Notes From Hairenik
January 30, 2008

This past weekend I went to the sleepy town of Tsaghkadzor, which for the most part is a ski resort town. Tsaghkadzor is the perfect nearby location for a getaway overnight stay to escape from the semi-hectic beat of the city. It is only a 45-minute drive or so from Yerevan in northern Kotayk, not very far from the border with Gegharkunik. Some of the houses and other structures there are tinged with European motifs, similar to those you would see in Swiss towns for instance.

I stayed for only one night at a “guest house” which seems like a hotel but apparently isn’t really called Nairi, which can be found high upon the left hill before you approach the town’s center. It was built long before Armenia’s independence but since the Soviet Union’s collapse the building remained virtually untouched up to the present, judging from the furniture in the room, the décor, amenities, and so forth. The front entrance doorway is relatively new, but other than that everything seems to be frozen in Soviet kitsch. Even the dust and cobwebs in the room seemed to have been from the Soviet era. Checking in is a typical bureaucratic experience that I know so well. Instead of approaching a front desk in the lobby, you are required to enter a small office to speak with the director and sign a paper verifying how many nights you will stay and whether you want to eat food in their restaurant. Then you have to go into an adjoining office where two women are seated at desks doing who knows what. You pay one of them cash of course then go back to the director to receive the room’s key. The cost per person is only 5000 dram, or about $16, for a “standard” room with two twin-sized beds.

A major plus about the room was that it was very warm immediately upon entering and it was livable. At night especially by candlelight the space was quite charming. But in the morning when it was time to bathe things took a turn for the worse. The installed shower is basically symbolic—when I turned the water on a streaming yet substantial drop trickled out of the shower head, so I opted to wait until I returned home in the afternoon to bathe in the comforts of home. Also the walls were not soundproofed whatsoever, I am assuming about a half-inch thick. The neighbors were up until past four in the morning blaring Russian disco music from their cell phones and talking about useless drivel which was not amusing by any means. Every time I thought I would fall asleep someone entered the room, conversations beginning and ensuing with “What’s up, bro?” The term “bro” (or aper in Armenian) was spoken perhaps 400-500 times judging by the frequency used—the estimate was rough because I may have been drifting off missing a sentence or two from minute to minute. It seemed as if they were sitting right beside me on the homely low-seated wide-backed worn-out chairs.

But Tsaghkadzor is really lovely. The walking time to the center of town from the hotel was about 15 minutes, and would have been shorter if the sidewalks were not completely coated with ice. Fortunately it had snowed recently and the ice was blanketed, giving us some traction. There was also the occasional ski mobile to move out of the way for as it was tearing down the walkway.

Tsaghkadzor is home to the Kecharis monastery, which was erected in the 12th century if memory serves. Although it is not one of the most impressive that I have seen it is still unbelievable without a doubt, not to mention very well kept. It is a complex of two churches and a chapel with an ancient cemetery. I noticed there were a lot of teenagers entering to light candles, something I have rarely seen at any monastery for whatever reason.

On Monday I managed to reach the first of three steps up the mountain located to the north of the town which is where the skiing takes place in full splendor. We made my way up there the only way possible—via the ski lift. There are two available—a two-seater for people who just want to check out the scenery and a four-seater for the skiers. Apparently these lifts are European state-of-the-art and were just installed a couple of years ago replacing the ones that were constructed during the Soviet era in 1969. For some reason I have a strange, mild fear of heights. When the ride started I was a bit nervous, gripping onto the railing for my life and affixing my boots firmly on the thin foot rests provided, but I managed to relax after 300 meters or so as we made our way up the mountain. My fear does not attack me on airplanes for some reason, it is only when I am on ladders when I dread losing my balance, or in this case, frightened of falling to my death while dangling from a high-chair screwed to a thin steel cable 50 or more meters above the ground. We came right back down since we could not move upwards as the lifts were not functioning, probably because there were too few people visiting that day.

I imagine that traveling to the area must also be wonderful in the summer or autumn months, which comprise the “off season.” From what I have heard discounts are available at many hotels there during that time since people tend to gravitate to Lake Sevan, so Tsaghkadzor would be the ideal place for meditative sojourns.

Photos Copyright © 2008 Christian Garbis

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