– What did you do in Azerbaijan? The border guard in Sadakhlo carefully leafed through my passport. Armenia does not welcome people with open arms, which were in Azerbaijan - I knew that, but here it genuinely chilled. The guard was very serious, he kept me at the window for quite a long time and only the number of stamps in his passport convinced him, that it just happened - Azerbaijan was on the way during my trip from China to Europe and I am probably not a spy. Entry in reverse order - to Azerbaijan with an Armenian stamp is reportedly not possible at all. Entering Azerbaijan with a trace of a stay in Nagorno-Karabakh can mean big trouble. Thanks, that my trip to the Caucasus was in this, and not a different order (Azerbaijan - Georgia - Armenia - Georgia) I was able to visit all three main countries of the region.
You think Armenia and what comes to your mind? - a tiny country in the central Caucasus, magnificent mountain views and old monasteries lost somewhere on their slopes. One of the oldest in the world – some date from the 10th-13th centuries. Armenians emphasize at every turn, that they are the world's first Christian country. Fact, the state was baptized in 301 year CE
The main road from Tbilisi to Armenia goes through the Debed gorge. Almost several hundred meters high, almost vertical walls and a river of the same name meandering below. For two days I cycle through it, and then on the advice of the Englishman encountered, who knows Armenia like his own pocket and is here to do a Bradt guide update (the best and my favorite!) I climb serpentine over 400 meters up. This is definitely a much better option - unlike the one going along the river, the road is empty here and the accompanying view from the top to the ravine edges is incredibly beautiful. I have to say, that John's tips would prove invaluable in laying the itinerary in the days and weeks to come.
I stay in Alaverdi for two nights - this is the first major city on the way, quite dilapidated in itself, industrial, but in its vicinity there is one of the most beautiful Armenian monasteries, entered on the UNESCO list – Haghpat i Sanahin.
After a few days and two mountain passes, it continues towards Lake Sevan, the largest lake in the Caucasus, situated at an altitude of 1,800 meters above sea level, duma Armenii. There is a steep and busy road leading to the pass above 2000 meters. However, I choose a different variant of the route, which the Englishman also recommended to me, longer but with a gentler entry "only" 50 km uphill. And then from on high 2200 m above sea level, exit to the lake. A long-awaited meeting.
Błękitna tafla, around a chain of snow-capped peaks on the horizon. Peaceful area, although if I will be here again in less than a month it will not be so quiet. One hundred thousand places to pitch a tent. And of course there is a storm on the horizon because a day without a storm is a day wasted (one to four every day).
At the campsite, which is still closed, where I look to ask for water, I get a free bungalow at my own disposal. I can calmly listen to the thunder and lightning outside the window. The owner urges me to visit Nagorno-Karabakh, because it's basically a stone's throw away… Territory, which officially lies within the borders of Azerbaijan, but it has been an Armenian land for hundreds of years. The war for Gorse-Karabakh broke out 30 years ago, The Armenians took the territory and the capital Stepanakert, The Azeris fled. War, though it faded a bit, still in progress. Nagorno-Karabakh is an unrecognized state. Do not know, I do not know how to plan a further route yet, I did not plan Nagorno-Karabakh, but the appetite grows as you drive. But in the meantime, I decided to take a different direction - to the capital, Yerevan.
I came to the capital of Armenia for several reasons, let's call them organizational and health. Both the first and the second were handled positively. King, tourist from Poland turned off on the forum, she delivered me a package with new things and the doctor said, that I will live - fortunately everything is taken care of again under travel insurance. Somehow in the Caucasus I used the limit from a few yearst.
Yerevan is not that nightmarish, as they sometimes describe him – it is a city full of life and the show of singing fountains on Revolution Square is no less successful than the one in Warsaw. When the rain chases away the haze and smog, walking down the street until I stopped with the impression. HE appeared. Snow-capped peak Ararat. Mountain – volcano, at whose feet the ark of Noah sat according to the Bible. Ararat is very important to the Armenians, it still even appears in the country's coat of arms though … it is currently located in Turkey, around 30 km kilometers from the border. Border, which cannot be exceeded.
I knew from the beginning, that I want to return to Lake Sevan, I didn't smile too much, however, going back the same way and climbing 1000 meters vertically, but but! After all, the train runs once a day during the season. I am going there with the first course in the season. I'm buying a ticket, a delegation of officials in white shirts and ties, visiting a pimped clean train, bows to the waist, wishing me a good trip. Distance over 100 km will cost you 2 dollars and not the minimum 30 as taxi drivers want.
– I still have a bicycle, how much is the ticket?
– Od was, We don't take from Russians
– But I am Polish!
– And that's even more so!
While still in Yerevan, I decided, that I will go to Nagorno-Karabakh, although the Polish ambassador to Armenia, with whom I had the pleasure to meet, warned me, that if something happened there, then they won't be able to help me. It is clear, it's still part of Azerbaijan, officially annexed by the Armenians. Two weeks earlier, a German friend of mine was driving there, which convinced me. And because all roads (that is, one from the south) lead to Yerevan, I also left some luggage there at the hostel, because I was going to go back there anyway.
– How beautiful you are here! I show a met man a wonderful view of Lake Sevan.
