Vardenis and Ayrk
Vardenis is the principal town in the eastern part of Gegharkunik and looks as though it experienced better days before it became almost a dead end following the closure of the border with Azerbaijan. After leaving the main square the roads of the town are in a bad condition. Even worse is the road running southeast to Ayrk which has two small medieval churches. Ayrk itself is pleasantly set in rolling countryside but looks poor and even more rundown than Vardenis with many empty houses, probably deserted by fleeing Azeris and, with little potential employment to attract Armenians fleeing in the opposite direction, they have remained unoccupied. The two churches are about 150m apart. Both have barrel-vaulted roofs and good collections of khachkars. The northernmost church, dedicated to the Mother of God, dates from 1181 and the southernmost, St George's, is slightly later.
Although Vardenis is virtually a dead end so far as Armenians are concerned, this is not necessarily the case for tourists. They can either continue the circumnavigation of the lake or else continue across the difficult northern route to Nagorno Karabagh. Few tourists do either. The road on the easternside of the lake is mostly in good condition although there are some poor stretches, particularly in the south. The area at the extreme eastern end of the lake used to be an important wintering ground for wading birds but the reduction in lake level has destroyed the habitat. In autumn, however, greater flamingos can still be seen around the southeastern part of the lake. The northern side of the lake has few specific tourist attractions although there are some pleasant beaches and attractive wild flowers. A railway parallels the road: it was built to serve the gold mines at Zod but there are no longer passenger services beyond Hrazdan except in summer when the service is extended to Shorzha. The embankment can be spectacular with poppies, catmint, vetches and hypericum. On the eastern shore of the lake salvias and iris can be found among the tamarisk trees. At the northern end, look out for the dark purple-pink mounds of Onobrychis cornuta and the pinkish-white carpets of rock jasmine (Androsace sp) in May/June.
The beautiful Getik Valley, quite different from the Sevan basin, can be reached by heading north from Shorzha over the Chambarak (or Karmir) Pass (2,176m) although the road may be closed in winter by snow. In early summer colourful wild flowers carpet the hillsides of the pass. The road over the pass itself is not too bad but once Chambarak is approached it deteriorates markedly then remains very poor for most of the way until just before crossing into Tavush province. Unfortunately the route cannot really be recommended at present but for anyone wishing to travel that way allow half an hour from Shorzha to Chambarak and then two hours' quite difficult driving from Chambarak to Dilijan. The valley of the Getik itself is very pleasant, particularly further west, although it lacks any specific sights of interest. Two which are sometimes mentioned are both near the village of Martuni, not to be confused with Martuni on the south shore of the lake. The so-called fortress of Aghjkaghala, built in the 10th century, can be seen on the top of a hill high above the north side of the road just west of Martuni. Those who make the climb, probably under an extremely hot sun from which there is no respite, will be rewarded with an unimpressive tiny rectangle of stone walls which might have been a signal station but could never have held a significant garrison. Inside the small rectangle formed by the walls are phenomenal numbers of flies which, given the unusual location, might prove to be an undescribed species of interest to Diptera enthusiasts though not to others. There are pleasant views from the site but nothing particularly special by Armenia's high standards.
The other site, also just to the west of Martuni but south of the road along a bad dirt track, comprises the remains of Getik Monastery: in reality there are just a couple of courses of stonework to be seen along with a few remains of walls and pillars and some fallen stones. The site is historically important since it was the destruction of this monastery in an earthquake in the late 12th century which led to Mkhitar Gosh leaving Getik to found Nor Getik ('New Getik'), now called Goshavank.
Travelling north from Sevan to Dilijan in Tavush province became easier in 2003 as a new road tunnel was opened avoiding the Sevan Pass (2,114m). Unfortunately some of the earthworks on the improved road seem to have been carried out with scant regard for the stability of the hillside, and landslips are predictable.
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