Tatev to Sevan

Thursday, August 11, 2022 - 17:15

Before I talk about today, I need to break the news that we unfortunately aren't going to make it to Baku, Azerbaijan, which was the original furthest point of our itinerary. This is because the Azerbaijanis still haven't opened their land borders since the pandemic, and are not reviewing this policy again until at least September 1st according to newspaper articles. We've been monitoring closely in case things changed, but with the intended crossing only three days away, we need to give up at this point due to the E-visa process taking three days. Given how scarce information is online, and with no official Azerbaijani website to reference, we have strongly considered going to the border anyway to see what happens. The problem is the E-visas cost $25 each and we don't fancy spending $75 on a punt which is very unlikely to work out. We also thought about going to the border just for some photos to say we made it that far, but it is a five hour round trip from Tbilisi which hardly feels worth it. It is very strange the borders still aren't open given the pandemic is effectively over in the rest of Europe and the Caucasus, but then again we have read a lot online about Azerbaijani bureaucracy being a nightmare and rather backwards. We feel worse for the families kept apart for over two years by this policy - quite a lot of dismay is being voiced on the local news websites!

Back to today, and our task this morning was to complete the trip to Tatev by visiting the Tatev Monastery Complex. To get there we had to take a winding road down the gorge, over a bridge on the river, and then back up hairpins on the other side to the top. What made this road more interesting is that it is also the main road to the Armenia/Iran border to the south, which meant it was full of Armenian and Iranian lorries (the latter being mostly oil tankers) also navigating this alpine-style road entirely unsuitable for them. The road was also in terrible condition in places, with the tarmac having disintegrated completely and leaving stretches of gravel. It was quite a sight seeing a full length lorry driving over the dirt and bumps at about 10mph, and then swinging around hairpins which involved blocking the entire road. Luckily they moved so slowly they were easy to navigate around, and we felt more sorry for the drivers than bothered by them. I should also mention that there was an option to take one of the longest (nearly 6km) cable cars in the world over the gorge and right to the monastery, however it didn't feel in the spirit of a road trip, and actually looked rather terrifying moving hundreds of metres over the very top of the gorge!

Before stopping at the Monastery Complex, we went to the viewpoint about 1km down the road to look back and take photos. As a result of what I mentioned above, this viewpoint was now the point furthest from home we will be on the entire trip, which is a bit of a cause for celebration and reflection. According to Google maps we were 2 days 7 hours driving time and 3077miles (4953 km) from home. It has been a trip of a lifetime so far, and we are looking forward to the return trip as it starts to unfold after today. We took quite a few photos at the viewpoint to mark this milestone, including all of us next to the car which should get a mention here. As for the view, the monastery sits right on the edge of the gorge and it couldn't be more picturesque seeing it from a distance with the mountainous landscape as far as the eye can see in the distance.

We then drove back to the monastery and parked in the nearby car park, before walking into the complex through the main gate in the old walls. The complex seems to have a very similar story to much of the Armenian cultural history in that it was severely damaged by earthquakes over the years and had to go through a lot of restoration to be as we saw it today. In the centre of the walls sits the large main church, in Armenian style of course, and when we went inside we saw a man who I assume was a monk (he was dressed in a black hooded outfit with what looked like a gold cape) giving some kind of sermon to a crowd. The church was rather bare on the inside, without any of the elaborate artwork you might expect in Europe. Instead there were just a few simple paintings and some tapestries. The rest of the complex consisted of a few smaller chapel buildings and some unused and rather run down side rooms which had views out over the gorge below.

With the monastery visit complete, the rest of the day was spent driving to our hotel for the night on Lake Sevan. This meant a fair amount of backtracking, with the first two and a half hours of driving being on the same mountain roads we drove yesterday. Luckily the views are so great that it wasn't at all boring driving the same roads again. One thing I didn't mention yesterday is how many army vehicles are moving up and down this route, I guess because this region is sandwiched between Azerbaijan. Today we even saw some mortar cannons being driven through, which is something I haven't seen before. Once the backtracking was complete we turned onto the Northbound M10 road which took us up the Vardenyats Pass, providing us with yet more fantastic views over the mostly barren landscape. At the top of the pass we didn't go down, but instead reached a plateau at about 2,000m above sea level which is where Lake Sevan rests. It wasn't long before the lake came into view in the distance, and it was impressive to see, first looking like it was part of the horizon, before we could make out the water in more detail. As we drove around the lake the weather changed from sunny to cloudy, which meant the colour of the water also seemed to change from blue to something more turquoise. It reminded us of other high altitude lakes we have seen in Tibet, with the imposing mountains in the distance on the other side.

Eventually we reached the north-west corner of the lake and our hotel on the edge of the village of Sevan. This whole area is full of resorts and campsites, apparently being the summer refuge of Armenian's looking to escape the heat the rest of the country experiences at lower altitudes. It is also the only place with a beach in this landlocked country, bearing in mind the nearest other beaches are hours of driving away on the Georgian Black Sea coast. This might explain why the only motorway currently in the country is from Yerevan to Sevan so people can get to their weekend breaks quickly! It is definitely much cooler here, being around 22-25 in the day and as low as 11 or 12 at night. Excited by the cooler temperatures, I went for a run along the lake front where people were swimming and taking part in a lot of activities on the water. When I was walking back some men asked me to help them carry their boat in from the water to which I obliged - they couldn't quite believe I was from London and wandering around this beach when I told them!

Dog Notes: 

Much to our surprise Summer was allowed inside the Tatev Monastery complex, and there were no stray dogs in sight which was unusual for this part of the world.

Electric Vehicle EV Notes: 

When we arrived at our hotel this afternoon the nearby EcoCars charger, and only charger for miles around, was showing as faulty on the EcoCars app. This could have been quite a problem for us but luckily we had topped up on our way today, and there is a plug in the car park at the hotel and they kindly let me plug the car in to top up overnight. This means we will have enough charge to get to Tbilisi tomorrow.

Miles Driven: 
Garden Inn Resort Sevan


That’s a shame about Azerbaijan but you have done and seen so much that it really doesn’t matter to your overall experience on the trip.

I can see what you mean about the amazing scenery James.

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