Here’s an account of the Enlightened Armenia Tour from the perspective of Envoy tour guides.
Enlightened Armenia Tour
“Hello, I am Milena, I am your tour guide! Now we are heading to St. Hripsime Church.”
The Enlightened Armenia tour starts with these words. However what is to come is not put into words, but one should see it with their own eyes.
Anyway, let’s have a go at retelling what we see and feel on the way during this “monastery-wrapped” tour.
The Enlightened Armenia tour visits some of the most historic and significant religious centers in Armenia. Hence you will see the Ejmiatzin Complex including the nearby St Hripsime and St Gayane. Then off to Khor Virap and down into the dungeon pit! However this is also the best place to admire Mt Ararat, so have the camera’s ready! This is also were we will enjoy lunch with a local family. Then off to the exquisite two storey Noravank set in beautiful mountain surrounds. Lastly a much deserved break at the Areni Winery.
Behind the construction of any church in Armenia there is always a story. Similarly St Hripsime Church carries it’s story through the centuries, giving additional appeal to this reddish-greyish stone construction.
Next comes its sister church’ St. Gayane, where one can learn about two nuns, the only ones in Armenia!
The last church of the complex is Etchmiadzin, the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the residence of the Catholicos. On entering, the unique and impressive architecture of the oldest cathedral in the world, it continues to delight even the locals. One of the Canadian guests, who was feeling sick and decided to leave the tour, after seeing Etchmiadzin feels much better and goes on with the tour. Here is where the prayers of the people reach God!
After forty minutes you are in Khor Virap, territory closest to the Armenian-Turkish border. You are struck by the presence of the biblical Mt Ararat – picture perfect and glorious! So close to the border, you can appreciate the unusual sight of an Armenian village on one side and a Turkish village on the other. One of the guests asks, “What if now I cross the border?” Everybody is laughing and says, “You better not try!”
Foreign guests are wearing shorts and in contrast Armenian women are dressed in long gowns. Foreigners are a bit confused, “Should we also be in long dresses?” “No it is just a baptizing ceremony inside the church.” The Italian guest is surprised, “At what age do Armenians get baptized?” “When the family or the person decides.” (Catholic Church baptizes the infants in the first weeks) Oh the diversities!
In the village near Khor Virap the group has its lunch. Our host, one of the villagers warmly welcomes our group. He has much to tell the guests about the local way of life. In the territory of his house it used to be the old capital city of Armenia’ Artashat. Once, when he was digging a in his yard, he found a jug full of bones. He donated it to the museum, but with more gardening and digging there are now numerous jugs in his yard along with their wonderful plants and flowers. His own mini museum!
Our host’ Harut is happy to learn that there is an Englishman among the tourists. Harut’s grandparents were from Mush area in Western Armenia, which people were subjected to the Genocide in 1915. His grandparents survived thanks to the Englishmen, who took them to the orphanage in Baghdad. Even after more than hundred years Harut thanks the Englishman for saving his grandparents. What a deep feeling of gratitude one must have! You could see feeling of pride on the Englishman’s face and he jokes, “It turns out that you are half-English.” We all laugh.
Finally lunch is served with such a big variety of dishes that the guests don’t know which one to try. They ask, “Is it usual to have so many different dishes at one meal?” “Actually yes, we, Armenians enjoy our food.”
The Chinese tourist wonders at the size of the Armenian house. Four Chinese families could live in this space.
After lunch coffee and chocolate is served on the terrace. Tourists are shocked how tasty Armenian chocolates are and the Swiss ladies say, “Almost like Swiss chocolate!”
The talks around the coffee table are as sweet as the Armenian chocolate and watermelon, but it is time to move forward! It seems that our hosts want to keep the guests a bit longer and the guests want to linger a little longer.
After about a one and a half hour drive you reach Noravank. A breathtaking scene of yellowish-orange rocks surrounding the monastery and the building itself astonish the tourists. The only two storey church in Armenia, featuring narrow stairs on the outside of the structure. Time for more and perhaps some more pictures! AFter all this is a very unique church!
The guide tells the story behind this monastery and one of the guests says, “All works of art are result of tragic love stories!” So true! Now we are laughing at a tragedy!
Everybody in the group is courageous enough to climb the second floor of the building. Next to the main building, in an entrance hall, one can see a real miracle! What miracle? I won’t tell, one should see it with their own eyes!
All of the above-mentioned churches have drinking fountains in the yards and during hot weather the water feels heavenly!
Finally we reach the last stop of the tour. This is another type of heaven with the assortment of Areni wines in a cozy café-winery, where you can try some Armenian wines, perfect preparation for a sweet nap on the drive back to Yerevan.
Although this was just my recount of our tour, you can get an idea of what to expect to see and feel during the popular Enlightened Armenia tour!
By Angela Grigoryan