Armenia 08 p4


We only stopped at Jermuk because it was on our way to Karabagh, but it is famous both for its hot springs and its mineral water. While there's not much to do there (unless one fancies a barge ride on the pond) but it was fascinating to see the thermal spring: a colonnaded hall where a number of taps are aligned, each elegantly labelled with a temperature.

Different temperatures are diagnosed for different ailments, and people can come and bottle what they need directly from the source.

In case you wonder, it tastes dreadful, being rich in minerals. The actual cascade however, the one that ends up sold in bottles is icy and delicious.

On we went towards Karabagh, through increasingly mountainous landscapes...

Nagorno Karabagh / Garapakh

There is no visible border between Armenia and Karabagh: the Latchin corridor, kept against Azerbaidjan, allows direct access between the two countries. The border post is one way only: on the way in you are examined and given a visa, on the way out you don't even need to stop. This was the most isolated place I had ever been: unrecognized by any country other than Armenia, and devoid of a civilian airport, it can only be reached by driving 7 hours from Yerevan. The road is not a loss, as it made me fully understand why it is called "mountainous" Karabagh: mountains like I had never seen!

The first city one reaches is Shushi, once opulent and now a poignant, dilapidated nowhere. The one shiny new construction in town was the newly restored cathedral of the Holy Saviour, along with our hotel, where we actually managed to run into an acquaintance from Lebanon, a guy who walked from Lebanon to Turkey and took pictures of dilapidated churches used as stables, in places nobody will see except if they walk there...

Looking for film, I went to the sole grocery store I had spotted, and managed to have a bit of conversation with the shopkeeper: my attempts to speak Armenian (and to ask for 200 ISO film in that language) made her go from Soviet frost to kind old lady in a few minutes. The disadvantage of guided tours is that I missed local interaction, and this simple exchange put me in a good mood.

Before the war that separated Karabagh from Azerbaijan, Shushi had a majority Azeri population (possibly related to the fact the Armenians were also victims of massacres there), whose homes now stand deserted and often half-crumbling, some typical architectural details visible through the windows, much like the mosque whose two minarets are still full of shell holes.

To me the decaying streets were worth exploring slowly, but we were off all too soon, on to the capital of Karabagh, Stepanakert. A little better off along its main avenues, the place still showed unmistakeable signs of hardship and isolation:

Examine the state of the balls on this game...

Shooting game we entertained ourselves with a while
A little outside Stepanakert, stands a famous monument we were all dying to see, though we didn't know it was so small: affectionately called Tatik-Papik (Grandma-Grandpa), it represents the men and women of Karabagh, wearing stylized, traditional dress.

We then took the long road back, and made a final stop, not too far from Yerevan in a field of letters, literally: all the letters of the Armenan alphabet, carefully carved and erected in the middle of nowhere. We stretched our legs by posing each with the first letter in his or her name!

Our homemade remedy for long drives: bus karaoke! Never had this tour guide's microphone been used for such nefarious purposes!