The Nagorno-Karabakh travel guide
All travel reports are translated electronically although minor improvements are sometimes made.
Mountainous Karabakh – travel report from the expedition
My trip: Stepanakert, Askeran (Mayraberd), Agdam, the Persian Cemetery, Tigranakert, Vank, Gandzasar, Dadivank, Krasny Bazar (Skhtorashen), Szuszi and other places along the way.
To Karabakh I got on the road from Goris driving through Lacin. The border went very smoothly and the formalities lasted a while. I had bought my visa earlier in Yerevan but even if I did not do it, and so would have let me in if the visa was taken in Stepanakert.
Road from Goris to Stepanakert
From Goris to Stepanakert I was moving two hitchhikers whose catch was not a big problem. I was driving about 1.5ha 94km full of serpentine road offering nice mountain views. When I got to the suburbs Stepanakert then another hitch I got to the center.
Stepanakert is the capital of Karabakh and the only city in this small, unofficial country. Throughout my stay this was my base from which I was very pleased. I got off in the main square near the city office at the fountain and immediately started looking for peace. Soon I found a room for 5000 drama on Kamo Street in a grand villa. The street itself was also very interesting as I was walking on the ground and on one side I saw old blocks of plates hung with laundry. People were watching me from the windows with interest and the kids were following me and looking for contact. Stepenakert is a very small city, so the most important objects can be seen in a few hours, although not the objects themselves here after all. The main street that goes up from the start of the city to the square with a fountain and it is full of shops and restaurants.Stepanakert also offers some interesting museums and interesting experiences at the bazaar, bus station and kebab shop. Also to the delight of the budget traveler Stepanakert is not expensive unless we want to rent a cab for the whole day. You can eat here and relax and get acquainted with the sad history of Karabakh. I was here for example in the Museum of Fallen Soldiers and the Museum of Artsakh, although it is also the Museum of Soldiers. As you can guess all are similar because they talk in a very detailed way about the war with Azerbaijan from the point of view of Armenia. In these museums there are a lot of photographs of soldiers, some weapons, pictures from the polygon, photos showing the city after the bombing and photos of the president and prime minister. It also seems that local people care very much that the tourists of whom there are so few are acquainted with the history of Karabakh and to experience their tragedy with them. Then traveling around Karabakh hitchhiking, whether in the museum or even on the street several times people told me about the war with Azerbaijan. However, I do not think it’s strange that some cities are still completely or partially bombed, which makes it hard to forget about the war. I was also in a gallery called Kartinnaya where I saw the work of local artists and also the Soviet propaganda picture. At the bottom of the city is also the symbol of the city and the whole of Nagorno-Karabakh. It is a monument called Dziad and Baba (Papik Tatik) , which symbolizes the national identity of Karabakh by close attachment to the mountains. The statue is a likeness of a bearded man and a woman with a head covered with a plaid and this motif is often found on souvenirs and along the street near the Karabakh flag.
I also noticed that Stepanakert often referred to the Soviet era and, of course, to the war. In one of the squares there is a tank on the elevation, which is typical of all the Soviet republics and most of the characters are also in Russian.
Mayraberd fort near the village of Askeran
14 km from Stepanakert in the north-east are the Mayraberd fortifications. It is an interesting fortification building with several towers built in the 18th century, which used to be 1.5 km long and today lies on both sides of the road and river. Walls start from the road, but to see it more accurately climb on each side.Ruins of the Mayraberd Fortress are worth a visit and are worth a visit in the beautiful Karabakh Valley.Interested people can spend more time here because Karabach offers beautiful nature, and in this place it is difficult to get lost.
The Askeran village is a small settlement with several houses where you can buy water and food. The beauty is beyond the village.
Mayraberd got hitchhiked. This route is often frequented and the object is well known and there is no transport problem.
