Bus # 5 took us from Mashtots Street to Masiv Market, where our only landmark is a Mercedes Benz showroom. A few strides from it and we found a couple of mini buses on one side of the road, but we were taken aback when we saw them all empty. The signs were also in Armenian alphabet so they didn’t help at all. We were, once again, clueless with what to do next until one guy came up to us.
We followed the guy and became friends with him instantly. Arsen is a yogi who lives in Garni. He insisted to take us to Garni and Geghard so that he can practice his English speaking skills. We didn’t mind since he seemed to be very kind. Besides, he’s the only one we can converse with in the pack.
The bumpy bus ride took an hour, passing by beautiful foliage of reds, oranges and yellows. We went off to a quiet town, walked for about 20 minutes until we reached the gate to the Garni Temple. With Arsen taking us for a visit in the temple, we got to enter for free!
The cobblestoned path led us to the magnificent pagan temple built around 1st century AD. The architecture is of Greco-Roman style as suggested by the columns with Ionic order. The frieze, although fragmented and a bit worn out, features floral motif. For a sec, I thought I was back in Athens. The temple is small and empty inside.
What makes this grey temple all the more beautiful is its surrounding landscape. Set on an elevated land, when we walked towards the rear side of the temple, we were rewarded with such amazing views! We had a peek of the Symphony of Rocks. From up there, Arsen pointed out the beautiful spots – the river, a few caves – where he spends most of his time, usually for the purpose of finding his inner peace. #yogispeak :p
When we went out, Arsen spoke to one of the cab drivers in the area, which turned out to be his friend (or distant relative) and we got a free lift to Geghard! Yay! The ride is still bumpy yet very, very scenic. While on the road, we shared a conversation about the history of Garni and Geghard.
We parked on the roadside, beside a carved mountain, next to a cliff. We climbed our way up through a stone sloped path until an arched gateway welcomed us. What a sight to behold! It framed the church beautifully. Yay, welcome to Geghard Monastery complex!
The monastery is a popular pilgrimage site to Armenian Christians because it was once the home of the Holy Lance before it was transferred to Etchmiadzin. The church wasn’t open for public when we visited, so we walked past it and climbed the stairs behind. We entered a series of small rooms and caves, passing by a handful of khachkars carved beautifully on the face of humongous rocks.
Arsen, still acting as our tour guide, brought us to an unpaved path with leafless branches of small trees blocking our way, passing through an awkwardly proportioned bridge. Water was flowing through the small gaps of huge rocks. Then, there it was, a cave where he frequents for a session of yoga. The area is indeed peaceful although there were a few tourists that pop out once in a while.
Our Kotayk journey ended when Arsen and his friend/relative dropped us off the mini-bus stop that travels back to Yerevan. We were thankful, not only for a stress-free day trip but for a new found friendship as well. In fact, we’ve been Facebook friends with Arsen ever since (which reminds me to drop him a message to say Hi). Indeed, it was yet another beautiful day in Armenia. No wonder Garni and Geghard are must-visit places for those travelling the country.