Road to Freedom – A Long Way to the Jewel of Caucasus

Tatev monasteries
Tatev monasteries

Under minus 16 degree Celcius, I left the hotel in the downtown Stepanakert. The weather was surprisingly clear. Not even a sheer cloud present above the valley of mighty Caucasian range, this early morning. This perfection, however, left me one glitch; my tropical lungs were not accustomed to such chilling air, not to mention the occassional wind that breeze and made my breath even heavier.

As I walked out the lobby towards the parking lot, I discovered the mist from the night before has turned into powdering ice layer covering the windshield of the cars. When Nour–the driver, tried to wipe it away, it stuck like sticky rice on your finger tips. We waited a while, a longer while, until it melted down bit by bit as the engine of our car started rumbling–the sound you can imagine slightly less disturbing than a helicopter crash. Because it’s the masculine 1977 Lada 4×4.

When the sun went up higher, we moved. Slowly and carefully. We learned that an inch-thick ice layer on a curvy road were the perfect match to a potentially disastrous road accident. Yes, the road bank was no uglier than bottomless cliff that leads to an abyss.

Aside from those perilous thrills, the road trip itself was of a pilgrimage into the past. I wonder if I was lost inside a time machine.

Nestled amidst the waves of hills and mountains of minor Caucasian range, we passed thru dozens of monasteries and ancient settlements. “Some of them were from pre-historic time”, Nour added.

Intermittently, we saw cone-shaped roofs, from a monastery located on top of a nearly unaccessible hill. A glimpse later, another monastery popped up in view; was strangely built at the very edge of a cliff, as if to show that they were the mighty guardians to combat any incoming conquerors.

In fact, that was the truth. Some monasteries were built inside the sturdy stone walls, equipped with their own troops and weaponery. Onlooking the border of the enemy land, their gun windows seemed ferrocious, as if they were all prepared to annihilate any threats to their civilization.

And then the rest … were the silence of mountain waves, blanketed in snow.


Karabakh in the Winter seemed more like a monochromatic picture. As far as you can see, the mountains were powdered in snow. In the vast area of less than 50,000 inhabitants, you could expect no more than lonely houses in the frozed savanna, backdropped by the waves of Caucasus mountain range in the distance.

I found tranquility. A simple beauty. And my head started reverberating song, which lyrics tells about freedom…

On a waggon bound for market
There’s a calf with a mournful eye.
High above him there’s a swallow,
Winging swiftly through the sky.

How the winds are laughing,
they laugh with all their might.
Laugh and laugh the whole day through,
and half the summer’s night.

“Stop complaining!” said the farmer,
Who told you a calf to be ?
Why don’t you have wings to fly with,
Like the swallow so proud and free?”

Calves are easily bound and slaughtered,
Never knowing the reason why.
But whoever treasures freedom,
Like the swallow has learned to fly.

-Joan Baez-


As we made a long turn to curve down a hill nearing Goris Town, I spotted it! The Jewel of Caucasus–as they name it.

From where we made an abrupt stop, rows of colorful new apartments mingled with old stone houses. nestled peacefully right in a slope, walled by the Zangezur mountains, the son of Mighty Caucasus. I was stunned in amazement.

I stood at the cliff-side, looking down to a vast valley, and I let myslef drifted, in a strange meditation. How did they build it? How they survived the war? And how the early settler found this area at the first place?

Questions that brought me to Maria. Who always reminds me that freedom must come with a price, which sometimes you must afford with a life, thousand and millions of them.


Snowy Windshield at Stepanakert
Goris Town in the valley as seen from the hilltop
A monastery at the cliff side fortress
A monastery situated at the cliff side fortress
Villages near Goris Town
Villages near Goris Town
Road side at Goris Town
Road side at Goris Town

Tatev :

Tatev Monastery from as seen from the forest nearby
Tatev Monastery from as seen from the forest nearby
Built on the 5th Century, Tatev is the most modern building of its time
Built on the 5th Century, Tatev is the most modern building of its time
Cliff view framed by the window of Tatev monastery
Cliff view framed by the window of Tatev monastery
Long road to nowhere land has brought to me the miracles of Tatev
Long road to nowhereland has brought me to the miracles of Tatev
Sun calendar, to mark years, months, days, even hours. Miracles from the 5th Century.
Sun calendar, to mark years, months, days, even hours. Miracles from the 5th Century.

4 thoughts on “Road to Freedom – A Long Way to the Jewel of Caucasus

  1. Blue skies, snow-capped mountains, tree-lined streets, and sleepy towns. Your trip sounds like a serene and atmospheric one; a nice further introduction to this relatively unknown part of the world.

    1. Hi Bama…. yup, just like the life itself, it’s about going to the unknown, discovering new places and celebrating every surprises that comes along… 🙂

  2. Halo Mas Aria, salam kenal…mampir ke Georgia Mas, kami sekeluarga tinggal di Tbilisi, sampai skrg setelah 6 bulan di sini, baru ketemu 1 keluarga Indonesia… -Mia-

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