A Whirlwind in the Caucasus Part 2: The many monasteries of Armenia

May 30, 2018

One motorcycle, four horses, eight feet and a Kia Picanto through Armenia

Overland travel in Armenia Our travel Dream Tream - two brothers, two sisters, one Yamaha and a Kia

We didn’t know what to expect from Armenia. All we could find in our brief research was that it had monasteries… and lots of them. People say they’re the highlight of Armenia. So, we marked every monastery on the map and went monastery mad!

Walking in Armenia Hello? … Where are all the monasteries?

Armenian monastery You never forget your first Armenian monastery

Inside an Armenian monastery Walking through them can be a little creepy but the architecture is incredible

Our first experience of a homestay in Armenia was with Albert and Ala, a sweet couple who owned a pottery workshop in a mountain village. They took us in late at night, Albert clicked his old pottery wheel into life, served homemade vodka and gave us each a pottery masterclass, before setting up rickety old beds – in his freezing cold studio.

Pottery making outside of Yerevan Albert effortlessly crafting a pot… our pots weren’t as good

With Robert, Alissa, Alanna, all our luggage - and our new fragile pottery collection - in the car we dived into Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. The Yamaha and I were free to blast ahead and ride hard off-road, which, eventually snapped the pannier racks… so we did have a mini break down…but it was only a little one.

off-roading in Georgia Off-roading and breakages go in hand-in-hand but it’s worth it - usually

We visited Yerevan’s museums, strolled through its parks and photographed every statue we could find - but we were on a monastery high and needed our next fix.

Khor Virap monastery in Armenia The mountain behind the Khor Virap monastery in Armenia is actually in Turkey. Mount Ararat is famous as they believe Noah’s Arc came to rest there

Armenian monastery Most of the monasteries in Armenia are well looked after and guarded by nuns

Garni Temple in Armenia The Garni Temple is the only pagan temple in Armenia, all others have been destroyed. It’s the only relic of pre-Christian Armenia left in the country

So, we made a dash for Dilijan – ‘Armenia’s little Switzerland’. But before we could get there, the bike was set upon by a group of 15 Armenians who heard it coming. They ran out into the road trying to flag me down. It looked suspicious so I swerved past and carried on. A car with its headlights flashing and horn blaring gave chase, pulling up inches from me, windows down and all occupants shouting. I pulled over, they were pointing at the bike and at me. I gave a quick check over, I hadn’t dropped, hit or run over anything. I carried on - much to their annoyance. A large 4x4 bombed it up the road, overtook the car and slammed on his brakes in front of me, blocking my escape. Windows down, again shouting in Armenian. I lifted my helmet up and shouted back “English mate, no idea what you’re saying”. Their angry faces turned to apologetic smiles, they signalled with their hands for me to carry on, put their hands together as if to apologise and just kept nodding and smiling. Mistaken identity? No idea.

Hiking in Dilijan Armenia The trees hide abandoned and crumbling houses

We used Dilijan as our base to explore the beautiful but eerie Armenian countryside. After the Soviet Union left Armenia in 1991, its buildings, factories, country homes and industrial prowess crumbled - leaving empty buildings scattered throughout.

Travel in Dilijan Armenia Even monasteries are being sucked back into the earth

Walking through forests took us to abandoned houses, empty hotels, buried swimming pools and forgotten stone staircases wrapped in vines in the middle of nowhere. Armenia is beautiful and luscious green on the surface, but underneath it’s peppered with derelict buildings once belonging to the USSR, slowly being consumed back into the earth.

Hiking in Dilijan Armenia This crumbling hotel is about to collapse any day now

Abandoned buildings in Armenia In the middle of a forest with no buildings or people anywhere to be seen

Abandoned train in Armenia Old trains outside derelict Soviet Factories. As they’ve shut down and there are no workers the trains just sit there - frozen in time

Armenia has a way of bringing out the explorer in people. We’d driven, ridden and walked from north to south and we still needed to see and explore more of the country - and on roads we just couldn’t get the car down, so the wheels and boots were swapped for the most epic horseback ride we’ve ever been on.

Horse riding in Dilijan Armenia Contemplating how we can do the rest of the trip on horses instead

Five hours of horseback riding through the mountains surrounding Dilijan was one of the best experiences of this trip so far. If the bike ever completely conks out, we are giving serious thought to horseback travel (and are already planning a (much) longer horseback trek once we reach Canada and the States).

Horse riding in Dilijan Armenia Riding horses through Armenia was one of the best moments of the trip so far

Horse riding in Dilijan Armenia Horses are a way of life for many village people in the Caucasus

Horse riding in Dilijan Armenia Five hours of riding is thirsty work!

Horse riding in Dilijan Armenia The best way to discover Armenia is with a horse

By the end of our time in Armenia we had seen more ancient monasteries and crumbling buildings than we thought possible. It’s a fascinating country, with a tragic past, wonderful people and steeped in history - not one to be missed.

Sevanavank monastery in Armenia The Sevanavank monastery looks out over Lake Sevan and is one of the prettiest monasteries in Armenia

But our time was up. We drove back to our base camp in Tbilisi to make our sad farewells and part ways. Alanna jumped on an overnight train to Baku where she waited for us, Alissa back on the bike and Robert - and the pottery - took a flight back to the UK.

The king of the forest in Dilijan Armenia One big happy family!

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