Still wiping the sleep out of my eyes, I crammed into the minivan with a dozen of my fellow volunteers and settled in for the long ride south out of Yerevan. It was a Saturday morning about halfway into my stay in Armenia and we were headed to Tatev Monastery and the village of Tandzatap for the weekend. I was excited to explore more of Armenia’s natural beauty and ancient history, but I was also looking forward to the chance to bond with my fellow volunteers, something that really hadn’t happened yet.
Karahounge and Devil’s Bridge
After a stop on the side of the road for breakfast and another break at a roadside market to buy wine for our host families in Tandzatap, we made our way to our first sightseeing stop of the weekend: Karahounge, a collection of 204 stones thought to be an astronomical observatory dating back to at least 2,000 B.C. Although it is sometimes called “Armenia’s Stonehenge,” it doesn’t even faintly resemble Stonehenge.
Next up was Devil’s Bridge, a natural bridge formed over a narrow river. Others who had been in the past told of a rope that was used to climb down to a cave next to the river, but to my relief the rope was gone when we arrived – I had not been looking forward to making that climb!
Finally, we reached our main destination – the Tatev Monastery. Ideally, we would have taken the recently open cable car that runs 5.7 kilometers from Halidzor village to Tatev village – the longest cable car ride in the world. Unfortunately, the winds were blowing too hard and it was closed when we arrived. So we took the alternative route – a harrowing drive following multiple switchbacks across the mountains. I tried to pass the time snapping pictures out of the van window while ignoring the fact that the road was lacking in guardrails and the drop was a long way down!
We had at least an hour to explore Tatev Monastery, the main church of which was built between the years 896 and 905. Two other churches in the complex date back to the 10th and 1th centuries. On top of the extraordinarily ancient feel of the monastery, the outer walls afforded magnificent views across the Vorotan Gorge, including a glimpse of the village of Tandzatap, where we would stay that evening.
Village of Tandzatap
Once in Tandzatap, a village of about 70 families, we split into small groups and settled into our homestays. Asqanaz, Allegra, George, Sebouh and I stayed in the home of the village head, who quickly welcomed us with a few shots of vodka. Then, as the others sat down to tea (or more likely, vodka) and snacks with their families, we learned how to prepare khoravats – Armenian barbecue.
Once the khoravats was on the grill, Allegra and I accompanied Asqanaz to visit each of the hosts, which gave us a chance to see pretty much all of the village and meet many of the families. Eventually everyone came together in the village hall for an enormous meal accompanied by, of course, vodka.
Over the next few hours, we drank and danced and watched the old village men dance. We chatted with the villagers the best we could – most of the volunteers practicing their Armenian and I using Russian to the extent I could as I chatted with an 80-something man trying to play matchmaker. By midnight, we stumbled back to our respective homestays, quite ready to call it a night and rest up for the next day.