The Silky Way Adventure
Slices of Armenia
Chapter 9 – Collection
Previous chapter: Old rocks
Since it wasn’t summer any more and there was a lack of daylight hours, after the caravanserai and a rather long break in a restaurant, we didn’t have enough time left to get to the next pile of rocks, known by the name of Moz. We didn’t have a place to sleep, either. We tried hitchhiking in the fading light but no one was willing to stop. So we started walking on the road, turning around every time we heard a car. After a few minutes, I had the impression than one of the passing cars had put its blinker on and slowed down, but I couldn’t be certain of it because it had disappeared behind a turn at the top of a slope. When we reached there ourselves, a man was indeed standing next to his car, seemingly waiting for us. He came towards us and we started talking. After a few minutes, we were sitting in his car. Artyom mumbled something about a TV channel. A few kilometres further down the road, we stopped to have a “look” at what would have been Moz. But it was already pitch dark and we could hardly make out any rocks at all. The man, who went by the name of Nairi, asked where we were planning to spend the night. We had no clue. He suggested a hotel. The look on our faces answered for us. “I can take you to the TV station and you’ll spend the night there if you want!” That was more like it. We got back into the car.
Nairi called up Azat, the night guard of the station to give him a heads up. Right at the top of a nearby mountain, a little red dot was blinking. “That’s where we’re going”, Artyom said. Towards the top, we left the asphalted road for a narrow dirt path full of deep ruts. I was to realise the next day that on both sides, the slope was precipitous. And the guard told us later that one day, in the wintertime as he was driving down, he lost control of the car on an icy patch. He had managed to jump out of the vehicle before it crashed down at the bottom of the ravine – the frame of the car still lies there.
We got to the blinking point and met Azat himself, who used to be the driver of the TV station and was now working as a night technician. It wasn’t a TV channel, as I had initially misunderstood, but a TV station, that is to say a little building surrounded by satellites dishes and tall antennas. The signals from Yerevan are picked up and re-emitted towards the valley for the local people to enjoy. Nairi had founded this station fifteen years before and was the owner. The building consisted of a main room, both kitchen and machine area, and a smaller one, Azat’s bed-/living room. The machine room was quite noisy but extremely warm, which seemed like heaven to us after our night at Sevan. Azat’s room was much smaller and modestly furnished with a bed, a table, two chairs and a TV which, quite ironically, was receiving a very bad signal. At the back, there was also a big garage containing many plants, a car and a bed which would become mine for the night. And next to the garage, two mysterious brand-new doors that were not to be opened. There was no running water nor a toilet. The door of the toilet shed outside was barred with planks, and I saw in the daylight the next morning that the whole thing was already hanging out in thin air above the ravine. I was told to “go anywhere, just be careful not to fall down”.
Machine room at the TV station
Nairi left, promising to pick us up the next day at nine thirty for a breakfast together and a tour of Moz and its surroundings. Azat offered us some coffee, bread and honey. He explained his job to us: he had to check at 11 p.m. that everything was going fine; then he could sleep, only to wake up again at 3 a.m. to send a report to Yerevan and turn off the machines; he would turn those back on at 7 after a few more hours of sleep. That was all we could learn from Azat, who wasn’t very talkative. It wasn’t that late. The little TV was showing awful concerts of pop music, in a very bad playback and costumes straight from the 80′s. This was more than I could take. But I discovered that if I played trumpet in my garage-bedroom, no one could hear it because of the loud buzzing of the machines. So I practised for a good hour and a half without anyone noticing. There was a thermometer in the room and I could confirm that night, I would be 20 degrees warmer than last night. Artyom would have to be content with only the floor of the machine room, where it was even warmer.
So I slept in a warm bed, next to a spruce clean old car. A beautiful car that looked to me like an American one – but of course, the name written in Cyrillic at the back was shouting my ignorance of anything car-related. The car was as soviet as a car can get. I slept really well.
The next morning Nairi cancelled our program. He said it was very important that he stayed at the station to work on some problem that came up. Too bad for us – no breakfast and tour. But Azat drove us down and took us by daylight to see the piles of rocks that used to be Moz. Nothing else is left of that antique city that was a trade stop on the Silk Road. A volcano eruption completely annihilated the place. No one survived as the thick layer of lava spread over the town. When it gets really cold, Azat said, one can still see the fumes rising up from the volcanic rocks.
