Hitchhiking Armenia’s Silk Road
As everything was ready for the trip, on a gloomy November Wednesday morning we took our backpacks and walked to the highway.
The sun was hidden somewhere behind the heavy grey clouds. I could sense the snow in the air. The winter was near. The road from Ashtarak to Bagratashen took us about 5 hours, passing through Aparan, Spitak, Vanadzor and Alaverdi – just another hitchhiking experience with nothing worth mentioning, except maybe the ice-cold winds blowing from snowy tops of Aragats and Ara mountains that caught us near the town of Aparan, and the lift we got from three policemen, who tried to pull cigarette packs out of a claw crane machine at a gas refilling station.
We arrived in Bagratashen at 3.15 PM. Whether it was due to the cloudy weather or the old Soviet buildings, the town looked very grey and somewhat lost in time. We sat on a bench under tall pine trees and ate apples, trying to decide what to do and where to start from. Two kids, a boys and a girl, passed by, examining us, strangers, with their curious eyes. Spartak, our last driver, suggested us to walk straight to the mayor’s office as it was the only place to get proper information regarding the Silk Road. This would later prove to be so wrong.
The mayor’s office was right behind us. One would need to have a good imagination to clear it out that the old Soviet building with an open balcony on the second floor was actually the town hall. Two men were having a discussion up there. Upon seeing us approaching the entrance, one of them – a pot-bellied short man, who turned out to be the town’s mayor Arkady Makyan himself, waved his hand calling us over to join them. “The Silk Road starts from the border and goes to the village of Ptghavan. That’s where you need to go, you shouldn’t have come here,” said the mayor, when we were drinking coffee in his office, heated by a stove. Mayor’s words surprised me as I was expecting to hear some Silk Road related history, since Bagratashen was mentioned to be the first town on the route. The mayor mentioned that there were plans to build a resting area in the village of Ptghavan, but then due to lack of finances, only road sings and a bus stop were set up.
No need to mention that the hospitality of local people in Armenia is never limited to coffee or tea only, and when our cups were empty the mayor offered us Italian wine. Then there were toasts, and talks, and toasts again, and French songs performed by Emée on her travel guitar, and toast again. Mayor’s face was turning red and so were our faces. Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach is doing no good to someone who’s about to get back to the Road again.
Willing to be helpful, the mayor called to his friend, who was said to be a history teacher. I talked to him on the phone, and the historian suggested us to visit the museum in a nearby town called Koghb, where according to him, we could find the information we needed. The town wasn’t located on our route, and when I mentioned this in a conversation with the history teacher, he said that our map is wrong and the Silk Road actually passes through Koghb. Well then, if so, we heading to Ptghavan and from there directly to the Koghb museum. We thanked Arkady Makyan for his hospitality and help. He drove to the village of Ptghavan, dropping off right under the “Silk Road” sing, and saying “If you’ll get stuck here, don’t hesitate to come back to Bagratashen to become my guests for tonight”, he drove his black Mercedes back.
Soon enough we got a ride to the next village, and from there with the help of a shepherd we got in a 1952 “Pobeda” car, and the driver named Armen drove us all the way to Koghb through villages of Haghtanak, Zorakan and Berdavan. He dropped us of by the museum. It was 5.00 PM now, and we were lucky that the museum was still opened. “Silk Road? Oh no, we don’t have any information about Silk Road here. You shouldn’t have come here. From Ptghavan the Silk Road goes towards Alaverdi,” said the worker of the museum. Nevertheless, he offered us a short tour and explained the history of the exhibit. He offered us coffee, but we refused, thanked his and left the building, walking back towards Berdavan.
It was dark outside. And now our plan was to get back to the Silk Road, and spend the cold night in a tent somewhere under the trees. Or, be hosted by some locals, if we were lucky. None of the cars passing by would stop for us, and so we walked along the road all the way to the next village – Berdavan. The road here was lighted by lampposts – perfect position for hitchhiking in the night. Yet no one would stop. Few people passed by, wondering who we were and where are we headed for, and fulfilling their curiosity they walked away, leaving us standing on the road.
(to be continued)