Tatev Monastery / Photo: Alexander Naumov/CC BY 3.0
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Every year on August 10-11, many people travel to Tatev Monastery in the Syunik Province of Armenia to witness and celebrate a very special astronomical event when the three stars of the Belt of Orion constellation line up vertically above the famous Gavazan (a swinging column) of Tatev. While some come here for astronomical researches, others visit the monastery on August 11 to celebrate Navasard, the ancient Armenian New Year.
So last year on August 10, my friend Knara and I decided to travel to Tatev monastery for some magic and adventures. We took our backpacks and hit the road, planning to get to Tatev, spend the night near the monastery and head to Khndzoresk cave village next morning. And because we usually hitchhike when we travel together, we decided to get to Tatev with the help of the thumb.
Tatev Monastery, Armenia / Photo: Alexander Naumov/CC BY 3.0
That the trip was going to an adventurous one, we understood from the very beginning. First, we couldn’t find each other at the Gortsaranayin metro station in Yerevan. Then, when we started walking along the road to hitch a ride, my shoe broke. But hitchhiking was easy and fun as it usually is in Armenia. We’ve met very kind people on the road, and some drivers even praised us for being brave and traveling alone (i.e. without a man).
We arrived in the village of Tatev in the afternoon, changing 4-5 cars and taking a swim-break at the Devil’s Bridge. The weather was warm, so we took a very nice walk around the monastery, admiring the beautiful landscapes surrounding us. As we sat on the grass at the edge of the gorge, a woman from the monastery approached us and warned us to be careful of snakes in that part of the gorge. In a short conversation, we told her of our intention to stay in the monastery for the “magic night”, and she said that we needed to talk to the priest first. But the priest told us to leave the area before sunset as he was going to close the monastery gates to avoid crowds of people.
Landscapes around the village of Tatev / Photo: Knara Ter-Hovhannisyan
This was unexpected, and we sure were disappointed. But we needed a place for the night, so we went on a mission. The ground of the garden outside the monastery was humid, we had no tent and it was not easy to find a free bench nearby. We kept walking around, the sun already set. Eventually, we decided to have one last round inside the monastery and drink some water from the spring before leaving. Then magic happened!
We came across the monastery’s library, which we had skipped earlier that day; we went inside and to the 2nd floor and found a perfect wooden floor and a beautiful balcony overlooking the gorge. That was it! Our bedroom! We decided to stay here; if anyone would find us, we’d leave, otherwise there was no better place to stay. But nobody came to check the building. We opened our sleeping bags and created our bedroom for one night in this former library of once one of the most famous educational and academic centers of Medieval Armenia.
One of the rooms of the monastery serves as its museum these days / Photo: Knara Ter-Hovhannisyan
The absolute silence was broken by occasional howling (we weren’t sure if it was wolves, dogs or jackals) and the sound of the river in the gorge. And although we weren’t able to see the Belt of Orion above the Gavazan, still we witnessed the magic of the millions of stars and the beautiful silver moon which adorned the clear night sky above us.
The morning was awkward, though. The first visitors showed up at around 7:00 A.M., and when they saw us in our “bed” some asked if we actually lived there. The word spread very quickly, and when we finally came out of our “bedroom” we were already the stars of the day - almost everyone would recognize us and ask how we managed to stay inside. To our luck, we never met the priest again.
Harsnadzor watchtower / Photo: Knara Ter-Hovhannisyan
We had our breakfast and left the village of Tatev on a cool, white Soviet Lada NIVA. Our driver stopped at an amazing viewpoint which offered a majestic view of the Vorotan Gorge: it felt like standing in the air above the gorge, all surrounded by mountains. Usually this area is foggy which adds even more mystical beauty to it.
Our next stop was Khndzoresk, a famous cave village in the south of Armenia where people lived until 1950s, and then the villagers moved uphill and founded the new village of the same name there. Apart from the caves, Khndzoresk is also known for its suspension bridge. And the area is home to a spring called “The Mother of 9 children” or “Sona’s breast”. Needless to say, the water is delicious and the whole place looks like a fairy tale. And to drink this water, you’ll have to put your hands on “Sona’s stone breast” and lean down to drink from the little pool. We spent some time exploring the caves of Khndzoresk, overwhelmed with the magical atmosphere.
Khndzoresk Cave Village / Photo: Knara Ter-Hovhannisyan
On our way back, we were lucky enough to hitch the very same car that took us to Khndzoresk. A native of Khndzoresk, this mid-aged man with a big moustache was very proud of his homeland and even had a book about the history and people of Khndzoresk in his car which he showed us. We were walking up the mud road under the burning sun when suddenly the same car stopped and the man with the big moustache said, “Jump in, girls, I’ll take you to the highway.” Which he did. And the next car we hitched took us all the way to Yerevan.
Some practical tips for Khndzoresk:
To get to the suspension bridge from the main road, you’ll have to walk 1-2 kilometers. There are no trees or shade on the way, and no water. Well, there is one spring, but it is often dry. Once you reach the bridge, you’ll find a small café-shop there, but note that the prices are at least twice higher compared to the village shops.
To get to the “Mother of 9 Children” water spring, once you cross the suspension bridge, walk into the little forest and then down the trail to the left. You’ll find this little handmade cave slightly covered with tree branches. The spring pool is inside.