Once upon a time, Khndzoresk was Eastern Armenia’s jewel, a large, prosperous village, with a particular character given by its artificial caves built into the rock as homes, stables, and warehouses. These dwellings were inhabited till late in the 1950s, and today they stand as a reminder of the past and a tourist attraction unlike any other in this part of the world.
Khndzoresk is split in two: Old Khndzoresk is the part where you will see both man-made caves and natural caves. It is connected to the new village by a swinging bridge over the Khor Dzor gorge. The new village was erected in the 1950s when the population left the caves to inhabit more modern, convenient homes. The bridge itself was entirely built by the locals, by hand, and with private resources, and opened in 2012. Hanging over the gorge, 63 meters from the ground, the Khndzoresk bridge is 160 meters long and weighs 14 tons. The initiative belongs to Zhora Aleksanyan, who built the bridge to honor his parents, Haik and Tamara Aleksanyan. Speaking about the bridge, the local entrepreneur made it clear that its purpose is also to encourage the local youth to get back to their roots:
The ultimate goal, naturally, is to promote tourism in this region. However, as a native of this land and water, I wanted old Khndzoresk, where my father’s house is located, to become attractive enough to the outside world and where the term patriotism doesn’t exist on paper only. I want the bridge to serve as a road for the youth use to get back to their roots.
Many hiking excursions begin at the Khndzoresk swinging bridge and follow a path through the Old Khndzoresk cave village, past thousand years old churches, medieval homes left in ruin, and oak and hornbeam forests. On this route, the XVII century St. Hripsime Church (built in 1666) and the Surb Tatevosi Church, which is the resting place of Armenian national hero Mkhitar Sparapet, who is buried in the courtyard, count among the most interesting attractions.
Khndzoresk is a popular hiking destination especially because of its impressive mountainous setting, but also because the medieval cave village is full of charm. Abandoned and in ruin, the former homes still remind of worlds envisioned by the likes of Jules Verne and J. R. R. Tolkien. You should wear long pants because the area is full of stinging nettles and thorny shrubs that can cause pain on your walk.