After this, our driver took us to his home. In no time, we found ourselves very naturally enjoying yet another cup of Armenian coffee. As Artyom was chatting with Azat’s wife, I could converse in German with her daughter who had been an au pair for a year in Munich. She was now working at the local social centre which was run by a German organisation. She was taking care of painting and dance workshops. I asked what she thought of the fact that most cultural and economic initiatives in Armenia are sponsored by rich Western countries. “We’re quite neutral about it. That’s just how it is, you know. Without them, there would be no cultural initiatives at all, so we take whatever help we get, even though, of course, we would prefer it to originate from within Armenia itself”.
Out of the house and back on the streets, Artyom announced:
“Wow, that was embarrassing!”
« What was? I found them lovely” I said.
“Well, Azat’s wife asked me if you were a missionary coming from Europe to spread Jesus’ good word. I said no. So she asked if you had too much money and wanted to spend some here. I said no. So she asked if you could give them some anyway…”
Judging by Artyom’s reaction to some other comments of the mother – the blushing mainly – I could also guess that she had asked about my marrying him but to my disappointment (because it’s always quite funny to me) Artyom refused to render the details of that conversation.
Back from breakfast
After a sunny breakfast by the river, we went back on the road to go visit more stones, and not small ones this time: we were on our way to Karahunge. The name is linked to that of “Stonehenge”, and the principle is the same. The drive up to the site of Karahunge went smoothly. As we were about to walk off the main road towards the stones themselves, some Californian-Armenians in a big white four-wheel-drive got concerned upon seeing our backpacks: “Are going to camp out there? It’s gonna be so cold, don’t!” We told them not to worry about us. And in fact, a few seconds later, the driver of another car bumping up and down the narrow dirt road gestured us to get in, without even saying a word. He was the young man in charge of the little souvenir shop and his name was Andranik. Next to him in the car sat Samuel, a friend of his. They opened the shop and started brewing some coffee right away. With the icy wind blowing outside, we gladly accepted the cups offered to us. I was also handed out a text about Karahunge that, surprisingly enough, was available only in French, in what I guess to be an automated translation. The text was therefore at times very amusing. The two young men showed us around the ancient site, tipped us about the best spots to take pictures and answered our questions.
The weather dutifully played its expected part in making such a place more dramatic, just as when I had visited Stonehenge a few years ago. Big dark threatening clouds were roaming around between rays of sunlight and the wind, here on an Armenian plateau, the unforgiven wind was swiping the place like a razor’s blade. Four different calculations came to the same conclusion: the two hundred and twenty-two small menhirs of Karahunge, of which eighty-four bear the particularity of having a hole carved at their summit, have been erected here more than seven thousand years ago. The complete inventory of the stones has been made but apart from that, very little research has been conducted and virtually has been none done in the surrounding area. Of the four similar observatories that we know of in the world (the other three being Carnac in France, Stonehenge in England and Kalenish in Irland), Karahunge is the oldest. The very names of the other three probably come from the name of this one, “Karahunge”, the talking stones. Astronomical experiments have been made. It looks like the stones have been set up to observe the sun (solstices, equinoxes, sunrises and sunsets) and the moon. Another rather unsettling discovery was that the alignment of three particular stones seem to indicate that those who built up the observatory had already calculated, thousands of years before Europe, that a solar year counts exactly 365,25 days. And twenty-five kilometres from Karahunge, in Ukhtasar (we didn’t go there though), one can see some seven thousand years old petroglyphs representing a woman, a man, and what appears to be a snake.
We were the fourth set of hitchhikers that day in the car that took us away from Karahunge. My mind filled up with fantasies and my lungs with fresh air, all stuck behind behind my big backpack, I fell asleep rapidly. The awe-inspiring landscape of the mysterious stones lingered quite some time before my eyes. When Artyom woke me up at the crossraod to Tatev, the car was nearly disappeared in a thick fog that was swallowing the whole road ahead. We got off in this otherworldly muffled cloud of damp whiteness at stared at each other as our car was driving off towards Goris.
Next chapter: Men of God