Vacation Armenian Style: Up on “Miracle Mountain”
July 30, 2004

Vacation Armenian Style: Up on ” Miracle Mountain”

By Gayane Lazarian
ArmeniaNow reporter

“From the top of Azhdahak the world has a completely different picture. It’s
there where you feel the kind of wind which evokes unusual feelings in your
soul and prepares you to fly with it. You look at it and imagine how the
volcano erupted. Only from that height one can notice the flawless work of
Fifty-five year old Gegham Harutyunyan of the village of Geghard is not a
poet, but speaks poetically about his mountain home.
Gegham lives in a village in the highlands,1,900 meters above sea level. But
he is used to even higher territories since he is the man everyone comes to
if they want to go up to the mountains.
For Armenian vacationers Gegham is a guide to that “flawless work of nature”
. He knows the territory by heart. He says he spent his life wearing out
those mountains.

Small lakes add to the mountain’s magic
The road to Azhdahak, the highest peak of Geghama mountain range, goes right
through the village where Gegham lives. Before going up the next day, the
famous village guide draws the approximate route on a paper. On a table he
lays out a physical map of Armenia and explains in details the disposition
of the ranges. Then he calls the principal of the village school Vigen
Taroyan since only his “Vilis” car can make that road.
In order to go up to the mountains one has to wake up early in the morning
when village roosters start crowing between night and dawn. Gegham’s wife
gives home made cheese and lavash to eat on the way. Gegham doesn’t forget
to take several bottles of Armenian beer. He says all of it tastes
differently in the mountains.
The road up Geghama is difficult. Vigen always warns to hold on and sit
firmly. Passing the rocky roads the “Vilis” drives higher with difficulty.
In some places some place one has to walk.
“Last time I escorted like this a group from Moscow to Azhdahak. There were
about 10 people. They were riding bicycles. They also had a small map. They
got to Azhdahak, saw the Vanki Lake and from there they passed through
mountains to Martuni, then they were to go up the Selim mountain pass and
down to Yeghegnadzor. They were circling around Armenia,” tells Gegham.
In the mountains there’s a whole parade of wildflowers. Different kinds of
flowers grow at the bottom, but the higher you go the more they gradually
disappear. The foot of every mountain is covered with only one special kind
of flower which you won’t come across on another height. From higher above
fields of flowers are like multicolored blankets dressing the foothills.
Vigen’s brother, Vahagn Taroyan, who is a historian, says, “The higher you
are, the colder the air is and they cannot sustain that climate. No flowers
ever grow on slopes of Azhdahak.”
In the mountains one can also come across yaylavors (Yezidis, who take
cattle to the mountains and live there during the summer). Gegham says
pastures here provide wonderful conditions for cattle. Shepards’ dogs with
shortened ears run towards the car and keep on barking.
“Their ears are long and when covered their hearing becomes worse. They cut
them so that the dogs can hear better. Some say it is so they can avoid
being bitten by wild animals. They control the cattle so that especially at
night wolves don’t get them,” says Vahagnn.
Several months during the year Yezidis’ tents break the mountains’ solitude.
They go up to the mountains with their families and for a while they live
isolated from the world, but merged with the nature.

History rocks
Towards the West next to Azhdahak is the Paytasar ( Horseshoe Mountain),
which gets its name by its shape.
“There are two Paytasars, a big one and a small one. Water always collects
on the small one, they are volcanic cones, meaning small lakes on mountain
peaks,” explains Gegham.
At the bottom of Paytasar there’s the tent of a Yezidi sheikh. Here, they
know well the guide of Geghard. One of the Yezidi women treats the hikers
with newly made lavash, and even the bread has a different taste in the
mountains. The air is so cold that a person must constantly move to stay
At the bottom of Paytasar is found a pile of black stones, petroglyphs (rock
“We call those ‘chngli stones’. These stones are covered with black color,
traces of volcanic lava, so if you scratch the stone you can see the basalt
underneath,” says Gegham.
He thinks petroglyphs are similar to observatories on which ancient people
depicted whatever they saw in the sky, constellations of Libra, the Great
Bear. Gegham says he has brought many people to show them the petroglyphs.
Years ago a professor from Warsaw University came here and Gegham took her
near Naltapa, which is farther and there are bigger “chnglis” there. Last
year he brought members of the Archeology Institute here.
The petroglyphs include hunting scenes, deer and sheep.
“Now there aren’t so many different animals in this area. Supposedly, once,
in these very areas in warm and damp conditions of the land there were
forests, rich with various animals. Otherwise, people wouldn’t simply come
here to make petroglyphs,” says Vahagn.
He also tells how last summer they brought here a tourist from Egypt to the
mountain site.
“Her name was Hurik, she was Egyptian Armenian, an archeologist. I don’t
even know where she found out about those petroglyphs. She came, took
pictures in one day and then went back,” says Vahagn.
Ahead is Azhdahak, surrounded with many mountains. Their peaks are embracing
the grey and white clouds. In some places one can notice large layers of
snow that rebel against the warm summer weather.
The old name of Azhdahak is Gzldagh. It is the third highest peak in Armenia
after Aragats and Kapuit Jugh (in Zangezur). The mountain is cone shaped and
is 3,598 meters high. On the north side of the peak starts the Gavaraget
river. The ascent towards Azhdahak is rather hard. It stars raining.

