so you can stay there. I have the keys,” said Zaven. Later, he took us to the house. It had no electricity or water, but the family provided us with candles and drinking water for the night. We lit the candles and set them around what seemed to be the living room. Discussing the day’s adventure over a small dinner, we then placed our bodies on an old and dusty double-bed and fell asleep.