Mid-April, CNF’s Armenia national coordinator Arman Vermishyan and I set off for a closer look at some of the Armenian protected areas where we are already working or are planning to work. Our dual objective was to assess their problems and potential, and to scout out the Armenian leg of our September donor trip.
This is the third in a series of several reports on our two-day trip. Read part 1 →
Khosrov Forest State Reserve
After morning meetings, we leave Yerevan at midday with the sun shining brilliantly and the April day warm enough for a T-shirt. Garni village, with its famous classical temple, is only about a 45-minute drive from Yerevan. Just three kilometers farther is an entrance to the stunningly beautiful wilderness area that is Khosrov Forest.
But those three kilometers remain a significant obstacle to tourism development. The trip down the gorge separating the village from the reserve and then up the other side requires a 4-wheel drive vehicle and adds a bouncy 25 minutes to the journey. As CNF works with the park going forward, we will be pushing Armenia’s Ministry of Nature Protection to concert with the municipality to improve access.
I have been to the Garni district of Khosrov Forest several times before, but each time on a more official visit when jeep trips into the forest depths were designed to cover ground and allow me to see as much as possible. This time, I am determined to get out, have a walk and get a real sense of what a tourist, having gone the extra mile to get there, can actually do in the reserve.
Our planned hike begins with a splendid 20-minute jeep ride along the dirt track paralleling the Azat river that forms the main gorge in the Garni district. This is a trip that could be arranged for small groups of tourists who, like us, do not have all day for their walk. As I look around along the ride, I feel myself being drawn into the reserve’s core. Just after a fork the road stops, and we begin a lovely 2-hour hike up a small valley to the rushing Vahagni waterfall named after a pre-Christian Armenian god. Bear scat and raptor sightings along the trail confirm that we are in real wilderness here.
Back at the visitors’ center, it is only a 45-minute walk to Havustar monastery’s ruins. As with many monasteries in the region, the location is dramatic and the ruins, which date from the 11th-13th centuries, do not disappoint. This will make an excellent short excursion for religious and cultural tourists.
Back in Yerevan, Arman and I retrace our steps with Google Earth. A full range of walks–from easy hour-long strolls, to more demanding three/four-hour excursions, to all day treks—can be developed. And certain trails can easily be adapted to permit fantastic equestrian trips. Some investment and planning is still required, but our day has confirmed my belief that unique nature tourism in Khosrov Forest is within reach.
David Morrison is Executive Director of the Caucasus Nature Fund