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One of the interesting sites to explore and admire is the Htilominlo Temple. This very large 3 story brick structure was built in 1218 and stands at 46 meters. It was named after its builder, King Htilominlo who is also referred to as Zeya Theinkha and Nadaungmyar. Filled with complex roofs, ornate décor, and a large corncob tower, it’s easy to spot from afar.
The legend of how Htilominlo was chosen as king is quite interesting. Out of the five sons of King Narapatisithu, he was selected. The legend stated that the five sons stood in a circle with a white umbrella in the middle. Whichever direction the umbrella leaned towards, that son would become the next King! It’s also believed that the Htilominlo complex was built on the spot where he was selected.
Nearly 45 minutes outside of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, lays 2 very interesting sites worth checking out. Off the highway, towards the city of Aparan lays the 33 meter high Holy Cross and the Holy Trinity Altar of Hope. These two monuments are settled in the triangle of Ararat, Aragats, and the Ara Mountains.
The amazing thing about the High Cross is that it is comprised of over 1,700 pipe-like shaped crosses. It was designed that way to perform like a church pipe organ so the winds could play sacred music. The number of pipes corresponds to each year Armenia has adopted Christianity and each year a new pipe cross is added in October. Armenia adopted Christianity in the early 4th century. At night it’s also well lit and creates a dramatic effect too. The Holy Cross was founded by the then Prosecutor General of Armenia, Mr. Avghan Hovsepyan, Chairman of the Nig-Aparan Patriotic Union.
Nearly 45 minutes outside the capital of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, lays an interesting site near the city of Aparan, in the Aragatsotn Province, known as Alphabet Park. Standing next to a small pool of water and with the high Holy Cross hovering in the background lays a monument of 39 giant carved Armenian letters in stone and statues of famous Armenians such as H. Tumanyan, M. Gosh, and A. Shirakatsi. The park was dedicated to the creator of the Armenian language, Saint Mesrop Mashtots whose language he created over 1,600 years ago is still spoken today.
The Armenian language was created in 405 CE to make the Bible accessible to the new Christian nation and spread the word of Christianity. Armenians had to use Greek, Persian, and Syriac scripts to communicate before but now their new language was more able to handle their complex sounds of the local dialect. The Holy Scriptures, being written in Syriac, was thus, unintelligible to the devout followers requiring the constant need of translators.
One of the most beautiful natural landscapes to visit in northern Armenia can be found near the border of Shirak and Lori provinces along the Chichkan River. Chichkan River begins from the slopes of the Shirak Mountain Range and continues its 29 kilometer trek east through the Bazum Mountain Range. Supplied mostly by melting snow and groundwater the overflow is usually in the late spring to the beginning of summer. Trchkan Waterfall stands at 23 meters and is one of the highest in Armenia in the sense that it has one of the highest vertical drops compared to the other waterfalls (Shaki Waterfall has a vertical drop of 18 meters, Jermuk Waterfall stands at over 72 meters but the water falls along the rocks at a 60 degree angle and Kasakh Waterfall is 70 meters but multi-tiered)
I finally managed to visit this beauty of nature after living in Armenia for a year and a half during the end of summer. I was hoping to visit during spring when the background would be full of green and color rather than the sea of yellow but was too busy. Located only 33 kilometers from my city of Gyumri, I had my driver take me in his Russian made Lada jeep and take me through some small villages and through some spectacular landscapes of endless fields of wheat. There is nothing but endless cows and sheep grazing in the fields and once in a while you’ll be able to see hawk soaring in the sky. After driving past a small bridge we finally made it to our destination. There’s a small area where people parked but for those with good 4x4 capability you can take a small steep path down and cross two streams by car too. I got dropped off at the top so I had to walk down and then take my shoes off to cross the two streams that are about shin deep.
One of the greatest joys I’ve had to experience while living in Armenia is hike its tallest mountain. Mount Aragats’ name translates to Ara’s Throne but also believed to be named after an ancient Armenian god Ara. Mount Aragats is an extinct volcano and can be seen from the capital, Yerevan, the Shirak province where I live, and the Kotayk and Aragatsotn provinces too. Mount Aragats is comprised of 4 peaks, the highest is the Northern peak at 4,090 meters (13,420 feet), the next is the Western peak at 3,995 meters (13,107 feet), the next is the Eastern peak at 3,908 meters (12,756 feet), and the shortest is the Southern peak at 3,888 meters (12,756 feet).
The best time to hike Mount Aragats is in the summer months between June-early September when the trails are dry and stable. Unless you’re a professional climber then you can go year round. My friends in the IT sector were on vacation and asked me if I was interested in going with them so naturally I jumped at the opportunity. We left from the city of Gyumri where we live and it took us over two hours to get to the base. The base is next to Kari Lake and situated at 3,200 meters. You can’t miss it because there is a hotel there as well as a scientific research station there. I even saw some campers out in this area too if that’s what you’re interested in.
By far the most beautiful and memorable place to visit in Myanmar is the ancient city of Bagan. This was the only place that stuck out to me initially when I saw travel shows do episodes on this country. This was once the capital of the mighty Bagan Empire that governed most of present day Myanmar. At the apex of the empire’s power between the 11th and 13th century there were more than 10,000 temples, shrines, stupas, and pagodas. Now, there are over 2,000 left standing in various states of repair. Scattered across a 50 square kilometer arid plain this area is great place to explore on your own or with a guide.
I had the great fortune to spend time about two weeks in Myanmar in early January of 2017 and was able to spend about 3 days in this area. The weather was warm and the overall scenery and vibe was great. I spent the first day with a tour guide taking me to the major sites and then I went exploring on my own in the vast open space. The amazing thing is that there is only supervision at the major sites and all the smaller and lesser known stupas and pagodas. This enabled me to walk around on top of these pagodas and get some amazing photos.
Bagan is separated into two areas. The first is referred to as Old Bagan where a nice portion of the ancient temples, pagodas, and shrines are surrounded by a massive stone gate. New Bagan is referred to where all the newer hotels, restaurants, and shopping areas are. To enjoy the beautiful temples and stupas here you must pay for a Bagan Archaeological Pass for small fee that you can purchase immediately at the airport or at the any of the major temples. The pass is good for a few days and you must carry it with you at all times because the staff at the major temples will ask to see it. I made the mistake of leaving it behind on my free days and had to pay again.