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près de Sevaberd, Kotaykʼ (አርሜኒያ)
This trail will last for about 3 days, and places for overnight stays are also mentioned in the hike. It starts from Sevaberd village, in the province of Kotayk. The first day of the hike is the longest one, leading to Lake Akna. It is a small mountain lake surrounded on three sides by red sand and stone mountains, which have found their mirror - reflection in the lake for ages.
The hike then continues to the Azhdahak mountain, whose peak also borders with the province of Gegharkunik.
Azhdahak has a height of 3,597 meters (from Sea Level) and is considered the most beautiful, the most accessible and the highest point of the Geghama Mountains.
The blue-eyed crater lake is located on the mountaintop.
The next sighting on the hike is Vanqi Lake and the various petroglyphs that illustrate the artistic skills of Armenia’s ancestors. After examining the petroglyphs, the hike will then lead to Gilan village, where the hospitable villagers will treat their guests with Armenian traditional dishes. Then the cars of the reserve will take visitors to the pagan temple of Garni, in Garni village. Djutakasar is located on the east of the temple, while on the south, in the Azat gorge, flows the Azat River.
The route ends here - with views of the rich landscape full of diversity.
Geghama sierra lies in the central part of the Republic of Armenia, in the provinces of Kotayk, Gegharkunik and Ararat, and is a result of volcanic activity.
The mountain range extends along the meridian direction. The Gegham mountain range is spread with a number of small mountain and crater lakes. One of the lakes, fed by snow-melt, is located in the crater of Azhdahak Mountain.
The mountain chain is like a mountain shield with a central high base of about 65km in length and 35km in width, laid with numerous volcanic cones, including Azhdahak - the highest peak (with a height of 3,597.3 m), Sevakatar (3,225.1 m), Spitakasar (3,555.7 m), Nazeli (3,312 m), Vishapasar (3,157.7 m), Erakatar (2,589.6 m), and Geghasar (3,444 m).
From the western slopes of the Gegham Mountains flows the waters of the Azat, Vedi, and Getar Rivers, while from the eastern slopes start the Gavaraget, Argitchi, Bakhtak and other rivers. The famous lakes in the area are Aknalitch (3,031 m), Vanqi Lake, and Vishapalich, as well as the lake located in the crater of the Azhdahak mountain peak.
Lake Akna (3,030m above Sea Level, 0.5 square km of area) is of volcanic origin and is situated on the plateau near the Gegham mountain peak. Snowmelt and spring waters feed the lake. Young volcanic cones and alpine meadows surround it as well, and the water is clean and potable. The surrounding mountains and blue sky are reflected in the mirror-like surface of the lake.
A piping network of streams starts from Lake Akna and irrigates the wide pastures down below.
Azhdahak Mountain is located in the center of the Gegham mountain chain. Its highest peak (3,597 m) is located on the shared border between the provinces of Kotayk and Gegharkunik. On the north-west side of the mountain, adjacent to its’ top, there is a water-filled crater, formed by volcanic eruptions and lava outflows. The mountain is snow covered most of the year, and its’ slopes are bare.
The name Azhdahak has its origins in Armenian mythology, meaning half man and half dragon.
Vanqi Lake (Vishapalich)
In the Gegham mountains, on the northeastern shore of Lake Sevan, on the slopes of Aragats and in other places, many ancient stone statues are found, known as "Vishapakar", (dragon stone) dedicated to the worship of dragons and attributed to III millennium, BC. The Vishapakars were made from a single piece of stone. The tallest of them is 5.06 m high. Vishapakars have a fish-like appearance with a snake, bull, ram, stork and other animals carved on them; the vishapakars were usually placed nearby water sources, channels, reservoirs and artificial lakes. These stone sculptures were said to be deity idols, patronizing agriculture and irrigation and personifying the worship of water. Near Vanqi Lake (in the Gegham Mountains), two vishapakars have survived, the tallest of which is 3.5m high.
Petroglyphs and Cave Paintings
The scenes depicted on the petroglyphs reflect the worldview, the material and spiritual lives of people of the respective era. The petroglyphs enable us to have an insight into the lifestyle, habits and worshiping practices of the ancient inhabitants of the Armenian Highlands. According to scientists, the images of the petroglyphs had religious, and/or magical meaning։ consisting of symbols or ideograms, which, according to some experts, served as the basis for the establishment of an alphabet. The Gegham mountain petroglyphs (which refer to the Neolithic period) are sometimes carved on immense quartz rocks, mostly on metallic gloss surfaces, carved with ancient hand chisels and stone knockers. The petroglyphs are distinguished by the diversity of wild animals, the most remarkable of which are the depictions of the animals currently extinct in Armenia, as well as of those still living in the Geghama sierra. Animals and birds, as well as human figures, heavenly bodies, various objects and divine characters are depicted both individually and in groups. The Geghama sierra petroglyphs have undergone detailed studies and have a definite chronology.
Throughout various periods, about 3-4 thousand depictions were made, a more detailed and complete description of which can be found in H. Martirosyan’s book - "Petroglyphs of the Geghama sierra."
The petroglyphs of the Armenian Highlands are of great importance as historical sources, as they are the oldest in their origin and are considered a rich archaeological resource.
Gilan village is located 8km from Garni, in the Khosrov Reserve. There is no school, village administration or hospital in the village. Gilan does not technically have village status, but people live here together with their families, without any major issues. Here, 20 families work together to cultivate their land, plant new trees and enjoy the large variety of fruits and vegetables that this land provides them with, year round. All the people of the old village are highly hospitable, and often host tourists during the summer months, offering them tasty traditional Armenian dishes and a place to stay.
