Notes From Hairenik
September 29, 2009

Last Saturday I drove down to Meghri with Sergey, which is only a few kilometers from the Iranian-Armenian border. Sergey had never been before so I volunteered to take him there. It was my first visit to Meghri since my previous excursion there four years ago.

Meghri is in a valley, with high, steep flanking slopes. A river runs through the center of town, creatively named the Meghri River. It is situated approximately 600 meters above sea level.

Nothing has changed much in the town, which I suppose is good in some ways since life hasn't been adulterated. There are some modest construction projects, but nothing out of the ordinary. People still earn a living by working their plots of land and selling the fruits from the trees that grow on them, namely pomegranates and persimmons. Current prices fetch around 800-1,500 dram ($2.10-$3.80) for a kilo of pomegranates and about 500 dram ($1.30) for persimmons. Figs are also in season fetching around 300-400 dram a kilo. But the juice-making factories are paying only 130 dram ($0.35) a kilo, so I don't know how most people are able to make out financially. Most certainly no one is paying a mortgage on the house, so at least that's not a burden to bear.

To make ends meet, some families rent out rooms in their homes. There are several Bed and Breakfast options available in Meghri, a couple of which I found on a Web site called B&B Armenia listing affordable accommodations throughout the country. We stayed with Misha Azatyan, who is the deputy director (demoted from the position of director with the change in administrations) of the music and cultural center there. Their home was more than I expected--extremely clean and very comfortable. We were served supper and breakfast, along with all the figs and grapes we could manage to cram down our throats and unlimited coffee/tea. They even gave us a few kilos of persimmons and figs to take back with us. In the morning I was able to take a great hot shower, something that is greatly appreciated in rural parts of the country. Misha and his family were extremely hospitable, and he was very responsive to the thousand questions we posed to him about the economics, politics, industry, agriculture and mindset of Meghri.

In the photo below Misha, on the right, is showing Sergey his potted lemon and grapefruit trees.

Despite the superb, homey accommodations, I couldn't manage to sleep very well. That's nothing out of the ordinary for me when I am out of town actually; it's always tough for me to sleep somewhere other than my own bed. And seeing as I didn't bring my laptop with me, I couldn't write either, at least nothing very important.

On Sunday we drove around a bit before heading back to Yerevan. Sergey wanted to see the Araks River, which serves as the line of demarcation between Armenia and Iran. The river, which is legendary in Armenian folklore, is rather narrow and milk-chocolate brown in color. It's nothing remarkable to gaze at and reflect upon.

We also visited Agarak, which is basically right on the border, in search of pomegranates but we were turned down by everyone we asked. The people there are not as friendly as those are in Meghri, that's for certain. It seemed too much of a bother for anyone there to make money from our lust for noor.

Meghri is where it's happening. It's a gorgeous, but sleepy town, very green obviously considering that it is the pomegranate center of the universe.

There are three churches in Meghri, the only one of them working being St. John The Baptist. The entire interior of this church, which was not built with the iconic Armenian architectural style in mind, is adorned with fresco paintings depicting various stories from the Bible. The ornamental motifs of the paintings are clearly influenced by Persian decorative designs, which was probably done intentionally to prevent vandalism. Even the depicted structures were drawn in such a way as to resemble mosques. A domed church just a stone's throw away from Misha's home is in severe disrepair and has apparently become a sort of garbage dumpster from what I was told. I didn't investigate for myself.

On the way back to Yerevan we decided to travel along an excellent new road connecting Meghri to the north end of Kapan that was just constructed--I think it was unveiled last year. Most of this road actually existed in another less-traveled form, as we determined from the ancient, abandoned villages as well as a church we came across. The part of the road from Meghri into the mountains located behind the left side of the town is about 20 or 30 kilometers long, perhaps more. That entire stretch was lined with craggy, crumbling cliffs and hills, with no vegetation of any kind. And there were no cars on the road at all, which was eerie. It seemed as if we weren't about to reach the top after a while, especially when the fog rolled in. After we crossed over the peak of the mountains we were caught up in thick fog, but it cleared up after about 20 minutes or so. As soon as it dissipated we were amazed by the forests of the Shikahogh Reserve we found ourselves in the midst of. Soon we reached civilization--a few small obscure villages with odd names that have probably been there for centuries, one of them called Tsav, which just happens to mean "pain" in Armenian. We stopped just outside of the village to pick rosehips and wild blackberries--fun to do but nevertheless a bit hazardous with the thorns prickling you every time you reach into the bramble.

It's odd that Meghri is not frequented often by tourists, particularly Armenian ones, since it is such a lovely, laid back and picturesque town. Misha told us that this year his business has been especially slow. Finding accommodations in Meghri is certainly not a problem with a simple Google search. Strange that the Armenian tourism industry didn't exploit the pomegranate consumption craze in the US by luring people to go down there. Pomegranate and persimmon trees abound--every single home in Meghri has them growing in the yard, along with figs, grapes, even kiwis.

Ideally, autumn is the best time to go there--the weather is quite warm and humid as well. But plan on being in Meghri for at least two days to understand what paradise in a landlocked rocky country is really like.

Photos by Christian Garbis

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Blogger nazarian said...
There is some exploitation of the pomegranate craze - Whole Foods sells Armenian pomegranate wine (made by a winery in Proshian which I think is owned by Mook).

I think the best climate in the country is Meghri - not too hot, not too cold and somewhere where you can grow your own lemons (my criterion for a livable place).

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
I agree that Meghri would make a great home, I was fantasizing about living there actually. Misha told me that kids are able to access the Internet from there, and I think I saw some satellite dishes, so you're not cut off from the world. Then again, maybe it's better to live off the grid these days.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
The children of a mayor in one of the villages in that area of Armenia are getting their university education by periodically commuting, throughout the year, from home to Yerevan to take their various exams. The students say they commute because they don't want to leave home, and I can see why. Though the Meghri area is a very rugged region, what an incredible and gem of a place it is! Shad, shad lavn eh!

Knarik Meneshian

Blogger Richard said...
How long a drive is it from Yerevan with the new road? Do the locals send their fruit to Yerevan to sell.?

You would think that there would be more commerce and tourism from Iran right across the border.

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
Depending on how long you drive it takes about 7-9 hours to reach Yerevan from Meghri. The new road to Kapan is supposedly 20 km longer than the old road, but it seemed a bit more than that. Travel time is subsequently longer. It's most likely the reason why the new road is less traveled.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
According to a few of the people I spoke to in the villages of Shvanidzor and Malyev, it is too costly for them to transport their fruit to Yerevan, and so they are forced to let their sweet and delicious fruit rot on the ground. What a shame!

Knarik Meneshian

Anonymous Acaislim said...
Great post!
I like it.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I love Meghri and if I had it my way that's where I would live in Armenia , family obligations keep bringing me back to Canada.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Are those prices for pommegranates the wholesale or retail rate?

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
Retail. Wholesale prices would cost a bit less but not much.

Anonymous Linus said...
Can I get a taxi from Yerevan to Meghri? If yes, how much does it cost (one way only)? Thanks

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
Hi Linus,

You can certainly go to Meghri either by taxi or by minibus (mashurtni), the second option I do not recommend. You can try to go to the station from where minibuses depart and see if someone there is willing to take you -- usually private taxis going there hang out near the bus stop. I don't know where it leaves from but it won't be hard for you to figure that out, the tour agencies should actually know. One of the private taxi companies will probably agree to take you as well. I don't know how much the cost will be, that will probably be negotiable.

Good luck.

Anonymous Linus said...
Thanks for your reply! I may ask some agent for information!