Agdam is a ghost city where after heavy bombing by Azerbaijani aviation survived only a few houses, and those still standing in terrible condition because there is always a lack of either walls or roofs. The mosque is at its best, though. Besides, Agdam is in the fire line with Azerbaijan and before the “city” I saw the military base of Armenia with several cannons and armored cars. My feeling about Agdam is obviously tragic because about 20 years ago it was a normal city. There were people here, they went to work and the children went to school. Today it is hard to imagine that there was life once because today it is only a ruin with a few standing walls of houses. Anyway Agdam is a very specific experience which I highly recommend.
With transportation I was lucky because other tourists were taken by my rented car. From what I know to Agdam can be a problem with transport and even taxi drivers are reluctant to go there because it is a militarized zone and therefore in the case of stopping by the military you have to answer the unpleasant questions. Standing on the fork of the road sooner or later will surely stop a car.
In front of Agdam there are ruins of the Persian cemetery bombed during the raids carried out by Azerbaijan. This is a field with scattered ruins of graves in dense grass on the ground with small craters after bombs. Being in the wilderness, on an empty road and having only the horizon in front of you, it is a special place of special mood.
Persian cemetery is located about 2-3 km from the center of what is left of Agdam.
32km from Stepanakert is the only fortified fortress yet, whose walls and towers are all in the middle, and there is even a small museum and shop. In the square there is a small fountain, a pair of trees and a stone staircase to the top. The Tigranakert fortress is also charming because of conifer trees planted outdoors. At the back of the fortress is a secluded place in the form of a small chapel, rich vegetation and crystal clear water.
I started with Tigranakert with a private car but I do not think that getting here is a problem. This property is located on a straight road from the previously described Mayraberd fortress and is a popular place.
My next trip to Nagorno-Karabakh this day
I was lucky because I was traveling by private car with tourists so I saw more of that day than I planned. He took me and the Belgian traveling together. From Tigranakert we went further north to the village of Nor Maragha where we bought some food. Then we headed north to Martakert and here we turned west. On the way we stopped at a stop near the wreckage of the tank which is a memorial from the last war. Shortly afterwards we reached Sarsang Reservoir and then headed south. After dark, we stopped by a small hill with old stone haczkarami. Then driving through Vank and staying for a while in the Gandzasar monastery we went straight to Stepankert. There we ate shish kebabs for only 800 drams and it was the end of my exciting day in Nagorno-Karabakh.
(Those interested may also divert from Martakert to the Jraberd fortress in the north, but this requires a military license and new effort.) Against the background of other monastry and ease of access to them, I do not think it was worth it.)
Karmir Shuka (Krasny Bazar) and other information you need
This small village is not anything interesting except that there are beautiful views around and if needed a shop that I assure that it is in a remote area. Besides Krasny Bazar, the government of only a few houses is located only 2km north of Skhtorashen , a huge 2,000 year old tree. The more interested I also mention that near the village of Sarushen (26km from Stepanakert and a few km from Krasny Bazar) right next to the road behind the trees are the ruins of the twelfth church called Pirumashen . This means that so small and meaningful, uninteresting village can be a good place to go to other interesting places.
I hitchhiked to Krasny Bazaar, although the road is less frequented, which means that you can wait longer.Leaving the Stepanakert road leads to Shushi although at some point there is a fork at which you have to get off. One road leads up to Shushi and the other along the valley of Hadrut. On this road you just have to wait for the hitch.
Nagorno-Karabakh is a place where we will see many beautiful views, ancient churches and where we will hear many stories about the war, but there is one thing that is quite different. This is a wonderful phenomenon of nature is Skhtorashen, a huge 2000 year old tree. The tall, massive trunk is so huge that it can be used inside the room. You can also plant a tree, admire its high green crown, and there is also a turquoise pond. Skhtorashen is a unique place that looks just 5 minutes away but there is so nice and peaceful atmosphere that I stayed over an hour. I think it’s worth the effort to come here.
I came here 2km by road uphill from Krasny Bazar. As soon as the dirt road is finished, there is a fork and you must turn right. It is a pleasant walk and along the way you can also see grazing donkeys.
