« Armenia - Eight Days Itinerary

Day 7 – Artsakh – Shushi, Gandzasar, Vank, Agdam


Artsakh

After breakfast at the hostel, we started driving from Goris to the Republic of Artsakh. But first we stopped by the post office in Goris to get a postal mark in my Postal Stamp Travelogue book.

It’s a short drive and in less than an hour we reached the border. Everyone must stop here to get a visa to Artsakh.

Visa to Republic of Artsakh

Artsakh VisaIf you plan to visit the Republic of Artsakh, which is the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, claimed by Azerbaijan as its own territory, then you will need a visa, irrespective of what citizenship you hold.

The visa can be obtained at the Artsakh border post, or at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office located in the de-facto capital city of Stepanakert. You do not need to go to the embassy of Artsakh in Yerevan to apply for a visa.

The tourist-visa is free for first 21-days. The visa is given to you as a separate sticker, and not stuck in your passport. The border posts will not stamp your passport at all. This means that your passport will have no evidence of you having visited this disputed territory. Note that Azerbaijan will permanently block you from visiting them if they see any evidence of you having visited Artsakh. And in some cases may even arrest you for illegally visiting their territory.

 

Shushi, Artsakh

It took us about 30 mins to get the visa because of the group of tourists in a mini-bus. Driving along the winding roads of Artsakh, we reached our first city – Shushi.


[Entrance to the city of Shushi]

 
When the ownership of the territory of Nagoro-Karabakh was disputed between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Shushi was the capital of the region and found itself in the center of the dispute. Now under the Republic of Artsakh, this is the second biggest city after Stepanakert, which is the de facto capital city.

First stop in Shushi was Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, Armenian cathedral consisting of a church and a bell tower. It was built in the second half of the 19th century, and was the largest Armenian church up until recently. It was in use till the Shushi massacre in 1920, and then was used as a barn. It was restored in 1998. Interior decoration is quite modest, which is traditional for Armenian churches.


[Ghazanchetsots Cathedral]


[Ghazanchetsots Cathedral]


[Ghazanchetsots Cathedral]

 
A short drive from the Cathedral is Govheraga Mosque. The mosque was heavily damaged in 1992, but in 2007 and 2011 it was completely reconstructed. You can enjoy the building from outside, but it doesn’t function as a mosque anymore. It is abandoned nowadays.


[Street in Shushi leading to Govheraga Mosque]


[Govheraga Mosque]


[Govheraga Mosque]


[Govheraga Mosque]


[Inside Govheraga Mosque]


[Inside Govheraga Mosque]

 
After driving around a bit and seeing some sights of Shushi, like the fortress, a Soviet-era monument, a non-functional hamam and some war-torn buildings, we headed out of Shushi to our next stop – Vank.

Rooftop of a non-functional hamam in Shushi
[Rooftop of a non-functional hamam in Shushi]

War-torn building in Shushi
[War-torn building in Shushi]

Shushi fortress
[Shushi fortress]

Soviet-era monument in Shushi
[Soviet-era monument in Shushi]

Soviet-era monument in Shushi
[Soviet-era monument in Shushi]

 

Vank, Artsakh

A small town based about 36 km (22 miles) north of Shushi is called Vank. Levon Hairapetyan, a Russia based Armenian businessman was born here but lived most of his life in Moscow. After the fall of Soviet Union and end of Nagorno-Karabakh war, he funded the reconstruction of homes, the local school, and sponsored the building of the nearby Eclectic Hotel, which resembles a ship, along with some weird structures.

Entrance to the town of Vank
[Entrance to the town of Vank]

Structure of a lion sculpted with rocks and the hillside
[Structure of a lion sculpted with rocks and the hillside]

A lady sunbathing!
[A lady sunbathing!]

