Long walk to Noravank

Armenia144It was the French couple I met at Smbataberd fortress that gave me the idea. They had been absolutely delighted with this church, which until then I hadn't realised how close it was to Yeghednadzor. Catching the early afternoon mashrutka back to town I would be able to book a second night at the Soviet hotel and then find a way to get to this rather secluded place.

It stands, in fact, at the end of a side valley noted for its beauty and not served by any public service. I took the first bus to Yerevan and asked the driver to drop me at the junction. From there it was still 9 km, which I had no choice but to cover using my own legs.

The first part of the paved road was inside a canyon overhung with two walls of sheer rock, a deep shady cut in the mountains that eased the high temperature a bit. Gradually opening up, it revealed after several kilometres a beautiful valley that eventually bended on itself in a large curve terminating with a cliff of red rock, opposite which, on a ledge, stood the beautiful church complex.

After walking for some time I started to fear the time of day would not be enough before sunset. I had only set out at 4.30 pm, still had to reach the church, visit it, and above all, walk all the way down to the junction and return to Yeghednadzor by the same erratic means of transport available.

However, I'd been just out of the gorge when a car stopped and the driver asked me if I was mad to be walking to Noravank. They were a nice family of Russian Armenians from Yerevan and they saved me a good few miles.

The church and its location were indeed marvellous. The main feature of the building is the double flight of converging steps jutting out from the façade to reach a small raised door. Given the time of day, every minute that passed tinged the rocks with new hues, strengthened the red earths and added new shadows. I contemplated the scene at perfect ease, oblivious or careless of how long it would take to return. I was hoping for someone's compassionate intervention, but when I hit the road I blamed myself for being so optimistic. No regrets, however, for the rocks in the middle section of the valley were fabulous for the dominant yellows. And I had all the time to appreciate their hues, shapes, nooks and crannies.

Armenia156After one hour and a half's walking I'd almost got to the junction when the Russian family drove past me again, and asked if they could take me to Yerevan. I was however heading in the opposite direction, actually 12 km away.

I stood at the roadside, by then at dusk, waiting for a last rare mashrutka on this route, but there weren't any. It was only a private car that stopped, a sulky character who asked a little money to drop me in the town centre. But I would have paid him much more to take me to a civilised place where I could eat and, above all, sleep.