Armenian Volunteer Corps

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Hiking in Karabakh

Janapar is a new hiking trail set to open in the Karabakh Region this spring. The region is full of amazing scenery and people, and the hope is that this trail will promote eco-tourism in the region and help the economy. I volunteered to test the new Janapar hiking trail. One day in early November, I set out in a marshutka (one of the mini-buses used as public transportation throughout Armenia) from Yerevan, crossed the Artzakh Mountain Range, and arrived in Stepanagurt. When I arrived, I found the local tourism ministry, got my tourist visa, and caught a quick marshutka to Shushi. From Shushi I started my hike south along the trail.

Late in the afternoon, I came to the small village of Karintak, located below the cliffs of Shushi. At about 4:30, I came across a man named Aram. Although my ability to speak and understand Armenian was not very good at all, he managed to communicate to me that night time comes very quickly in the valley we were in, and warned me of the wolves that can come out at night. He insisted that I stay at his home, and after hearing of the wolves, I was happy to accept the invitation.

That first night in Karintak was the first of many amazing nights I spent with families in the villages of the Karabakh region. We talked for hours, and Aram and his family were so nice as I tried to piece together sentences using my Armenian textbooks and dictionary. We ate lots of amazing food, watched Aram's 6 year old twin boys practice dancing, and drank homemade wine and an amazingly strong vodka the region is known for.

The hiking over the next few days was terrific. The walk from Karintak to Mokitarishen runs along a stream flowing between some spectacular cliffs, and I came across a small waterfall and very old stone bridge before leaving the valley. The trail surrounding Mokitarishen offered great views of Shushi and Stepanagert, and of the amazing mountains to the north. The next few days brought me through fields and rolling hills on my way to Azetarenots and Karmir Shuka. In Azokh I explored the caves overlooking the village. In each town I was struck by how friendly and giving the families I met were. I went to a number of family parties, ate delicious barbeque, and met wonderful people each night of the trip.

As I left Azokh on my last morning in Karabakh, I had to wake up before dawn to catch a marshutka back to Stepanagert. The night sky in Karabakh rivals that of the deserts in the American Southwest. Even the stars just above the horizon are very bright, and as I weaved through the hills on the way back to Stepanagert, I saw one of the nicest sunrises I have ever seen.

I was only able to do about 60 km of the trail, but I am looking forward to returning to Karabakh in the next few years to do the whole trip. I want to meet more great people and more of the amazing landscape, and to see the friends I made during my short time there.


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