Day 38 (1): A natural disaster

Sevan Travel Blog

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Lake Sevan
People I met here and/or travelled with: Gevorg (Armenia), Sara (UK), Paola (Italy), Andrea (Croatia)

The Envoy hostel organises daily trips (a different destination every day) and the trip scheduled for Thursdays seemed particularly appealing to me. There had been some uncertainty as to whether or not there would be enough people signing up for the tour (they need at least three) but I was in luck: three girls from London had arrived late last night and wanted to join this tour.
Well, when I say three girls from London, then of course I mean that Paola was Italian, Andrea Croatian and Sara British of Hong Kong descent.

Andrea is a keen photographer and I always like it when I travel with another photo enthusiasts. It encourages me to take better pictures and chances are someone will take some half-decent pictures of me for a change as well.
Gevorg telling his tales


Our guide, Gevorg, was actually the manager of the hotel, but he still regularly did these tours, probably when he liked the group he was taking (I assumed his decision was made based on three girls joining rather than me). He's an excellent guy. Armenians are known for their superb sense of humour and Gevorg was no exception. His stories about the history and culture or Armenia, the current events of the country and the sights we visited were dry, witty and occasionally cynical. Exactly my type of humour. I had a great day.

First we drove to Lake Sevan, or as the Armenians prefer to call it, the Sevan Sea. As Armenia is a landlocked country this is the closest thing to a see most locals ever see.
Sevanavank monastery
During the Soviet days Lake Sevan fell victim to some horrible environmental mismanagement. In all their wisdom some scientists decided that the lake was too big and the water streaming into the lake was diverted for irrigation. The level of the water dropped 20 metres and the land gained was used for farmland and to build resorts.
The idea was to shrink the lake to only a sixth of its original size, but fortunately when it became clear that the dropped water-level increased pollution and killed off the fish in the lake, this practice was stopped (unlike the Aral sea in Uzbekistan, which is now generally seen as the worst natural disaster in the former Soviet republic - more on that when I get to Uzbekistan in a few months' time).
Still, it shows the sheer incompetence of the Soviet 'scientists' of the time.
Sevanavank monastery
I guess that's what you get when you round up most intellectuals and send them off to work camps in Siberia. It remains a wonder they ever managed to send a man up into space. Speaking of which, according to Gevorg the first man in space was not Yuri Gagarin, the famous cosmonaut I'd seen statues of in his homeland Moldova. No, the first man in space had been an Armenian, but the mission had gone horribly wrong. While the cosmonaut had survived the accident, all 'proof' of a successful flight to space had been destroyed, so the guy had been sent into early retirement having to make an oath never to talk about it. So until the collapse of the Soviet empire nobody knew about this and even to this day it is debated whether or not the event actually happened or not. (it was very uncommon to send a failure into a wealthy retirement, rather than a Gulag, for example)

These days the water level is rising again and since the independence (or rather since money to maintain the dams and irrigation works higher up in the mountains ran out) the water level in the lake has increased by 2 metres.
Glad we weren't taking the bus
At least another 6 metres is needed in order to restore the fish populations to a sustainable level, but this is met with much resistance by local investors who would not like to see their resorts submerged under water.
If any Dutch entrepreneur is reading this, there are some great business opportunities here for dikes! Erm, wait, maybe I need to rephrase that.

The Sevanavank monastery was built on Sevan island, which is now a peninsula. Apart from the monastery the president also has an outhouse on the peninsula, but obviously this was out of bounds for us mere mortals. Apparently Russian president Putin is a frequent guest here though.
The monastery has a very scenic setting (just like pretty much every other monastery in the country) and had been miraculously saved from Stalinist purges.
At the Hayravank cemetery
While the main cathedral was demolished, the Soviet rulers saw no harm in leaving the rest of the monastery and the smaller chapels intact. Or, as Gevorg put it, demolishing churches is a pretty expensive business and with over 2000 religious buildings in Armenia alone at the start of Soviet rule, the purges mainly focused on religious buildings in cities and other densely populated areas (which doesn't really explain why all but four Buddhist monasteries had been demolished in the sparsely populated Mongolia which I visited a few years ago).

Next we drove to the Hayravank monastery and the nearby cemetery, where people pay good money to get the most elaborate cross stones on their grave. The purges hadn't been as mild with the thousands of ancient cross stones in Armenia, probably because they are much easier to demolish, but even so many still survive to this day.
the house where we had lunch


Lunch was served in a local home, a delicious meal consisting of soup, pasta, pork kebab and lots of salad.
 
dukeBG says:
They are very funny people but always overstate and turns the facts upside down... ;)
Posted on: Jun 02, 2010
Biedjee says:
Actually, I don't know what you mean. The Armenians I met were all incredibly nice and fun people. I love this country.
Posted on: Jun 02, 2010
dukeBG says:
Well, the new Anathema album is really great and their best to date in my honest opinion...

As for the armenians I told you Bart, now you know what I mean.......the whole world know Gagarin as first man in space but not the armenians... :)))
Posted on: Jun 02, 2010
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Lake Sevan
Lake Sevan
Gevorg telling his tales
Gevorg telling his tales
Sevanavank monastery
Sevanavank monastery
Sevanavank monastery
Sevanavank monastery
Glad we werent taking the bus
Glad we weren't taking the bus
At the Hayravank cemetery
At the Hayravank cemetery
the house where we had lunch
the house where we had lunch
inside the Sevan monastery
inside the Sevan monastery
Sevanavank monastery
Sevanavank monastery
At the Hayravank cemetery
At the Hayravank cemetery
Sevanavank monastery
Sevanavank monastery
If shed offered me an apple I wou…
If she'd offered me an apple I wo…
At the Hayravank cemetery
At the Hayravank cemetery
The Hayravank cemetery
The Hayravank cemetery
The Hayravank cemetery
The Hayravank cemetery
At the Hayravank cemetery
At the Hayravank cemetery
lady selling her knitwear at the H…
lady selling her knitwear at the …
lady selling her knitwear at the H…
lady selling her knitwear at the …
dont you just hate those tourists…
don't you just hate those tourist…
The best toilet in Armenia (no, I…
The best toilet in Armenia (no, I…
Inside the Hayravank monastery
Inside the Hayravank monastery
Hayravank monastery
Hayravank monastery
Hayravank monastery
Hayravank monastery
Hayravank monastery
Hayravank monastery
Hayravank monastery
Hayravank monastery
lunch!
lunch!
lunch!
lunch!
lunch!
lunch!
the village where we had lunch (no…
the village where we had lunch (n…
Sevan
photo by: delsol67