Pagan and World Heritage Armenia

Today is probably our final day trip in Armenia. We are taking a marshrutka (minibus taxi) to visit Geghard Monastery and Garni Pagan Temple. The ride lasts about an hour and costs 250 dram (£0.40) and you find the marshrutka stop next to the Mercedes Benz garage in the Nor Nork part of town, northeast of the centre.

I had some legroom!

We got off the bus at Gokht village and began walking up the hill to the monastery. We were passed by a Bugatti veyron!

We were picked up by a nice Italian family in a lovely car and they took us the last 3 kilometres to the monastery.

The Geghard Monastery is named after the spear which pierced the side of Christ up on the cross. As you approach the monastery there is a bronze lion statue which is holding a spear and there are old cave houses up in the cliffs across the valley.

The monastery was built by the 4th Century AD and it was on the site of a pagan temple and a spring, now it’s one of three UNESCO world heritage sites in Armenia. One of the springs still runs through a side chapel of the main church underneath a family crest which features two chained lions and an eagle holding a lamb.

I bought candles and we lit them in the main church. I like the dark grey stone here, it looks very dramatic.

The Monastery is partially built into the rock so there are caves you can explore and more than one level too. It’s a really interesting place.

Up on the hill there is a tunnel which takes you deep into the rock and there is a beautiful simple church with high ceilings and lovely acoustics.

We walked around the site for about an hour but you could see it more quickly if you are pressed for time.

We were going to hitch but as we started walking a taxi with one person in it pulled up next to us and offered us a lift for 1000 dram (£1.60) to Garni temple. So we jumped in.

The other passenger, Remi, is Japanese and is really nice and we had a nice chat, although we went our separate ways as soon as we reached Garni.

Kareri Simfonia near Garni

A little research has shown me that there was an interesting geological feature within walking distance so I asked for directions to the path and we descended a steep path for about fifteen minutes and then walked along a path through somebody’s land (climbing through the fence) until we reached the Kareri Simfonia – the organ pipes.

This place is phenomenal. One of the most incredible natural wonders I have seen.

There are thousands of basalt crystals stacked vertically along the mountainside and the irregular way they have broken really do make them look like an enormous set of organ pipes.

There is a better route to get there which is shorter and doesn’t feel as steep. As you walk down the steep cobble path and it goes around a bend to the right, there is a dirt track down to the left, overlooked by houses high up on the cliff. Take that dirt track and it joins the other track as you go through the blue gate.

This is where the shorter track leaves the main track

We had lunch at a nice place overlooking the Garni temple and the organ pipes and then we bought tickets for the temple. Adults pay 1500 dram (£2.35) and students pay 250 dram (£0.40).

The main feature is the ancient pagan temple, the Temple of Mihr (the sun god). The architecture is beautiful and evokes Athens.

Internally though, it is super boring and I’m certain it should be filled with branches, berries and flowers…

Outside the temple, I was able to buy a special coin but this time the guy minted it for me then and there! Very dramatic.

From Garni, we took the 284 bus back to Yerevan and we were dropped off at the same bus station near the Mercedes Benz garage. The ride cost 250 dram each, simple.

From the bus station, I ordered us a Yandex to visit Levon’s Devine Underground, which I found on Atlas Obscura. A woman asked her husband to dig a cellar to store potatoes and he fell in love with digging and God inspired him to keep going for 23 years. I can’t wait to explore this intriguing place.

There aren’t any signs until you get there, which is fine, it just encourages you to ask one of the locals. We arrived and the heavy black door was locked but there is a bell. We waited a couple of minutes for an old lady to open the door and she invited us inside. We paid 2000 dram (£3.20) each for a guided tour in Russian of the whole underground complex, which was more expensive than most tourist attractions but it was absolutely fantastic value for money.

The entrance to the cellar is immediately next to the door and we waited for the woman’s daughter to turn on the light and give us a tour.

I absolutely can’t believe how deep the tunnels go! The staircases are incredible and you can see up the ventilation shaft to see just how deep underground you are. The bottom of the ventilation shaft is 18 metres below ground!!! There are chapels with crosses and shrines left and right and it’s not a simple one-way system, there is more than one staircase and different routes you can take. You could genuinely get lost down there because there are so many rooms and chambers as well as tunnels.

It was really difficult to get decent photos at the same time as being so stunned but I tried my best.

This place just wowed me.

We went to the train station to see if we could get a ticket on the night train but there are only 3:30pm trains in September so we missed the one from today. And the ticket office wasn’t open so we couldn’t even buy the ticket for tomorrow. The lady said to come back at 9am!

So we looked at other options including night bus, morning bus and train tomorrow. The morning bus is winning so we booked a hostel in Yerevan for the night, close to the Republic Square Metro Station and headed there to get an early night.

One Way hostel is easy to find and really centrally located so it’s very convenient and not expensive either which is good.

I went out for dinner at Tospia, which is a really nice restaurant that appears on Google but not on MAPS.ME. The atmosphere is really nice, there was live singing, piano and violin which wasn’t too loud. A couple even got up to dance a few times including Argentine Tango!! That made me smile so much!

Then my food arrived and I smiled even more – chicken Caesar salad and a cream of broccoli soup. Absolutely fantastic. And more than I could eat for £6.58 including a beer and the tip!

Not bad at all for my last night in Armenia (for a while at least; I would happily come back).

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