Other travel options on the route to Hadrut
If anyone is interested, has time, has accurate maps, equipment and likes hitchhiking, and on the other hand if someone has money for a private taxi and guide I recommend the rest of the expedition. On the route to Hadrut is the village of Azokh (14km from Krasny Bazar) from which you can go on a hike for Azokh caves (need good flashlights !!!). Continue with the Azokh on the route to Hadrut you can stop to see the monastery Gtchavank . In turn, from Krasny Bazar you can take the road south-east to the Amaras, 15 km away .
I think that even on the hitch, you can see everything in one day. However, I recommend taking the tents if the hitch has failed.
Then from Krasny Bazaar I hitched straight to Shushi or the second biggest town in Karabakh after Stepanakert. First I stopped by the defensive walls that are at the beginning of the city and I walked in and watched the views. On the margins, the ramparts are remnants of a fortress built in 1750. Then I went to a very good art gallery where there were many interesting works. I spent about an hour there, not only because of the nice girl in the short skirt. The gallery contained beautiful landscapes, interesting portraits, sculptures and paintings of groups of people. I have taken pictures of many works as a souvenir. Then I went to the fountain square where a tall white orange hotel stood and then I went to the bombed section of town . Passing through the post-Soviet houses in a bad state and walking on a hollow road I found myself in another ghost town. Just as before in Agdam, too, in Shushi I saw naked walls without roofs, covered with dense bushes of the jerks and additionally “decorated” wreckage of cars. Noteworthy here is the ruins of the mosque of 1875, which has the advantage that you can climb to the summit of the minaret. I did it so I saw the skyline. Ruins are a very secluded place, reflecting on the consequences of war and the price that ordinary people pay.
Then I went to the Shushi Museum which was also interesting. The museum is housed in a brick house amidst ruins and small residential houses. It leads to a maze of narrow muddy paths and the gate is only conventionally because it was easier for me to enter through a hole in the stone fence. In the museum itself there are, of course, memoirs after the war in the form of photographs of the fallen and photographs of Shushi before the bombing. There are also pictures of brave commanders, aviators, and guns from those days. There is also an interesting section devoted to local produce such as carpets, paintings, musical instruments, handmade slippers and everyday items such as old coal irons. The museum was definitely back in time and at first glance nobody would expect that such an important part of the history and national identity of Nagorno-Karabakh is here. Then I walked along small paths passing puddles and walking cows until I reached the beautiful in every way and made a great impression of the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral , also commonly known as the white church. It is a new cathedral built in traditional Armenian style with many paintings, angel statues and a chapel in front of the church itself. Nearby there is also a pub serving good food, which I recommend. Then I walked the streets of Shushi watching the post-Soviet houses of the plates, many of which were in terrible condition, and I was looking at the people and they were at me. Shushi is not an amusement park and life is very heavy here. The houses were gray, unmade and dark but unlike any other part of town they were at least whole. After a while I reached the Kanach Zham church, commonly known as Green. The church itself is very small but beautiful in the middle and I think that space is very well used. Highly recommended and experience it.
Route from Shushi to Stepanakert
I was lucky because there was a small bus of workers working in Shushi and living in Stepanakert. They took me and after 15 minutes I was already in place. If anyone is not so lucky, on the Stepanakert – Shushi route are running regular routes, although if I’m not the last one departs at 6 pm. Also many people are moving between these cities so even after hours you can stop hitchhiking. If anyone wanted to take the 9km route on foot, then it is better to do it with Shushi because it will then be up hill, and besides, it will be time to observe the beautiful views. About halfway through the route there is a tank on a concrete pedestal, probably as a symbol of victory over Azerbaijan.
Vank is on the map of the world because of the historic monastery Gandzasar, which is located nearby.Vank is a very nice, small village surrounded by beautiful mountains where there is a boat-shaped hotel on the river, a gift shop, a school and several houses. I spent some time here with locals, especially since they served me cheese and fish that I caught.
Between Vank and Stepanakert run only two buses a day so if anyone is late there is a hitch or taxi ride.Vank is also the only place in Karabakh where I went by bus. The ride lasted 45 minutes and I paid about 500 dram.
