Natural High: Odzun marries beauty & history in spectacular fashion

Armenia Now, Armenia
June 24 2005

Natural High: Odzun marries beauty and history in spectacular fashion

By Gayane Lazarian
ArmeniaNow Reporter

To feel the Lori area in your palm, to merge with its sky and nature
one should go up to the village of Odzun, 1,150 meters above the sea
level, off the highway running from Vanadzor to Alaverdi.

Wonder world: the houses of Odzun are built on the edge of ravine
Ashot Dzavaryan, who drives a minibus between Odzun and Yerevan,
says: `Those visiting the village for the first time always have a
question – What were the people thinking when they decided to settle
down here? But they answer it themselves when they look around: here
is a wonder of the world!’

Odzun is situated on a high plateau near the ravine on the left bank
of the river Debed. In front of it are the Chatin Dagh mountains
(meaning Difficult Mountains) while above Odzun are the mountains of
Tsengo, Salart and Golurt covered with virgin forests. To the right
of the village is the well-known Mount Lalvar, which means the flower
mountain.

`I would go to other countries only to be able to compare them with
our nature and countryside. Ours is the best,’ says 65-year-old
locksmith from Odzun Seyran Hovasapyan.

One of his ancestors, priest Hovasap, was a builder of Odzun’s domed
basilica church (6th Century). His ashes are located near the
northern gate.

Construction of the church was started by the Zakaryan rulers, who
are considered Odzun’s first residents. Seyran says that the village
consisted of 30 tribes, of which only 7 or 8 remain now. During the
Russian-Persian war in 1765, some people from Karabakh settled in
Odzun.

Today, 5,000 people live here. Villagers say that Odzun’s name means
`to consecrate or sanctify’. A villager, Arsen Titanyan, says it was
also called Uzunlar.

`The houses were built in a direct line to the edge of the ravine,
like a string,’ he says.

Seyran says that life here warms up in summer as the village fills
with tourists. During Soviet years, they exceeded the local
population by 1.5 times. Now again, tourists visit often and pay to
stay overnight in villagers’ houses. Many prefer to stay in the Odzun
guest house two kilometers from the village near a forest. From
there, guests have a full view over the village.

`The guests of our village are reluctant to leave. The local
mountains, countryside, waters, air – it’s a different world!’ says
the minibus driver.

Monuments from different ages can be seen everywhere in Odzun and
surrounding areas. A sculpture to Smbat Bagratuni stands in the
center of the village near the church, and there are two medieval
cemeteries with numerous tombstones and khachkars.

One of Odzun’s treasures is its life-giving waters. One source is in
the forest in front of the holiday hotel. Hotel worker Andranik says
that many sick people come here and recover with the aid of these
waters. Seyran says people from as far as America and Australia come
for the water and take it home in vessels.

Still today clay pipes are preserved in the village through which
centuries ago the people of Odzun channeled the water from the
mountains to the village. They discovered its curative properties in
this way:

`Sixteen hundred years ago, Queen Parandzem was passing by with a
large army. The army made a stopover in Odzun and an epidemic broke
out. They began to drink water from Odzun’s springs and the epidemic
stopped. Queen Parandzem prayed and said: `Thanks God, you have
bestowed life-giving water on us.’

The guest house’s 42-year-old chef Geghetsik Hovhannisyan says that
besides water the area is rich in various useful herbs – thyme, mint,
cat thyme, motherwort, milfoil.

Alpine air and pure springs make natural food of Odzun especially
delicious
`We always treat our guests to Odzun’s famous thyme khashlama. It was
handed down to us by our forefathers. It is best made of lamb. We cut
it into pieces, pour cold water on it and put it on the fire. Then we
add tomato and pepper. Five or ten minutes before taking it off the
fire, we add thyme,’ explains Geghetsik.

She gets down to her job and cooks meals from clean natural rural
products. Butter, eggs, matsun, vegetables, cheese, sour cream – all
this is purchased from the village. Many tourists come to buy things
from villagers.

Home-baked bread is sold everywhere in Odzun. Unlike other regions of
Armenia, lavash is not baked here. Shop assistant Lusik explains:
`This bread is baked in special bakeries made of bricks. Every house
has a `bakery’. They bake 15 bread loafs at a time and eat them for
several days.’

The gate of Odzun’s domed church is closed. The watchman, 50-year-old
Garnik Davtyan, comes out of the house next door and unlocks the
gate. He also acts as a guide.

`The church was reconstructed in the 8th Century by Hovhan Odznetsi,
and during the Soviet times it was turned into a storehouse. My
mother worked as the manager of that storehouse. I remember I was a
little kid and they took out the parchments and burned them in the
yard,’ says Garnik.

Generally, the church is open on Sundays when a priest comes from
Alaverdi. Garnik says it has a secret tunnel, used to protect priests
against enemies.

The secret 1.5-kilometer path towards the south-east of the village
leads to the Surb Nshan Church on the plane near the ravine. Arsen,
standing at the edge of the ravine, points to numerous holes in the
rocks. He says that descending the ravine is dangerous, but there are
special village guides who serve tourists.

Garnik recalls that last year a group of tourists wanted to go
through one of the openings, but after 30 or 40 meters they backed
off as the way was closed.

Surb Nshan’s day is marked on the first Sunday of November, when
people come on a pilgrimage and at night make 15 to 20 fires. Seyran
says that Surb Nshan was a brave warlord and that it was in honor of
his victories that the church in his name was built in the ravine.
The monastery of Horomair was built later in the upper parts of the
ravine.

`They were built in places difficult of access, even when you look at
them from a distance you become terrified. But it was done for a
reason, to characterize the dauntless spirit of our people,’ says
Seyran.

The Chatin Dagh mountain range in front of the monastery where there
is Kuletavank monastery. Seyran says that it is difficult to go up
there, but during the medieval wars they communicated from Kuletavank
with Surb Nshan using colored flags.

Basilica church of 6th century
Besides forests the surroundings here are covered with motley carpets
of flowers. White ox-eye daisies add splashes of white under the sun
and it looks as if snow fell in certain places on the slopes of Lori
mountains.

>From the heights of the holiday hotel, one can watch the sunset
falling on the village, mountains, and forest. The perfect
combination of nature is divine.

Geghetsik says: `Early in the morning and in the evening the air
become twice as clear. The air here is very sharp; we have villagers
who cannot stay at this height.’

White clouds gather on Lalvar. They say here that Stepanavan’s
airport decides on flights according to the weather on the mountain.

It begins to rain, but the sunset proudly continues to preserve its
colors. Silence falls, colors become denser, only the outlines of
mountains and clouds embracing each other are visible. Somewhere in
the distance a cuckoo continues its call unabated.

`Every day here is different. It is a fairytale which ends and begins
anew,’ says Geghetsik.

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