The start of the journey, where there was still a "road" / Photo: Gayane Tonoyan
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The weekend was promising to be crazy – the non-stop rain of the previous two days meant that the forest we were planning to explore was going to be beautiful in fresh and bright colors, but it also meant that there was going to be mud, lots of it. Normally people don’t get excited about the mud, but there are normal people and there are the off-roaders who get ecstatic even just thinking about muddy roads.
This time the journey took us to the lush forests of the Tavush province in the northeast of Armenia. Our plan was to camp in the forest and explore hard-to-reach areas on 4WD cars using some of the “roads” that we knew should be there. While no one knew exactly where we were going to, the fact that a couple of those “roads” were on the maps gave some reassurance that they did exist in reality, so we packed our tents and camping gear and headed to Tavush.
Sranots Bridge built in 12th -13th centuries / Photo: Gayane Tonoyan
The road entered the forest near the village of Acharkut, about 160km northeast of Yerevan. In the beginning it was still a more or less passable mud road, but as we got deeper into the forest it got more and more difficult to pass. The “road” was essentially just deep furrows left by some huge military-style trucks. The rain had washed away most of the road turning it into a muddy-slippery river, which the cars were slowly swimming through like giant metal hippos.
Closer to the evening, we reached a nice campsite with water around and set up the tents. The next morning we headed to the southwest following the narrow and at times quite dangerous dirt road. Our caravan of three 4WD cars was slowly making its way up and down through the forest. The cars were occasionally getting stuck in mud and we had to have several rescue missions of getting this or that car back on the road again.
One of our "monster" cars stuck in mud / Photo: Gayane Tonoyan
After several hours of driving, getting the cars out of mud and repairing some minor and not very minor breakdowns, we reached the spot where the ruins of the monastery we were searching for should be.
Nothing in the vicinity could suggest that there were any traces of humans in the area. The forest was green and fresh after the rain making you feel like you were in a completely wild and humid tropical jungle. We then suddenly noticed a narrow pathway hidden under thick nettle bushes. After so many hours of driving and walking in mud, crossing the nettle bushes did not seem like a big deal, so we plunged right through the nettles.
As we crossed the nettle bushes going down through a small gorge, an incredible sight opened in front of our eyes. There it was – the Deghdznut monastery, one of the treasures of medieval Armenian architecture built in 12th-13th centuries and now lost in the forests of Tavush.
The main entrance of the Deghdznut monastery / Photo: Gayane Tonoyan
The ruins of the ancient monastery were covered with trees growing through its subtly embroidered cross stones, centuries old arches and rocks were gradually merging with the trees, thick moss was covering its stones making the man-made beauty dissolve in the nature.
There was something mystical in its abandonment - the powerful arches guarding the entrance were still standing strong despite the forest devouring the rest of the building, each step or sound we were making echoed from the walls of the main building giving an impression that the spirits of the forest were following us. The place had such powerful vibes that everyone suddenly got silent trying to absorb its beauty and almost tangible energy.
The ruins of the archway still standing strong throughout centuries / Photo: Gayane Tonoyan
After spending a couple of hours admiring the ruins and looking for pieces of cross-stones in the adjacent parts of the forest, we had to head back to the cars, as we had to get out to the main road before it got dark. We safely made it back to the civilization through the mountains and forests of Tavush. Deghdznut became one of my most favorite places in Armenia – hard to reach, but so powerful once you get there!
Practical tips:You can reach Deghdznut monastery either on a good 4WD vehicle, or hiking, depending on how much time you have. Either way, you need to take the mountain road that starts from Acharkut village and enters the forest. You can camp in the beautiful gorge and explore the area as there are several other interesting spots here apart from Deghdznut monastery – the medieval Kirants monastery (about 10km from Acharkut village), Arakelots monastery (about 3km from Acharkut village). While the nature is beautiful in summer and especially in autumn (Tavush province is famous for its incredible autumn colors with the symphony of colors culminating in October) heavy rains that are common in this region may make the road difficult to pass if you decide to go by car.