The Silky Way Adventure
Slices of Armenia
Chapter 8 – Old Rocks
Previous chapter: A Fresh Night
The cold night spent in vodka’s fumes had taken its toll. We were also concerned that if we did not hurry a bit, it might take us months to conclude our Silky Way adventure, so we decided to skip the Sevan Monastery. Artyom had already been there, and as far as I was concerned, one monastery more or less wouldn’t make a big difference since I had already been wowed by many so far.
We got back to the road, enjoying the sun’s rays that kindly and in no time warmed up our poor hands. We had to wait for a while for a car to take us in, but nothing could bring our spirits down. Being on the Road conjures up an exhilaration and a pleasure that are very hard to break. A white four-wheel-drive Lada “Niva” finally stopped for us. Ando (short for Andronik), a tourist guide who looked about thrity-five years old, was to be our first driver of the day. At the back were sitting his wife Verjine and their shy little two-year-old girl, Katalina. The childwas curled up in her mom’s arms. Verjine had some basic knowledge of English and could explain to me that they owned a guest house in Idjevan, near Dilijan. Artyom was chatting with Ando at the front. Our first destination, Ltschenk, wasn’t too far away and our driver decided to help us find exactly what we were looking for. Artyom’s explanations had been rather vague – I don’t think he knew precisely what we were in search of – and all I knew was that in that particular village we were supposed to find some “trace of a very ancient settlement”. I didn’t know what to expect. We asked some locals and crossed a rocky waste ground, a rather useless operation but Ando seemed to be enjoying using his car this way. He was a perfect adventure-guide all dressed up in technical garments and wearing fancy sport sunglasses. As Ando came out of the car to remove a big rock from under the wheel, I recollected, smiling to myself, Artyom’s words the night before. He was looking for a rock to fasten the tent a bit, since pegs and concrete aren’t really a good combination, but couldn’t find one. He had blurted out rather angrily “The whole country is nothing but a big rock but the very day you need one, there is of course none to be found!”After that day I had paid more attention to the landscape around and it was striking. Most of the time, the countryside is just a big rock field.
The first indications we had obtained were obviously not very precise. But after asking a good five or six people and after Ando and Verjine had left, we finally met a young woman ready to be our guide. She was wearing a suit and heels and took us behind the main road across another little waste ground to some sort of bus stop made out of three brick walls and a metal roof. Underneath was lying what we were looking for, in the form of a big rock. A big rock, really? That was it? I came closer to discover it was bearing… cuneiform script! “More than 4000 years old” the young woman told us. I was actually quite fascinated and excited. Was it because I didn’t know what I was going to see? Was it because the rock was just lying there, outdoors, in the middle of the village, and not in a museum? But we were not to linger there, maybe precisely because it was not in a museum, and we had no means to learn more about it. So we took a few pictures and left the big rock and its mysterious engraved language. The village was thriving with old interesting stones and the locals were barely aware of it. We went to an old tumbled down church then walked a bit to find the “Citadel”, a piece of stone wall still standing next to which were huge piles of carved square stones, only relics of a past glory.
Cuneiform script on a 4000 y.o. rock
We walked back to the main road, and found with no delay two rather remarkable rides. The first one was with two men who barely talked to us, got arrested by a police car and got a ticket (for speeding?) then spent the rest of the time arguing like teenagers. As we were out of the car, I asked Artyom what the argument was about: one of them wanted to have the volume of the radio louder while the other one thought it would bother the two guests in the car – us. By the end of the ride, they were properly sulking. Some people are strange…
A little while later, we got into a luxurious four wheel drive. The driver was a big man dressed in black. Next to him was a tiny woman looking like a prostitute who appeared to have been working for too long already. She swore that they had known each other for a long time, that it had been love at first sight. The black mascara and kohl around her eyes were running. She wore a tight black leather jacket and looked completely high, lasciviously spreading herself on the passenger seat. Both were drinking beer and we were offered some in an empty soda bottle. They spilled beer everywhere trying to fill it up for us. They were talking about cannabis in a raucous laughter loaded with insinuations. I was relieved to see that this drive wasn’t going to last for too long. And as it was my habit now, I was in for a surprise once we were out of the car and Artyom started translating what had been said: those two were on their way… to a funeral!
A last vehicle took us all the way to our last stop of the day. There were three or four people in the car, all weirdly clad and very kind. There were going fishing and invited us for a meal at the lake – thank you but as vegetarians, we would have nothing to eat but the rods and lines, which are not very nutritious. The place where we wanted to go was a little further than their lake but they drove us all the way. The landscape was getting more dramatic and arid. And then suddenly around a pass, a breathtaking view, an incredible plunge into the next valley. And a few dozen meters beneath us, the oblong roof of the object of our quest… the caravanserai!
We were taken aback and jubilating at the same time. The caravanserai! The name itself was like magic and full of promise. It was more importantly the only tangible proof that there had been indeed a Silk Road in Armenia, a trade path crossing the country from South to North and going into Georgia. During our travels, only two people acknowledged the existence of such a route. The first one had been a very nice young woman in the museum in Dilijan who confirmed that there had been an active Silk Road between the 14th and 16th centuries. The second one was yet to come, a driver who stopped for us later the same day. Apart from them, the locals seemed to not even notice the odd board on the side of the road, decorated with camels and indicating a tourist attraction more or less connected to the Silk Road.
So, we were standing in front of a caravanserai. A long building made out of brown brick with only two tiny openings in the roof, shading a dark light inside. The architecture was robust and interesting, inside and out. I was trying to imagine what it would be like to arrive there with a caravan, after countless slow days of going up the switchback slope in an amazing looking surroundings. Men and animals so tired when getting to the top. How many days would they stay here? Several for sure, or why would one bother to build a caravanserai? And what could life have been like inside? Were there torches on the walls? Where would the camels sleep, inside or outside? Maybe inside, thus keeping the place warm? Would they then stay left or right of the central rows of pillars? I knew nothing about the life of a caravansary, but I could feel it was a life full of adventure and excitement. Nothing near the building could answer my questions. Some writings on the wall in Arabic script, old soviet boards in Russian and other inscriptions in Armenian, that’s all there was. In all touristy places in Armenia the few information boards had been subsidized withItalian, American, Austrian or German words. They obviously never bothered at this place. The Armenian government isn’t too interested in tourism. There used to be a Touristic Development Ministry, but it doesn’t exist any more.
Right then it didn’t matter to us. We were simply enjoying the beauty of the mysterious vestige of the past that had appeared in front of us. Idiotic Armenian jerks in four wheel drives came up and eventually spoiled our enjoyment. “Khartous” as Artyom calls them. They snapped pictures of themselves in front of the building but also on top of it, after they climbed onto the roof. “Not the least respect for our cultural heritage” my journalist of a companion sadly declared. “And they will be the first ones to shout their pride of being Armenian. What a bunch of jackasses…”
Journalist in front of a caravanserai
Next chapter : Collection