– It was beautiful there, where I was born.
– And where were you born??
– in Ganja..
I'm not saying anything. Nothing can be said here. Ganja is one of the largest cities in Azerbaijan. We are in Armenia. It is clear, that my interlocutor will not come back to Ganja.
Ashot invited me to his son's house. The next storm is raging and although I was ready to spend the night by the lake, it is probably worth taking advantage of. Hail starts to fall on the way, so we quickly jump into the neighbors' yard.
– We are from Baku I hear over a glass of warming tea. The hostess does 55 years. The house is barely keeping up. Often there will not be 1988 when the persecution of Armenians in Azerbaijan began, we caught what was at hand and 5 in the morning we left our hometown. And we've been sitting here in the village since 30 years. My, city people She waves her hand resignedly and stirs the sugar in the glass for a long time.
The Azeris lived here on Lake Sevan. They had to leave overnight, just like the Armenians of Azerbaijan. In one night. The authorities accommodated them in the homes of their enemies.
I feel, as if I were reading an excerpt from a book by Tomasz Grzywaczewski “The boundaries of dreams, about unrecognized countries”. Read on too, worth it.
I took the road to the Selim Pass- 2440 meters because I know, that the descent by hairpin bends over 1000 meters down is one of the most beautiful in Armenia. By Murphe's law a storm has come, some 1-2 km before the summit. I got a decent hail, but luckily not lightning. I know, that somewhere near the top is an old caravanserai, which served merchants wandering along the Silk Road from over 700 years. Thunder overhead, hail on the cheeks but in the end – yes! I hide in an ancient building and immediately put water on for tea. After half an hour, the rainbow announces the end of the storm. I spend the night on the mountain pass. In the morning I feel very anxious to move so beautiful the view. And then a loooong deserved ride.
They say hurry up slowly, but everyone knows, I'm not in a rush at all! I do my last shopping in Goris town, laughter and chatting with taxi drivers, when my foot slips away, slide that step and I only feel great pain. I know, that I won't go today. In the hospital it turns out, that there is no break, but the foot is swollen and well. Twist, swelling, pain… it is impossible to drive. Broken down, I roll to the city center in the valley and fall on the bed in the hostel. When I finally leave the next day I can see, as beautiful here. The surrounding karst rocks look amazing, especially during sunset. People have lived in the caves there since the Middle Ages. And the town itself is more like Tuscany than Armenia – famous for its stable basalt stone houses, which were supposed to protect against frequent earthquakes. And fortunately, post-Soviet factories do not threaten here. If it wasn't for this leg, I would not see this gem!
The road from Goris is straight - actually winding to Nagorno-Karabakh. The border is there, but for a visa, which you get on a small piece of paper, which they do not stick to their passports gets in the capital of Arcach - that's what Armenians call Nagorno-Karabakh - Stepanakert.
The decision to enter Nagorno-Karabakh is not easy. I hesitate to the end. Still overnight in a tent a few kilometers from the border of the self-proclaimed republic, I think what to do. I hear shots at night.. no, it is not game hunting, are bursts from a rifle. But she doesn't want to get back on the road, which I came. Only mountains around. A crazy landscape, excellent recently completed road and long, long driveway. My injured foot is not in the best shape. After 30 km of climb, time for the exit and the village of Shushi.. In the past it was inhabited by the Azerbaijani people, haunts empty apartment blocks and two mosques that, surprisingly, have survived - what's more, are being renewed.
A shopkeeper at a roadside shop hastily drew me a map of the Caucasus, to introduce, how are territorial matters?. And I only went there for bread. He spares no curses on Azerbaijan, hate even spills out. I love Armenia and I wish both countries, Armenia and Azerbaijan the best, first of all, they would come to an agreement and not want to kill each other.
In Nagorno-Karabakh I pass the village of Khojali (Chodżały). It was here that the Armenians almost massacred 700 fleeing Azeris. In Azerbaijan, monuments to those who died in Khojakli are everywhere. And although it has nothing to do with 1,5 a million Armenians killed by the Turks at the beginning of the 20th century, it is a fact. The scale is incomparable, but both sides have something on their conscience.
Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh is something else- the center has many new buildings, playgrounds, carousels.. life goes on like everywhere else. And only the presence of the army shows that the place is unique. Self-proclaimed Armenian republic in the territory of Azerbaijan.
I go down from the pass straight to Sevan. This journey is about discovering my places on earth and this crazy lake is one of them. I put the tent up above the waterline and let myself stop. I am staying for two nights and I would really like to live here. The leg needs to rest.
Then I return to Yerevan for a while and head back to Georgia. Over a month in Armenia, like a lot but still not enough, but I still have so much to see.
One more stop in Gyumri, which suffered greatly during the earthquake in 1988 year, and now it is being carefully rebuilt. A city similar to Goris in the south of Armenia deserves more interest from visitors – The nineteenth century architecture is characterized by Russian influences, dark stone interspersed with rusty, it is strange, that so few tourists come here.
From Gyumri it's just climbing to the border crossing 2100 meters, fighting the gale, the last glance at the flowery meadows, which are turning yellow more and more often, color and sun fumes.. again, after 5 weeks. Georgia is on my mind.