Call. A 7-day trip ahead in Armenia and Georgia. I wanted to uncover the mysterious taste and aroma of neighbouring countries, see the original works created by gifted craftsmen, and learn of tales both new and old. A new travel package called “From the Mountains to the Villages” was recently created within the Armenia-Georgia tourism cooperation framework. The route stretches from Aragats to the Kazbek Mountain, including neighbouring rural communities and offering exceptional experiences in the area.
The first stop was the Akhtala monastery complex in Lori province, where our Georgian colleagues joined us. The beauty and natural environment of the monastery were so impressive that the departure was delayed for another hour.
At this monastic complex, we also met the most humorous man in the area, who greeted us wearing a hospitality taraz (national costume) and an ordinary break turned a master class with a stone-making soup. Yes, a stone soup. Even though we did not have the good fortune of tasting the dish, we knew we would definitely make up for it later. During the entire journey and after, I was always talking about that soup.
It was time to walk around the Akhtala monastery complex. It’s really a masterpiece with its frescoes of tremendous proportions that speak to the intellectual wealth of our ancestors. According to local stories, the bright colors of the frescoes used to distract visitors from the liturgy, and so the priest angrily ordered them to be wrapped up.
By the way, in the 17th century, French archaeologist Jacques de Morgan discovered stone tombs in Akhtala with clay, bronze and iron finds. One of the tombs discovered by Morgan was one of those unique burial mounds, where people were buried in a sitting position. The Akhtala Monastery was not only a harmonious combination of Armenian, Georgian and Byzantine styles but also balanced the culture and political life of the region. Let’s not forget that famous Armenian filmmaker of the 20th century, Sergei Parajanov, produced a film about “Color of Pomegranates” in Akhtala Monastery.
It was time to move, the schedule was crowded, and there were lots of adventures, learning experiences and cultural enrichment ahead.
This wave of emotion would have been difficult had it not been for the discovery of the day, Zarni Parni: a place where you can enjoy a glass of wine and beautiful scenery that opens up in front of you. When you look out on nature from here you can see that there are no two trees alike and all of them are each a different colour, they are plentiful, but at the same time unique. I kept taking in the scene, knowing that if this view ever called to me, I would forget the world and would come running, forgetting all about the existence of the stone soup. The temptation of nature was powerful …
If you pay close attention, you will see the towering Kayan Berd. To date, the castle has not been fully excavated yet. It turns out that there were two strongholds named after Kayan in the Middle Ages: One in Lori, near Haghpat, the other in Aghstev Valley and the fate of the two were different.
But let’s go back to Zarni-Parni. The medieval cave-castle complex is a new destination for tourism. The upper monument of Parni served as a hiding place. Haghpatavank’s manuscripts and riches were hidden here during hostile attacks. Within the cave-castle, a dome fountain was found. As a result of the water analysis, it was discovered that the water was crystal clear. The water is poured into stone containers, and you can drink it with a cup placed next to the fountain if desired. By the way, folklore says that many diseases have been treated with that water.
Here you can see Lori’s lifestyle items that are rare, old-fashioned and show how rich the local population was.
Following a panoramic view of lush woods, the hospitality was simply stunning. The host was a beautiful traditional Armenian family filled with great warmth.
We planned to stay overnight at the Odzun Sergo Davtyan guest house. We sampled homemade sweets, cherry preserves, very strong vodka from wild pears. It turns out that Sergo Davtyan started work on his guest house with only two rooms and now there are 8, with all amenities. The guesthouse is visited by many foreigners, the number of which grows every year. Success has a simple formula. “Never treat a guest as a client. The guest is always expected in the Armenian family and the “jem” of the dinner table,” says uncle Sergo with a humble smile. After situating ourselves in the rooms, we were waiting for a visit to Odzun’s St. Astvatsatsin Church.
Not far from the village of Odzun is one of the wonders of the province, the Belly of the Snake, where many of us rode on horseback and others walked around nestled in nature. But I must say that very few people know about this place. They say the water running through the Belly of the Snake is healing, and most often, trekkers stop to drink water from this place and take some back with them. According to legend, on the right side of the gulch, there was a school where seven students were educated by the village wise man. On the left side of the gulch, on the slopes of the mountain, a horrible dragon appears and everything around him froze from his roar. One day, a villager with a pitcher on his shoulder went down the slope of the mountain, and when he saw the monster, he immediately froze. The old man sent a pupil to find out what has happened. The student never returns, and so all seven students become part of the dragon. The old man leaves the school to look for his pupils. The wise man cast a rod over the dragon’s head and said: “Turn to stone, and may spring spew out from your heart, and become medicine to the sick.” What the wise man said happened right away. The water is drunk not only by locals but also by foreigners … It is said that the woman with a pitcher on her shoulder was once clearly visible amidst the rocks, but in 1939 it was demolished, and barns were built with these stones.
It was time to return to the guest house where uncle Sergo was waiting for us at the door with a quiet smile. The dinner in the Armenian traditional family was impressive, and indeed, if before we visited we were considered guests, by the end, we had all become members of the family. And that had nothing to do with the strong pear vodka.
The first day was full of emotions that made the memory of a lifetime. Travel, which already had crisp memories, stories and photos. A trip where everything is revolved around the mountains …
The material was prepared within the framework of the “From the Mountains to the Villages” info-tour through the support of the Tourism Committee of the Ministry of Economy of the Republic of Armenia and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ).