In 1991 I paid a visit to the touristic town of Jermug about two hours drive south of Yerevan. The purpose of the visit was to inspect a hotel offered to Armentrade of Toronto as a Joint Venture. It was a viable project but unfortunately, it did not materialize mainly due to the multiple claims of ownership.
Since we could not find enough gas to take us back to Yerevan, we “slept” in a cold and dark hotel, without any heat or electricity, in the town of Yeghegnatsor. Needless to say, at the time, a shortage of gas and electricity was the norm, along with many other basic necessities. Those were the early days of independence of the Republic of Armenia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The next day morning, our best option was to get back on the main highway hoping to find a gas truck at a road junction, and an open-pit kebab stands for breakfast. It was a mood “dampening” rainy day. The “luck struck”, so to speak, and at the first road junction, we found a gas truck. We not only filled the car tank but also the empty spare cans in the trunk of the car as well. At the time this was the norm too.
When we approached the next junction, we could see the smoke of the kebab stand. We stopped and the smell of the kebab was so appetizing that the abundance of the flies were not a deterrent to enjoying the kebab as breakfast and washing it down with the Jermug bottled water that we had in the car. (Even the old big glass-bottled Jermug water was in short supply at the time, we had to save the big empty glass bottles, not for environmental purposes, but to purchase/exchange them with new full ones).
While at the junction, I asked Ashod, the driver, where the junction road leads to. He said, it leads through the Սելիմի լեռնանցք (Selim Pass) to Lake Sevan and added, it used to be the old “Silk Road” for caravans and there is a caravansary (caravan stop) at the top of the pass. It was too tempting to pass the opportunity to trace the historic “Silk Road” and see the caravansary as well.
Now that we had enough gas, I asked Ashod to drive through the pass to lake Sevan and then to Yerevan. Ashod was reluctant, and said, it might be impassable due to washouts caused by melting snow and rain. (It was late March). To further convince me, he added, it is also dangerous due to the falling stones from the mountain.
I insisted that we give it a try. After a short drive, Ashod proved to be right. The road was dotted with many fallen rocks and impassable. We turned back and headed to Yerevan through the main highway. From that day on, driving the Selim Pass, remained like an unfinished “mission” that needed to be accomplished.
I got my best chance in October of 2007. After arriving in Yerevan for the trip to Western Armenia that I wrote about in my previous monologues, our first-day trip was to Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries close to the Georgian border, with an overnight stop at Gumri.
Since I had been at Haghpat and Sanahin, I utilized the day to “accomplish the mission” of driving through the Selim Pass. At the time, the two-lane road through the Pass was repaired and re-surfaced with asphalt with a grant from American/Armenian billionaire Kirk Krikorian of the USA. We drove from Yerevan to the road junction just before Yeghegnoatsor and started the gradual ascent between the two high mountains. This time around it was a beautiful sunny day.
After driving about half an hour or so, I started to self-question my wisdom for the “mission”. (Since a young boy, I loved mountains. Valleys were sort of “suffocating” for me. Needless to say, Selim Pass, was more than a valley). At about half the point of the Pass, we came across a small village with a roadside open market with fruit and vegetable stands. We stopped and purchased fresh fruits and continued the drive to the caravansary that was located on a plateau at the end of the Pass.
All my disappointing doubts disappeared when we reached the caravansary and watched the beautiful view of the Pass down below between the two mountains. It was more than beautiful, it was spectacular and highly rewarding. Standing at the plateau, it was not hard to visualize the caravan merchants, their employees, and animals, enjoying a well-deserved rest.
The caravansary itself, built around the fourteenth century, was a long building with a single entrance. Considering its age, it was relatively in “good” shape. It had some beautiful symbols carved on the exterior walls.
We sat down at the edge of the plateau and talked about the difficulties, and the dangers, merchants must have faced traveling the “Silk Road”. Then we took a walk to the mountaintop of the Pass, just behind the caravansary. The view from the mountain top was even more spectacular. You could see not only the valley to the south but also the panoramic view to the north of the mountain top as well.
We made a short stop at the town of Martuni at the southern tip of Lake Sevan and continued our journey via the western shore of Lake Sevan. On the way, we stopped a couple of times and walked to the shore of Lake Sevan where you can see the visible signs of the rise of the lake level. (Mainly due to the better management of the outflow of water for hydro and irrigation projects, plus, the increased inflow from the Arpa Sevan water tunnel).
After a long trip, witnessing the rise of the Lake Sevan water level was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. It nicely complemented the gratifying feeling of finishing a long-desired journey. With a feeling of “Mission accomplished” we continued the rest of the journey to Gumri.
Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian.