Monastery Day – Armenia, Middle East
One of the nicest day trips from Yerevan for distance, scenery and sights is heading up to Dilijan via Lake Sevan. We left on a crisp autumn day; we’d heard the leaves were changing colors in Dilijan. We drove north from Yerevan for about 45 minutes with the landscape remaining similar to that of Yerevan before hitting the northern tip of Lake Sevan. The huge lake (5% of the country’s surface area) is surrounded by rolling hills, so large you often can’t see the farthest shores, easy to imagine it’s the ocean in front of you.
We climbed the peninsula, just off the highway to check out Sevanavank Monastery. The monastery was of a much cruder construction than any other I saw in Armenia, but beautiful in its simplicity and surroundings. The interior had an old wooden altar; the courtyard some unique green carved crosses. We took more photos from a cement platform at the end of the peninsula and headed back to the car to go northwest through a tunnel hundreds of meters long, through a mountain.
Coming out of the tunnel you enter a whole new landscape. Forests suddenly appear before your eyes, and grow thicker as you go. Colors were turning; we stopped a few times for more pictures. Thirty minutes after leaving the shores of Lake Sevan you are in the heart of Dilijan. We climbed up the pedestrian old town street named Sharambeyan, checked out a museum and an old woodworker’s craft shop, then popped into the tourist information office. The old architecture of this area is quite different than in other parts, beautiful carved wooden balconies and details all over. After getting the info we needed, we went further, towards Haghartsin Monastery.
The road up to the monastery is narrow and winding, along a stream through thick forests with more colorful leaves. When we got to the final bend, we could see the monastery laid out below us. More pictures and then we explored the little chapels and khachkars by the bend. A priest at the monastery gave us a tour of the magical complex. It was built between 800 and 1,000 years ago, still in excellent condition. An old oven was being used to bake sweet breads; we bought some to add to our goodies, picniked under a massive hollow tree, with an incredible view of the monastery, canyon, cliffs and colorful forests. Our seats were sections of tree trunks that had been cut for this purpose. We had a hard time forcing ourselves to leave.
Goshavank Monastery was another 20 minutes from Haghartsin, in a village, with turkeys and pigs running out of the way to make room for the vehicle. The first thing we noticed was the most incredible carved cross. The detail was simply hard to imagine with lace-like multiple layers of intricate designs. Needless to say, we took a lot of pictures. The rest of the complex had its share of cool carvings, chambers and views, so we thoroughly enjoyed the main complex before heading up a mud road to an outpost building of the monastery. It was a cute little round structure, but the view from above the main complex was what made it worthwhile.
The day was getting late. When we arrived at Lake Sevan, someone asked if anyone wanted to eat fish for dinner, a good idea. We stopped at a roadside lakefront joint that was pretty large, ordered fish, barbecued and fried – delicious and cheap, $6.00 to $7.00 per person with drinks and salads. Just what we needed to cap off a beautiful day.
I did this trip by car, but you can take a cab for the day for around $100.00 or so, or get on a day tour for $30.00.