Two flying dogs made out of car parts
[Two flying dogs made out of car parts]

A range of cars up on pillars
[A range of cars up on pillars]

A wall of licence plates
[A wall of licence plates collected by Levon after the cars were made to change plates to Armenian ones from Soviet ones]

Eclectic Hotel resembling a ship
[Eclectic Hotel resembling a ship]

Just a weird pirate ship, now a restaurant, Vank
[Just a weird pirate ship, now a restaurant]

 

Gandzasar Monastery, Artsakh

From Vank, it’s a 10-minute drive to this 10th to 13th century Armenian monastery. “Gandzasar” means treasure mountain or hilltop treasure in Armenian. The monastery holds relics believed to belong to St. John the Baptist and his father St Zechariah.


[Gandzasar Monastery, Artsakh]


[Gandzasar Monastery, Artsakh]


[Gandzasar Monastery, Artsakh]


[Gandzasar Monastery, Artsakh]


[Gandzasar Monastery, Artsakh]
 

Agdam, Artsakh

The last stop for the day was the ghost town of Agdam. One of the strategic towns close to the ‘border’ of Artsakh and Azerbaijan, this was captured by the Armenian forces during the Naorno-Karabakh war, and forced the residents to flee east to Azerbaijan. Agdam was completely destroyed by the forces to discourage Azerbaijanins from returning. Further war and destruction left this town in a ghost state and uninhabited.

You will come across a police checkpoint and it is discouraged by the military to walk around in the town, but this is not really enforced. The center of the town is the mosque still standing in almost perfect shape.

I climbed the 75 stairs of the minaret of the mosque to get a view of the destruction of Agdam, along with its eeriness.

Agdam ghost town, Artsakh
[Agdam ghost town, Artsakh]

Agdam ghost town, Artsakh
[Agdam ghost town, Artsakh]

Agdam ghost town, Artsakh
[Agdam ghost town, Artsakh]

Agdam ghost town, Artsakh
[Mosque in Agdam ghost town, Artsakh]

Agdam ghost town, Artsakh
[Mosque in Agdam ghost town, Artsakh]

Agdam ghost town, Artsakh
[Inside Mosque in Agdam ghost town, Artsakh]

Agdam ghost town, Artsakh
[Roof of Mosque in Agdam ghost town, Artsakh]

Agdam ghost town, Artsakh
[Agdam ghost town, Artsakh]

Agdam ghost town, Artsakh
[Agdam ghost town, Artsakh]

Agdam ghost town, Artsakh
[Agdam ghost town, Artsakh]

Agdam ghost town, Artsakh
[Agdam ghost town, Artsakh]

 
It was a two hour drive from Adgam to the de-facto capital city of Artsakh, Stepenakert. After reaching the city, we checked in to the hostel and headed out for an early dinner at the circle. Then walked around the main square to see the parliament building, Presidential building and some people watching, before calling it a day.


[A cafe in Stepanakert, Artsakh]


[Parliament building in Stepanakert, Artsakh]


[Presidential building in Stepanakert, Artsakh]


[Stepanakert, Artsakh]

 

Costs

Note: All values in USD, unless otherwise mentioned, are approximate and based on the exchange rate of USD 1 = AMD 480 at the time of publishing. Each cost is for one adult.
 

What Cost Notes
Postal Stamp $1.81 AMD 870 from Goris, Armenia.
Snacks $1.48 AMD 710 for chips, water & sandwich.
Coffee $0.47 AMD 200 at Vank.
Fridge Magnet $2.08 AMD 1000 from Shushi, Artsakh.
Dinner in Stepenakert $2.30 AMD 1100 for burger & coke at Blues Bar restaurant.
Total Daily Costs $8.14 Per person
Overall Costs $2,071.72 Per person

 

« PREVIOUS – Day 6

Khor Virap, Noravank, Areni, Goris

Visiting some of the sights in south Armenia.

Day 7

Artsakh – Shushi, Gandzasar, Vank, Agdam

Visiting some of the towns in Republic of Artsakh.

Day 8 – NEXT »

Stepanakert (Artsakh), Tatev

Sights of Stepanakert, then to Tatev Monastery & back to Yerevan.

 


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