While backpacking in Nagorno Karabakh, there are more sights to see and things to do than I first imagined. In the end 3 days and 3 nights in the region wasn’t enough, but we did squeeze in some awesome stuff in that time. Having a choice between Dadivank and Gandzasar Monasteries (we didn’t have time or funds to do both), we opted for Gandzasar. Merely because we spent a night in Vank at the Wacaday Eclectic Hotel, and it’s only a 3 kilometre walk from Vank town centre. It’s the cheaper and easier one to tick off (transport out to Dadivank is a bit trickier!) First up, cross into Nagorno Karabakh from Armenia and get your visa in Stepanakert.
Being Based in Vank
You’ll probably want to base yourself in Vank in order to get to Gandzasar Monastery. Vank sits quietly and vivaciously in some epic unknown mountainside, forest and rural charm. Our stay in Vank was rather mysterious. Perhaps I was haunted by my visit to Agdam earlier that day, or maybe it was the eerie mist which made the town look like it was about to rain. It didn’t. I’ll talk about Vank again in a future post.
Getting to Gandzasar Monastery
You have a few options to get to Gandzasar Monastery, these are:
2. Hire a car
3. Hire a driver
5. Go with a tour.
Typically options 2-5 are more challenging or expensive so stick to your backpacking guns and hike it.
Walking to Gandzasar Monastery
Again, when walking you also have two options on getting to Gandzasar Monastery:
1. Walk up the road where the cars go (longer, but easier terrain albeit with the risk of being run over)
2. Walk up the custom built path for hikers
We juggled things up a bit by walking up the road, and coming back down on the path. We had thought that just maybe a car would drive past to allow us to hitch hike a ride to the top. Alas that didn’t happen, this place is so untouristy there’s just not many people about!
Walking up the Road
Walking up the road is dreamy and mysterious. We were there in Autumn and the essence of colour that filtered through the air on the way up was magnificent. Trees were shedding their leaves in a mix of brown, yellow, red, orange and green. It reminded me of my childhood days in Northern Ireland. The entire road up to Gandzasar is an ascent.
It’s not too challenging but it is relatively long and has a few twists in it. You should make it to the top in around an hour or so at normal pace. We took time out to admire the views, take photos and relax so it took us a bit longer.
Only 2-3 cars passed us on the way up and none would stop to give us a lift, you might be more lucky. Summer season (July – August) is the busy time. We were the only backpackers walking up that morning.
After an hour you will reach a graveyard, this is the start of the area of Ganzasar Monastery. On the day we hiked it, the mist had completely covered the sky so we couldn’t see Gandzasar at all until we were a few metres from it. On a clear day for sure you will see it on the way up.
What is Gandzasar Monastery?
It’s an elaborate monastery complex at the top of a hill in the mystical valleys of Nagorno Karabakh. It dates back to the 13th century, though many parts of the monastery have been renovated and restored since then. A lot of people reckon that this monastery is the most important one in Nagorno Karabakh.
Outside the main grounds are a load of graves on hills, walk past them, through the main entrance arch and you’ll see this spectacular church sitting shyly in a land many have never heard of.
The church itself is called Surp Hovhannes Mkrtich and is huge. Inside lit candles, wall inscriptions and tombs on the floor from the bishops that worked here.
The living quarters are in the grounds of the monastery. Unless you’re completely into monasteries, an hour here is easily enough time to see the place. No entry fee of course but donations are welcomed.
The path back down to Vank from Gandzasar
Having taken the road up, we took the path back down. It’s quicker and offers better views of Vank itself. It will take under an hour walking down – it’s a fairly simple path to follow. Just follow the yellow railings all the way down. Be aware of loose sheep, dogs and goats here.
That’s pretty much all there is to do at Gandzasar. A worthwhile travel moment from the hidden gem that is Nagorno Karabakh.
My Videos from the trip to Gandzasar Monastery, Nagorno Karabakh: