The Cave Dwellers of Khndzoresk
Back in October, we came up with an idea to travel to the village of Old Kndzoresk in the Syunik province of Armenia and spend two cheerful days in a cave.
The week preceding our departure was extremely cold, and it seemed that winter was rushing to win the race with autumn. Nevertheless, our decision was firm like steel, despite our friends trying to convince us to stay at home. “You’ll freeze to the freakin’ rocks and we won’t be able to scrape you off,” they said, hoping it’ll scare us. But we were unshakable even when many changed their minds and refused to join our somewhat crazy adventure.
As it turned out later, there was a wine festival in the village of Areni on the same day, and since we were gonna pass through Areni anyways, we decided to first join the wine festivities, and then continue our journey down south. Our plan was to hitchhike, but we needed to get out of the city, which we did, taking a bus to the main highway and getting of at the desired intersection. The first car didn’t take long to stop, and a few minutes later we were already on our way to Artashat. The driver dropped us off on the road, and before continuing our trip, we decided to take a little rest and eat some apples, which was quite symbolic in its own. The name of our destination – Khndzoresk is composed of the word apple, which is “Khndzor – խնձոր” in Armenian. At that exact moment, a car stopped next to us and one Polish hitchhiker named Arthur got out of the car. In a short conversation, we learned that he’s headed to the Areni wine festival, too. So he joined us and together we traveled to Areni, where we met a lot of friends and tasted delicious local wine.
Autumn in Old Khndzoresk, Armenia / Photo: Ani Seize
In this ebrious state, we continued our road towards Khndzoresk and arrived there, when it was already dark and foggy. While crossing a canyon over the hanging bridge, we were greeted by the jackals, howling enthusiastically and we were responding them with the same enthusiasm.
In the misty darkness, the floppy bridge of Khndzoresk seemed like an endless fairy tale route leading you to nowhere… Unlike the first time when passing through this bridge high above the gorge in the dark, this time we knew where we were going to. Not by a chance, initially Khdzoresk was called Khordzor or Khordzrevsk, meaning a “deep gorge”.
After a long road, we finally arrived in the cave (where we stayed last year) and settled in the “room”.
The word “room” is correctly chosen as these caves were previously used as lodgment: there used to be the village Old Khndzoresk till 1950, which was one of the biggest villages in the area. Supposedly, the room we were in has served as a kitchen as we saw a tandoor-like whole on the ground. So that day, we felt ourselves being the cave owners, or otherwise “cave dwellers”. We lit up the candles to brighten up the space a little and went to sleep.
The caves of Old Khndzoresk, Armenia / Photo: Narek Aleksanyan
The morning in Khndzoresk was whimsical… Not even describable with words… The canyon and the forest on the opposite side were encased in unreal mist… And from there, the sporadic half yellow trees and the hanging bridge were slightly visible. When breathing the fresh air, I could feel the gratitude of my lungs. My mind was purifying from useless thoughts and I felt how I was being absorbed by the nature, transforming into the mist and floating through the vast space.
We were roaming around, losing ourselves in the fairy tale of mist and in the thickness of the trees. Then we discovered the marvelous hawthorn standing on the edge of a cliff and offering its yellow fruit to the occasional passerby. After a generous feast, we walked back to the cave – our “home”. It was at this special moment, when the first ray of the sun reached us cutting through the mist and the clouds and opening a new view of Khndzoresk in front of us. Throughout the day, this place unveils different fairy tales.
It was pretty hot during the day, so I went to nearby water spring and dipped into the cold water. Then I warmed up under the sun, put on my clothes and walked to the cave… barefoot, feeling the Mother Earth under my feet.
Hawthorn berries, Old Khndzoresk, Armenia / Photo: Ani Seize
After saying goodbye to our friends, I was left with my friend Narek, so we started preparing for another night in the cave. The keeper of the area – a wonderful man with warm hospitality (who provided us with food last year), gave us candles for the night. We decided to make a fire on the portal of the cave. The fire, the moon and the symphony of the jackals… The mist and the cave… We slept just next to the fire, as it was very warm there and we were not afraid of our new friends’ visit.
When I woke up on the second morning in Khdzoresk, I felt a whole new world in front of me. Waking up early when camping in the nature brings you a different kind of delight: for instance, once, on a snowy November dawn, I went out of the cave and saw a group of animals moving through the lower pathway. At first, I thought they were dogs, but later on realized that the dogs would not be able to survive in this quantity of jackals. I was following the family of the jackals and this scenery took my breath away. One of the eldest ones was walking in front of the group, the other one behind, in the middle there were cubs playing with each other. There was so much vividness in this scene that I was even afraid to breath in order not to make it disappear.
The Cave Dwellers of Old Khndzoresk, Armenia / Photo: Narek Aleksanyan
This time, the rain was gently whispering to the ground. And the trees were brighter than they were yesterday. I woke up and wandered under the rain. Then I went to the spring to get that special feeling once again (this time under the rain), listened to the gentle singing of the bird, which was truly marvelous. I continued glazing my morning and observed the trees revitalizing, yellow leaves falling down like drops and returned “home” (to the cave) a little later.
Later that day, we packed-up our things, thanked the keeper and crossed it to the other side of the bridge.
Saint Hripsime church, Old Khndzoresk, Armenia / Photo: Narek Aleksanyan
It was nearly dark when I returned back home, tired but happy. Indeed, it is such a happiness to be surrounded by nice people who are always ready to help each other, even when you’re complete strangers to each other. It is a true delight to be in harmony with nature, respecting each other in a deepest way.
Interestingly, nature always endows me with good weather and the universe brings nice people on my way. Furthermore, hitchhiking is always fun and pure enjoyment. Besides, it is free of charge, which is very important! Oftentimes, people cannot afford to get these little pleasures of life because of lack of finances. Hitchhiking gives you the chance to feel happy moments without spending money.
So, don’t be afraid! Free your mind and make that first step, and life will bring you new opportunities to make it better! This one I know from personal experience!
Source: Self Travel Guide by Ani Seize