Our visit to Garni and Geghard today marked the first time we truly got a glimpse of this country’s natural beauty. The road up to Garni was windy and kind of bumpy, but the views of the Ararat valley were incredible. Once we got to Garni, we got to walk inside the temple which was built before Christ during Armenia’s pagan years. I had only read about things this old in textbooks, but today I got to sit on the steps of one and take a picture with it. By far the best thing about the temple is that it sits at the edge of a steep canyon with the Garni River winding through it. The view from up here is truly breathtaking and to just stand there and feel the wind on your face and soak in the view was amazing.
After buying some homemade batsukh (fruit leather) and soujoukh (the sweet kind) from the vendors at the temple, we continued up the road to Geghard. This church is built in a canyon with a few of its rooms carved into the cliff side. Just before we entered the church courtyard, we decided to make a slight detour up a steep, rocky path that led to small rooms carved into the cliff face. The hike required a little more work than we thought it would but it was well worth the effort. Once again the view from up here didn’t fail to amaze us.
Joining us on these tours and our nights out in this city is Manouk, a native Yerevantsi and member of the local AYF chapter. We all clicked with him the moment we met and having him with us has made our trip more interesting than it already is. As we exchange stories about how life is in our respective countries we gain a much better understanding of the people here. Communicating with him is also very helpful in building the group’s Armenian skills and often times funny as we try to describe the words we are trying to say.
We then carefully clambered/slid down the cliff side and entered Geghard’s courtyard. The first room that we saw was carved out of stone and looked like a cave except for the detailed carvings on the walls, ceiling, and pillars. There was a window at the top that let in a beam of light. The acoustics in the room are incredible. Berj and Kevork decided to start singing Der Voghormya and the way their voices resonated gave me chills. I can just imagine priests conducting service in here and how amazing it would sound. After all that singing, we all went quiet for a moment so that we could hear just how wonderfully silent the church can be.
We made our way to several other smaller carved out rooms and then to the main church, which stands on its own and is made of slabs of rosy tufa stone (of course). All the rooms were dark and any light that is available is through small windows or lit candles. The church is surrounded by forest, which adds to this monastery’s beauty.
Perhaps the best part of the day came when we all sat down for lunch in a local family’s backyard restaurant. Not only was the food good (including the best fish I’ve ever tasted), but the setting was relaxing. We ate outside on a large picnic table under the shade of dozens of large fruit trees.
As the oghi flowed, our group began to open up to each other even more than we have been over the past few days. Life, death, friends, and family were all discussed while we ate and drank and sang. These are the moments which make this trip so worthwhile. Living with others and working towards a common goal brings so many different emotions out of you that would otherwise not occur at home. I’m really looking forward to getting to know this group of people over the next five weeks and becoming more like family than friends.