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Location - Caucasus, Europe; Capital - Stepanakert in Armenian, called Khankendi in Azerbaijani; Population - 150,000; Currency - Armenian Dram & Azerbaijan Manat MORE NAGORNO KARABAKH

I took the 16:00 bus from Stepanakert to the quirky village of Vank, home of Gandzasar Monastery and weird shaped hotels - September 2019.


armenianote1Nagorno Karabakh uses the Armenian Dram









karabakhnote2Dadivank Monastery is pictures on the old 10 Artsakh Dram note









azerbaijannote2Areas of Nagorno Karabakh under Azerbaijan control will no doubt use the Azerbaijan Manat from November 2020









karabakh189I stayed at the ship-shaped Hotel Eclectic, and indeed it is. And weirder still I was the only guest - getting hold of anyone who knew what was going on was a little challenge, until the boss arrived from Seastone Hotel - Vank


karabakh190Much of the village was bankrolled by Levon Hairapetian, a Vank native who made his millions trading timber - Vank


karabakh200Rooms are quite mainstream but the common areas have nautical touches - Vank














karabakh197Opposite the hotel, these geese hopped over the gate bar and went for a little stroll - Vank















karabakh235The approach to Hotel Eclectic's sister hotel a couple of kms outside town - Vank


karabakh241The owners of Hotel Eclectic kindly drove me to their sister hotel, Seastone Hotel, where all the activity was. I think it's called Tsovin Qar Hotel in Armenian - Vank


karabakh238I just wanted to see the excellent huge lion head with paw, but there's several other kitsch/arty sculptures surrounding it - Vank















karabakh242There's a couple of souvenir stalls (with more souvenirs than this one!) outside the hotel - Vank















karabakh245The hotel restaurant overlooking the water was busy with several families, likely from Stepanakert. By the way, nothing was happening in/on the ship, but maybe it comes to life in the height of summer - Vank


karabakh246Pretty sure the water spout from her backside was intentionally put there, it's Vank after all


karabakh204Yellow gas pipes blighting the landscape is a common sight in the Caucasus - Vank















karabakh202In pretty poor taste, this wall is comprised of old (genuine?) Azerbaijani registration plates - Vank














karabakh205Overlooking Vank on a hilltop is Gandzasar Monastery


karabakh210The 13th century monastery is accessible by car/taxi or you can walk up via trails - Vank


karabakh231I'm sure some people/pilgrims stayed overnight in the monastery's quarters surrounding - Vank














karabakh230There's several khachkars (stelae with stone-carved crosses), and the stonework also contains many inscriptions and carvings - Vank














karabakh209For me the landscape is the biggest attraction in going to these isolated monasteries - Vank


karabakh223Take in great views of Vank, the valley and mountains on a walk down the Gandzasar trail. I believe this area's still under Armenian control


karabakh251I took a half-day taxi tour to Tigranakert, passing the redundant airport, which doesn't have clearance to operate due to the region's disputed nature.
Nearby was the Azeri town of Khojaly, scene of the Khojaly massacre of ethnic Azerbaijanis
in 1992, during the Karabakh war













karabakh255Heading north from Stepanakert you'll drive through Askeran, where Mayaberd Fortress straddles the road


karabakh256It's a very reconstructed castle worth a quick scramble up to explore - Askeran


karabakh257There's what looks like a small fortification on a mound a few hundred metres away, though I've no idea if it's part of Mayraberd Fortress - Askeran













karabakh264Shortly after is a tank memorial; there is (was?) also one just outside Shusha on the road to Stepanakert - Askeran













karabakh265The fork right is the road to the ruined ghost-town of Agdam, which was captured and plundered in 1994. It's meant to be off-limits but some have ventured there in the past, though it sounds like it may be tighter controlled now. There's a soldier on the right, below the sign. Looking at the peace agreement map, this area reverts to Azerbaijani control in late 2020


karabakh299The main road bypasses Agdam - this is the road to Agdam from the other side (forking left).

Agdam was the home of Azerbaijani football team Qarabag until they had to leave in 1993 due to the war, and now play their football in Baku. In the 2017/18 season they became the first Azerbaijani team to reach the group stages of the UEFA Champions League


karabakh268Much of this area is just a few kms from the front line, and I'd hazard a guess that this is, or was, a military lookout - Agdam














karabakh268aThere's lots of concrete debris in the area around Agdam and Tigranakert. This is part of the region reverting to Azerbaijani control in November 2020


karabakh271This is the reason for visiting Tigranakert, a medieval fortress


karabakh273Pomegranates for sale at Tigranakert. Seek out homemade pomegranate wine in local markets in Stepanakert as well as Armenia. It's not bad!













karabakh275There's a museum in various rooms leading off the fortress courtyard - Tigranakert















karabakh297A tranquil area of calm waters lies behind the fortress - Tigranakert


karabakh285Ruins of the ancient city of Tigranakert surround the fortress, which was named after Tigran the Great who ruled in the 1st century BC - Tigranakert


karabakh279Looking towards Azerbaijan from the fortress walls - Tigranakert















karabakh286 Driving along this road is the occasional military vehicle, troops and military hardware - Tigranakert















karabakh290The frontline (until November/December 2020) - in the hazy distance - is a 'heavily militarized and mined buffer-zone of trenches' - Tigranakert


karabakh287News sources say violations of the ceasefire are commonplace, and from what I read peace-keeping forces are virtually non-existent. Russia is the major player and prefers to keep up the appearance that 'all is fine'. Update: there'll be many Russian peackeeping forces in Karabakh as of late 2020, for at least five years - Tigranakert


karabakh302From Stepanakert I took a 09:00(ish) Yerevan-bound bus via the northern route, so I could take in the Karabakh mountains and revisit Lake Sevan. We passed Lake Sarsang and further on the turn-off for Dadivank Monastery














karabakh305After stopping off at the immigration post - where I showed my passport and the police registration letter, not that anyone seemed bothered - the bus climbed over the Sotk Pass to Armenia














karabakh307It's another attractive mountainous area, and the road is a good one, in fact it might be quicker to Yerevan via this route than the southern one via Goris. Update: This region bordering Armenia doesn't form part of the historical Nagorno Karabakh borders, and reverts to Azerbaijan control in November 2020 - Sotk Pass



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LINKS - Karabakh and Armenian news, from an Artsakh perspective - Azerbaijan tourism - Artsakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including referral to visa requirements


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