Khosrov Forest (including the Urts Reserve and Garni Reserve) was once, about 1,700 years ago, the hunting ground of the 4th century Armenian king, Khosrov G. Kotak (Khosrov III the Small), after whom it is named. It was he who turned the southern slopes of the Gegham Mountains into a forest-reserve and it was during his reign that, according to Khorenatsi, the forest grew noticeably in size. For centuries, the reserve was mentioned in Armenian history as the hunting ground of the noblemen. Various animals from different regions, including Persia, were brought to the reserve and bred there. The reserve is located on the southern side of the Gegham Mountains, on the northwestern slopes of the Urts and Yeranos mountain chains, in the Azat and Vedi river basins. At an altitude of 1,600-2,300m, and with an area of 27,000 hectares (9,000 of which is covered with forests), the reserve has been under State protection since 1,958, in order to preserve, improve and propagate existing and new species of flora and fauna.
There is a total of 312 monuments, monasteries, churches, khachkars (cross stones), forts, and settlements in the territory of the Reserve. The Khosrov forest starts at the Araks River, in the Ararat valley and stretches up to the Azat River. The Kakavaberd Fortress, Geghard, Havuts Tar, and St. Stephanos (Surb Stepanos) monasteries, a church carved into a cave, a medieval bridge and other historical monuments can be found in the Khosrov Forest. The Azat River flows through the Khosrov forest, with its abundant tributaries forming numerous rapids and magnificent waterfalls.
As mentioned by Khorenatsi, during the reign of Khosrov G Kotak, a great afforestation was made within the reserve, in the territory from Gilan to Kakavaberd.
The Gegham mountain flora is devoid of forests and trees, as it is located 2,800 meters above sea level. It is entirely composed of high mountains and massifs. The alpine nature is distinguished with its meadows and small mountain lakes. Short stem alpine flowers cover the banks of rivers and cool streams flowing down the mountains. Flowers of the same type and color cover hundreds of meters of territory. There is also the dark-blue alpine violet growing here, coloring the alpine meadows with its blue shade from July to the end of August.
The upper areas of the Azat and Vedi river valleys are sparsely covered with oak and juniper forests.
The flora within the Khosrov Reserve is plentiful – it includes around 1,800 species of plants, which constitute more than 50% of Armenia's flora, by species! 146 of these are registered in the Red Data Book of the Republic of Armenia (similar to IUCN Red List of Threatened Species).
In the areas between Gilan and Kakavaberd there are a variety of interesting plants, trees and flowers, which vary depending on each microclimate. Semi-desert landscape dominates the lower slopes of the mountains, and forest vegetation covers the mid-altitude slopes, where sparse juniper and oak trees grow. Other plants include the broad-leaf spindle (Euonymus europaeus), guelder-rose (Viburnum opulus), sorbus and Caucasian honeysuckle, and species of flowers such as cichorium, clary sage (Salvia), valeriana (Valerians), Centaurea, nettle, plantain (Plantago), white bryony, and Achillea, which are said to have healing properties. Plants like thyme (Thymus) and mint grow here, and are often used as herbs in teas and cooking.
Geghama sierra slopes have relatively few animal dwellers.
Only stray species of wolf, fox, wild badger and hare, various species of mice as well as about 250 species of birds (which constitutes the 70% of bird species, dwelling in Armenia) can be encountered here. Some parts of the Geghama sierra southern slopes are included in the area of the “Khosrov Forest” state reserve. It is quite possible to hike this entire route without seeing any animals. However, the opposite is also true. The primary task of the Khosrov Reserve is the protection and breeding of species, which is strictly monitored and controlled. Usurian spotted deer, for example, was introduced to the reserve in 1,954.
The most common animals include the Armenian mouflon (wild sheep) and Bezoar goat (wild goat) and some species of amphibious reptiles that can be encountered here in great numbers in the summer months, due to the hot weather. Other, rarer sightings include leopards, brown bears, wild boars, foxes, hares, lynxes, martens, wolves and badgers.
The bird life is especially abundant, and sightings of black kite, bearded vulture, griffon vulture, eagle, wild pigeon and jay are common. There are also many reptiles, and hikers are recommended to take extra care to avoid unwanted encounters with toxic vipers (Gyurza, in Armenian).
Safety and Security
Mobile telephone coverage in the areas between the Geghama sierra and the “Khosrov” reserve is available only in some mountaintops and in one place in Gilan village.
It is not advisable to climb the mountains in rainy weather.
The 911 emergency services operate throughout Armenia in case of any accidents.
Be aware of snakes in the “Khosrov” reserve. Be sure to bring bottled water!
Best period: July -September
Distance: 46km from Yerevan
Duration: 1 hour
Hiking trail length: 35.2 km
Walk duration: 3 days, 4-5 hours of hiking per day
Visible Trail Surface: 30%, 70% easily discernible
How to Get There
In order to reach this route, the most convenient option is to take a taxi from Yerevan to Sevaberd village. The return to Yerevan is from Garni village. It is advisable to take a taxi with a working meter (be sure the driver uses it), or agree on a price beforehand.
It is also possible to take a minibus that leaves from the Yerevan bus station up to Geghashen village, and from there take a taxi to reach Sevaberd village (minibuses do not reach there).