Lovely, historic Ashtarak is just 40 minutes north of the capital, but a whole different world—a slice of real, every day Armenia where kids play outside until way past dark, housewives can and preserve harvests from their gardens and men sit by the road over backgammon boards.
Its setting is dramatic, on the southern flank of 4,095-meter Mount Aragats—the country’s highest peak—bisected by the deep, cliff-lined gorge of the Kasagh River Gorge, flowing from the snowy north. On the high banks of the river is one of the country’s best collections of historic churches, including the Three Sisters: Karmravor, Spitakavor and Tsiranavor, dating from the Middle Ages, but built on the foundations of much earlier pagan temples. It’s the home of Armenian poet Gevorg Emin and novelist Perch Proshyan, celebrated at the graceful Proshyan House Museum.
This winding little walk takes you past all the major sights and through some of Ashtarak’s most charming neighborhoods. We start in the town center, home of the provincial government, city hall and statue of Nerses V Ashtaraketsi, a 19th century Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The fiddle music was recorded by my friend Lorrie Wilkes, a Peace Corps volunteer here in Armenia. It's a well-loved old Armenian folk song by the composer Komitas.