Along the Old Silk Road in Vayots Dzor


The sign welcoming you to Yeghegnadzor.
(Photo courtesy of Narek Beglaryan)
Heading south on the main road from Yerevan, about 20 minutes past Areni, lies the town of Yeghegnadzor, the provincial capital of Vayots Dzor marz.  On a small hill on the right-hand side of the road, the entrance to the town is marked by a Hollywoodesque sign in Armenian letters cut from local stone.  Right in front of the sign is what looks like a footpath leading seemingly to nowhere.  Blink and you’ll miss it.  And you don’t want to miss it.

The first time I wandered down this road, in the heat of a Vayots Dzor summer, it was on the assurance that the walk down was well worth it.  The path from the main road is quite steep.  You look down with amazement at the tire tracks and marvel that anyone would attempt to drive up it, or even worse, down it.  The road gradually smooths out to a more gentle slope and finally to a meandering and somewhat muddy path along a stream.  It’s the stream that spurs you on; it carries with it the promise of a soothing dip in the Arpa River at a favorite spot for locals looking to beat the heat. 
 
There are many ways to get to the Arpa; most of them don’t involve 45 minute hikes down tricky paths.  But this one is special.  At the end of it is Sur Kamurj, the pointy bridge, as we call it, a medieval structure on the Old Silk Road.

The reason for the sharp point has to do with the arch structure of the bridge, which gives it its strength.  Its design stands as a testament to the genius of the architect, Momik, to whom so many of the monuments in Vayots Dzor are attributed. It has stood the test of time.

Like the name implies, Sur Kamurj is characterized by the sharp point it reaches at the middle.  It is incredible to think of medieval traders carrying their wares along the Silk Road, traversing mountains and all sorts of rough terrain only to come to a bridge which seems as impassable as the ground they had just covered.  And it is easy to imagine that weary road travelers, upon reaching the bridge, might have considered it a perfect place to stop.
 
A group of young people gather by Sur Kamurj as a 
Niva makes the steep trip over the top.
(Photo courtesy of Gevorg Matevosyan)
As you cross the bridge, to the left is a favorite swimming hole.  To the right is a shaded area perfect for camping or having a khorovats (Armenian barbecue). Local legend has it that Marco Polo crossed over the bridge on his way to China (or maybe it was his way back).  Sitting at the side of the river, you can picture him there with his entourage stopping for a respite 800 years ago.  Or perhaps they pushed on to spend the night at the caravanserai farther up the road on the Selim Pass.

If you come to Vayots Dzor in the warm weather, make a stop at these two places. Bring lots of food and plan to share it with local people eager to do the same.  Be prepared to stay for a while; you will need the time to make toasts to your new friends.

Enjoying a picnic by the Arpa River. (Photo courtesy of Pat Fecher)

The caravanserai on a snowy day. Caravanserais provided food and lodging to travelers along the Old Silk Road. It's still a perfect place to camp or share a meal. (Photo courtesy of Sebastian Muellner)

Rebecca is an American Peace Corps volunteer who lives and works in Vayots Dzor marz. The views and opinions expressed are hers and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Peace Corps. 

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3 comments:

  1. Wonderful pictures! You're giving us a great snapshot of your Peace Corps home.

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  2. I agree with you. Even us Armenians get excited about these posts :)

    I read the blog regularly and enjoy the lively character and interesting stories.

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  3. So many beautiful places in Armenia, medieval architecture, charming nature.
    When you read this article and look at these pictures, there is a great desire to go to Vayots Dzor and visit these places.

    ReplyDelete