Debed Canyon

Alaverdi Travel Blog

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People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia)

Another new country day, hurray for travelling! As had become synonymous with these days, we found a hitch when crossing into Armenia, namely the visa had gone up by $20 and they only accepted Armenian Dram. Luckily i had some spare Dollars on me and there was a fair priced currency exchange window, where we could convert our money. With the visa firmly sealed into my passport, we stepped into the grasps of the waiting taxi drivers.

Normally we would have either hitch hiked to Alaverdi or tried to wait for a shared taxi, but with my passport nearing its expiry date, we decided that we would fork out for a private car today.

The added bonus of this was that on the way we could visit two UNESCO listed Monasteries, which were several kilometres off the main road. After a bit of bargaining we struck a deal to pay 5000 Dram ($16) for the trip, including waiting time, which seemed pretty reasonable.

It took about 40 minutes to reach Haghpat Monastery, which is located in the Debed Canyon and has been there since Queen Khosrvanuch founded it in 976AD. The buildings that comprise the site include a church, bell tower, library and stone refectory, all with crosses carved into the exterior walls. Inside the buildings there was a mysterious air, with large open rooms that had slants of light entering through small windows.
Unlike the Georgian Churches, there are no icons and whilst the rooms seemed barer, the bricks somehow were filled with character. Gravestones made up much of the floor that you walked on and doorways were intricately carved, and the best thing of all... photography was permitted!

Having looked around for half an hour we left for Sanahin Monastery, which was located just a few kilometres outside of Alaverdi. Whilst the scenery at Kazbegi had really appealed to me with the snow capped peaks, Debed Canyon had a different charm about it, which i can't quite put my finger on. Small villages clung to the cliff edges, and the landscape appeared fertile, despite the contours of the land.

Sanahin's rustic charm immediately struck me, with shrubs sprouting from the roof, moss growing on the walls and the garden getting slightly out of control in places.
There were several buildings to look around and the arched architecture really was beautiful. Once again there were plenty of graves both inside and outside and like at Haghpat we were the only ones there. Amusingly Sanahin actually translates to “older than that one” and this is because it was constructed in 928, nearly half a century before Haghpat.

Ending in Alaverdi at 14.10, we were aware that the bus connections were pretty non existent in the afternoon, so we were incredibly fortunate that the 14.00 bus to Odzun was running 15 minutes late, which meant we just caught it. The bus was a decrepit old thing, much like all the other buses in the caucuses, but somehow it managed to snake its way up the canyon. By the time we arrived in Odzun it appeared that we had barely left Alaverdi horizontally, merely travelled up the mountain vertically, via a host of switchbacks.

On the bus we met a a very genuine local guy called Sarkis, who came with us to Odzun's glorious 7th Century Church. He walked around with us for 30 minutes, all the while trying to persuade us to come and stay at his house for the night. We explained we needed to get to Stepanavan as we were out of cash and also running short on time, but he was so keen to have us as his guests that he even offered to give us money if we needed it! This was certainly out of the question, but it was so nice of him to offer. We regretfully had to decline his invitation, but he was keen that we take his name and address in case we ever returned to the village. When Sarkis only gave us his name, Julia asked how we could find him without a set address and he held up his hands and said “Ask for the guy with two missing fingers”, which was a pretty accurate description!

Sat waiting for the 16.
00 bus to pass through town, a group of youngsters came to talk to us, which helped pass the time. It also consolidated my early impressions that the Armenians seemed like very nice people. The bus was possibly the twin of the other clapped out banger we had been on earlier and to go 20kms on flat terrain took an astonishing 90 minutes! In fairness the road did have more potholes than a teenage acne sufferer, but still! At least the scenery was beautiful and much of the journey passed along the lip of a deep gorge. Finally we crept into town just as the sun was setting, which had sent the temperatures plummeting.

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photo by: Biedjee