“We look at the neighboring mountains bottom-up, but from the top of
Azhdahak we look at them top-down. From that height one can see the small
natural lakes on mountain peaks. It’s an indescribable view,” Gegham says.
The weather is getting worse. The ascending has to stop for a while. Gegham
describes the lake on the top of Azhdahak.
“The mountain is an extinguished volcano. And the lake atop it covers 2
hectares and is rather deep. The ice on the western side melts very late,
meaning there’s ice almost throughout the year. It melts late July or early
He says that on the left to Azhdahak on the top of one of the mountains
there’s another natural lake which is called Kani Gyol and which melts more.
During Soviet years there was also a weather station there.
At the bottom of Azhdahak there are 10 dragon-stones. Dragon-stones are
pagan stones which for ancient Armenians symbolized the God of Water in the
shape of a fish. Vahagn says dragon-stones are evidence that in this area
there were old settlements where dragon-stones were carved.
“When they came from the Archeology Institute in autumn, they never managed
to figure out more clearly what century it belongs to,” adds Gegham.

Shepherds make temporary homes
Many years ago Gegham went there with architect Sahinyan who did the
reconstruction of Garni temple. The architect tells him that dragon-stones
are even older than Urartu kingdom and have a history of 4-5,000 years.
During Soviet years Gegham took one of those dragon-stones to his office and
put it in a pool. However, someone betrayed him.
“Some police came and took me. It’s an old story. Now, that very
dragon-stone is in the pool next to Aragast cafe,” he says.
An artificial reservoir built during Urartu kingdom (which reached back to
at least 9 th century BC) is also situated at the bottom of Azhdahak. After
adopting Christianity Geghard Monestary took the lake under its control that
is why until today it is called the Vank Lake.
“The waters of Vank Lake irrigating Garni fields reach ‘Tokhmakh Gyol’ (a
territory in Yerevan) and from there to Dalma Gardens. The Lake is filled
with water of the melted snow in the mountains,” says Gegham.
Next, trekkers can see Spitakasar (White Mountain) which is completely from
obsidian. Vahagn says they also often call that stone”Satan’s Nail”. A
little bit aside there’s the Karmir Sar (Red Mountain) which is 3,000 meters
high. On the top of Karmir Sar there’s also a wonderful lake. Gegham says he
went up there with his wife. They call it Red since it consists of volcanic
slag. On the other side of the mountains is the Gegharkunik region.
Seven springs start from this area. The biggest of them is called Shah
Bulakh, which in Armenian means Spring of Shah.
A little bit above from the western shore of the Vank Lake there are the
tombs of Assyrian kings, which are scientifically proved. According to
Gegham, in 1980s employees of the National Academy of Sciences came and did
serious studies.
“These are round stones, a little high. It’s several of them, not one. They
said these are Assyrian, since before Assyrians have been reigning in
Armenia for centuries,” he explains.
The road back to the village is easier. The “Vilis” descends easier. Gegham
stops it somewhere in the mountains and shows a place like a cave and says
that it’s a natural refrigerator.
“There’s no water, once there used to be a spring here, which dried out. Now
there’s simply a draft, which makes the air even colder.”
He places the beer bottles right there and only thirty minutes later it’s
ready for drinking.
It’s a pity the weather wasn’t good enough. The whole of Armenia is seen
from that height, Lake Sevan on one hand, Ararat valley and Yeghegnadzor on
the other. In a word, on the top of Azhdahak you interact with the real
miracle of life,” says Gegham.