Hiking trail description
This trail is located on the border of the Kotayk and Ararat regions. After visiting the temple of Garni, you will travel to the entrance of the Khosrov reserve, where a service car will take you to Gilan village, within the reserve. You can buy yourself some extra time to explore more sights by spending the night in the village; overnight accommodations and meals can be arranged with a local family. The return is by the same route.
Pagan Temple of Garni is situated on the right bank of the Azat river, in the province of Kotayk. Legend ascribes Garni’s founding to Hayk Nahapet’s (the ancestor of all Armenians) great-grandson, Gegham, who named the temple of Garni after his grandson, Garnik. Another legend says that it was also called the Temple of the Sun, dedicated to the sun god, Mihr (Armenian deity).
The fortress of Garni was built in the Hellenistic architectural style, on a high triangular promontory, during the reign of King Tiridates I (Trdat, in Armenian) in the year 76. The fortress of Garni was destroyed several times throughout the centuries, but the Armenian kings would always restore it – turning it into a summer residence, a place for the military exercises of troops and even an Episcopal Residence.
Archaeological excavations around Garni have found late Bronze Age tombs, early Urartian and Armenian cuneiform and ceramic inscriptions, attributed to King Argishti, and an urban settlement in front of the fortress, the traces of which had been covered by both medieval and modern buildings.
There is also a medieval cemetery on the northern side of the village with carved khachkars (cross stones) and inscriptions on the tombs. Currently, the temple of Garni attracts numerous tourists visiting Armenia with its well-preserved majestic architecture and carvings.
The temple is open for everyone throughout all four seasons, and at night it is dressed in the beautiful glow of coloured lights.
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 1958, 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.
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.
Ice Prince Cave (Great Cave) is a natural monument in the Khosrov Reserve. It was previously referred to as a settlement. Some evidence claims that there was once a three-story church inside the cave, but today only a few walls remain preserved. The Ice Prince Cave is distinguished for its size and attractiveness. In winter, interesting icy vertical images cover the ground of the cave, and in summer, it hosts a magnificent view over the cliffs.
Rock Temple is a small medieval chapel carved into a piece of a red rock. Crosses and icons have been carefully carved onto its walls.
The flora within the Khosrov Reserve is plentiful, and includes around 1,800 species of plants, which constitute over 50% of Armenia's flora. 146 of these plants are registered in the Red Data Book of the Republic of Armenia. In the areas between Gilan and Kakavaberd, there are a variety of interesting plants, trees and flowers, which vary depending on each microclimate. A semi-desert landscape dominates the lower slopes of the mountains, and forest vegetation covers the mid-altitude slopes, where juniper and oak trees grow. Other plants include the broadleaf spindle, guelder-rose, sorbus, and Caucasian honeysuckle. There are also numerous species of flowers such as cichorium, white chamomile, clary sage, valeriana, Centaurea, nettle, plantain, 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. Thyme is known to lower blood pressure.
It is quite possible to hike this entire route without seeing any animals. However, the opposite is also true. A primary task of the Khosrov Reserve is the protection and breeding of species, which is strictly monitored and controlled. Usurian spotted deer, for example, were introduced to the reserve in 1954.
The most common animals include the Armenian mouflon, Bezoar goat, and some species of amphibious reptiles that can be encountered in great numbers in the summer months. Other, rarer sightings include leopards, brown bears, wild boars, foxes, hares, lynxes, martens, wolves, and badgers. The birdlife is especially abundant, with common sightings of black kite, bearded vulture, griffon vulture, eagle, wild pigeon and jay. Because of the great number of reptiles, hikers are encouraged to take extra care to avoid unwanted encounters with toxic vipers (Gyurza, in Armenian).
There are 55 species of mammals, 18 of which are registered in the Red Data Book, among them the Syrian Brown Bear, wild boar, long-eared hedgehog, mouflon, Bezoar goat, lynx, wolf, and fox. There are also 7 species of fish, and over 30 species of reptiles in the Red Data Book, including the Levantine viper, Montpellier snake, dotted dwarf and collared dwarf snake, Pleske's racerunner, five-streaked and three-lined lizard, golden grass and Snaider’s skink, and the eastern spade-foot, among others.
Safety and Connectivity
When taking this hike (Gilan village - cave - rock temple), mobile telephone coverage is available only in one place in Gilan village. The 911 emergency services operate throughout Armenia in case of any accidents. Take bottled water!
Best period: April -November
Distance: 26km from Yerevan
Duration: 37 minutes
Hiking trail length: 11km
Walk duration: 4.5 hours
Altitude from Sea Level: 1,570-1,920 m
Visible Trail Surface: 100%
How to Get There
In order to reach this route, the most inexpensive option is to get to Nor Nork 1st block and from there, take the minibus 268 (or another bus) toward Garni village. At the checkpoint near Garni village, you will have to order a car toward the hike’s starting point in Gilan village. If you’re taking a taxi from Yerevan to Garni, it is better to make sure it has a taximeter (be sure the driver uses it), or agree on a price beforehand.