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near Khndzoresk, Syunikʼ (አርሜኒያ)
This trail is located near the Khndzoresk village in the Syunik province. The slopes of the steep ravines are punctured by cave systems where the inhabitants of Old Khndzoresk village used to live, sheltered from the constant skirmishes of invading armies. The St. Hripsime and St. Thaddeus (Surb Tatevosi, in Armenian) Churches are located in this gorge. Mkhitar the Commander (Sparapet, in Armenian), a prominent Armenian military commander of the 18th century and a remarkable representative of the Armenian Liberation Movement, is buried in the churchyard of St. Thaddeus Church.
The “Swinging Bridge” of Khndzoresk spans the width of the gorge, providing easier access to the other side from the village of New Khndzoresk. Crossing the bridge, promises an adrenaline rush and indescribable emotions. To reach the end of the route, after crossing the bridge, hikers need to climb the 390-step wooden staircase. Thanks to the aromatic and tasty fruit trees (apple, plum and walnuts) of the gorge, through September to November, this ascent is even more pleasant.
There are a number of other highly recommended trails around the Syunik province. There are B&Bs and other forms of accommodation in Tatev, ideal for planning longer stays and experiencing the area in more depth. Staying in the guesthouse located behind St. Minas Church, in the centre of Tatev village, the marvelous scenery of Mount Aramazd and the Bargushat Mountain Chain can be enjoyed.
En route to the trail there are also some other important sights such as Noravank Monastery in Yeghegnadzor, Zorats Karer in Sisian, the Tatev Ropeway in Halidzor/Tatev, and the Devil’s Bridge at the bottom of the Vorotan gorge.
Despite its small land area, Khndzoresk abounds in sights and monuments of historic and cultural value. St. Hripsime church was built in 1666, although people are said to have inhabited this gorge for thousands of years. People used to inhabit the caves of Old Khndzoresk until the 1950s, when they were relocated to a more accessible village on the top of the gorge, New Khndzoresk. The last person left his cave dwelling in 1958, and there are often people who were born in the caves, wandering around their old village reminiscing and showing tourists around.
Most of the dwellings were once two-storey and three-storey buildings and some even had nice balconies. Inhabitants had to descend the steep cliffs with ropes in order to reach the entrances of some of these homes. The caves were used as storage and back rooms – but now their skylights, shelves hewn into the walls and deep holes where food was once stored, are all that remains. The village has suffered from many enemy invasions and numerous earthquakes throughout the centuries. Now, the only remaining buildings are the church and segments of walls, including those surrounding the cemetery.
Although these caves are the subject of admiration of many tourists, towards the end of the 19th century, this was one of the biggest villages in Eastern Armenia, with a population of up to 10,000 inhabitants. In 1913, there were 27 shops, 7 schools and a number of churches. Most of these buildings were repurposed to build New Khndzoresk.
The cemetery is usually the end of the hike, however the secrets of Khndzoresk do not end here – with a different story hiding in the darkness of each of the numerous caves, days could be spent exploring this gorge!
The trail passes through a forest of oak, hornbeam, maple and elm.There are a wide variety of fruit-bearing trees, including hawthorn, rose hip, wild pear and wild apple. There are primulas, squalls and other spring flowers, as well as edible mushrooms and types of herbs.
The prominent rivers of the region are the Vorotan, Voghji and Meghri. Vorotan is the largest river of Zangezur and flows past the Khndzoresk Gorge. Vorotan is famous for its huge gorge, which reaches a depth of over 800 meters.
The “Sosi and Zangezur” and “Shikahogh” reserves are also in this region. Within them are a number of other valuable and unique species, such as Greek walnut, Araks oak, Greek Silk vine, Greek walnut and spindle tree.
Brown bears, wolves, foxes, porcupines, moles, seven species of lizards, eight species of snakes, and two species of turtles are often seen in the area. Lizards (including the shy European snake-eyed skink), cat snakes and Transcaucasian snakes are uncommon but not unheard of.
The song of forest jays and the common blackbird will accompany hikers during the whole length of the trail. Other species of bird living here are eagles, large and small titmice, chaffinches, green woodpeckers, hawfinches, semi-collared flycatchers. There are a number of species of bunting, including the black-headed, the rock, the ortolan, and the corn bunting.The brown and the lesser grey shrikes can be seen in the bushes, while the common redstart, the red-fronted serin and warblers are found in the thickets.
Birds of prey include the short-toed snake eagle, the pern, the sparrowhawk, the common buzzard and the hobby falcon. In the low forest one can see the common kestrel, the long-legged buzzard, the booted eagle and the lesser spotted eagle.
Safety and Security
Mobile telephone coverage (via VivaCell-MTS and U-Com) is available throughout the area, and the 911 emergency service operates throughout Armenia in case of any accidents. Be sure to bring bottled water!
Best period: April -November
Distance: 245 km from Yerevan
Duration: 4 hours
Hiking trail description: 2.86 km
Walk duration: 2 hours (do not rely on the GPS-derived time)
Altitude from Sea Level: 1,264 – 1,549 m
Existing Trail Surface: 100% existing
How to Get There
In order to reach Khndzoresk from Yerevan, the most convenient option is to take a taxi. It is better to take a taxi with a taximeter (be sure the driver uses it), or agree on a price beforehand.