Monastera Gandzasar (40km from Stepanakert) built in the 13th century is the largest, well preserved and beautifully located monastery in Karabakh (Artsakh). It is built in typical Armenian style and has a pretty chapel, altar, haccarians, several bas-reliefs on the outside walls and a typical “bell” in the central part at the top. Monastera Gandzasar is situated on a hill 2.5km from Vank in a pretty garden and this temple also offers beautiful views of the valley and mountains. The attention should also be paid to the graves placed on the outside and the well-carved hooks which protrude from them. Today, Gandzasar is home to Archbishop Artsakh and one of the region’s major tourist attractions.
To the Gandzasar monastery I got hitchhiked while standing on the trailer of a delivery van. On the way back to Vank I walked on foot but from the hill it was a pleasant walk.
Transportation to the Dadivank monastery
At first I would like to point out that Dadivank is located over 100km from Stepanakert and there is no organized transport. So either a very expensive taxi or an unsure on this hitchhiking route because especially the other half of this road is rarely attended. If someone is traveling in a group of four or five people, a taxi for the whole day is a good option, but for a poor traveler it would be a financial knockout.Just in case, I recommend taking a tent and a pantry, as hitchhiking on some stretches of this route can be a big disappointment, even though I have managed the best. The first stretch to Vank and Gandzasar is from Stepanakert very easy. From there I took another hitch that took me a little too far, but fortunately I managed to catch a 30 year old Moskvy, who drove through the Drambon (uninteresting hole that is a favorite stop for truck drivers). Once we reach Drambon we can congratulate you because it is only there, or with a bad hitch up to 16km. I advise you not to wait for salvation in Drambon, but to go out and wait for any movement of cars. There are no asphalt in this section, but only the ground with huge pits and puddles when it rains. Me to Dadivank picked up the same Moskvic because he was going there and admit that it was a very adventure ride. The driver was crazy, he did not slow down at the turn and drove into the pit, but the nature was covered by dust from the road was beautiful. There were mountains, grazing animals, rocky roads and a lot of space. I also add that during over an hour of driving I have not seen one car in any direction. In the end, however, I reached Dadivank Village and saw the monastery upstairs.
Dadivank is a 13th century church with several chapels, a beautifully carved bell and several beautifully carved haczkars. This complex consists of several parts and also has an open-air square and a secluded passage under massive pillars. This is a beautiful, secluded, secluded church with frescoes in the middle and bas-reliefs on the walls. I know that getting here can be an adventure in transport but I think that Dadivank is one of those facilities that the tourist should see.
Transportation from Dadivank to Stepanakert
When I came down from the mountain after seeing Dadivank, it was getting dark and unfortunately there was no car. So I walked about half an hour wondering where I would break camp but fortunately the Soviet Kamaz truck pulled up and the driver took me to Drambon. From there, other people took me hitchhiking to Stepanakert, and it was a very informative ride as the older man told me about his harsh life in Karabakh, about how he fought in the war with Azerbaijan and how his comrades were killed and how he later rebuilt Karabakh. The war for independence lies very deep in the hearts of these people.
My last day in Karabakh was not full. On this day I packed up, bought souvenirs, went to the post office and headed to Armenia. First I took the first hitch on the suburb of Stepanakert and there I was able to stop the truck going to Erywana. But soon I got out of it because the driver could drive only 20km / h and was unable to drive faster. Then unfortunately I stood a little on the road but finally stopped the Opel who was driving fast and stopped even for photos. I got off in Armenia on the outskirts of Goris.
Summary of the Nagorno-Karabakh
My stay in a country which officially is not very successful and I believe that anyone traveling in southern Armenia should come to Karabakh to have this special experience. Nagorno-Karabakh offers beautiful views, interesting history and antique churches. People are also very helpful and are glad that we are interested in coming to their country and getting to know them as they are. On such a small area there are a lot of things to see and a lot of interesting adventurers await here. With private transport you can see everything in 3 days but with hitchhiking you have to spend at least 5 days.