One of the halls in Arjer Cave, Armenia / Photo: Aram Arekhtsyan
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It’s true: Armenia is a museum under the open skies. You’ll be amazed by the great number of natural, historical and architectural marvels the country has to offer to travelers. But you get to see even more of Armenia's natural wonders should you venture to go deeper… into the caves.
The Vayots Dzor Province in the south of Armenia is home to some of the most famous and interesting caves in Armenia – the Magil Cave (also known as Magel, or Magellan, named after a local villager whose name was Magellan who discovered the cave), the Mozrov Cave (named after the village where the cave is located) and Arjer Cave (“arjer” means “bears” in Armenian; the cave was named so because bones of some bears were found in the cave when it was first discovered).
Inside the Arjer Cave in Armenia / Photo: Aram Arekhtsyan
I had been to the Magil Cave, but did not find it very interesting as we could not access the deeper parts of it without special ropes, and the accessible sections were not as rich in cave formations. But I had heard stories about the Mozrov and Arjer Caves and wanted to go there for a long time as they seemed to be much more interesting. I didn’t know the exact location of the caves, and going into the caves without someone who knew the inner routes properly sounded a bit too risky, so Mozrov and Arjer remained on my bucket list for a couple of years, until one day a friend suggested to go there to explore the caves.
The entrance to the Mozrov Cave / Photo: Aram Arekhtsyan
We first traveled to the Mozrov Cave, located some 130km from Yerevan at an altitude of about 1,500 meters above sea level. The cave was discovered by accident in 1980 when some explosive works were conducted during the construction of the road to the village of Mozrov. It is believed to be the third longest cave in Armenia (about 260m). We had a guide from the natural reserve who briefed us shortly on basic safety tips, and in we went into the damp darkness of the alien world of the cave.
As we got deeper into the cave, the flashes of our headlamps revealed dozens of stalactites, stalagmites and other cave formations all around us. Being inside the cave felt like we were inside a huge living being which had been there for many centuries hidden deeply in the mountain away from any intervention from humans. The dripping of the water echoed through the cave – the cave is considered to be “living” if creation of the cave formations still continues.
It takes centuries for stalactites to be formed, drop by drop / Photo: Aram Arekhtsyan
After spending about two hours in the Mozrov cave we headed to Arjer Cave, which we were told was even more spectacular than Mozrov. Discovered in 1978, Arjer is considered to be the longest cave in Armenia – its labyrinth-like halls and corridors stretch for over 3km. When we entered the first hall the incredible formations opened in front of us in all their beauty – in the blink of an eye, we were teleported into a fantasy land of weirdly shaped creatures that seemed to be alive and moving in the changing lights of our headlamps. Every movement and sound echoed in the perfect acoustics of the cave halls even more enhancing the impression that all those creatures were alive around us.
As we went deeper into the cave the passages got lower and narrower, and in many sections, we had to crawl through the narrow cracks to access the deeper halls of the huge cave. Every new hall that we found seemed to be more elaborately and intricately crafted by the fantasy land wizard. I couldn’t help thinking that just a couple of hours ago I had no idea that this mesmerizing world even existed. Passing through the cracks and corridors was becoming very difficult and at times quite dangerous as the passages were very narrow and slippery. But the adrenaline and excitement from the adventure pushed us forward through the darkness of the cave into new and more impressive chambers.
Inside the Arjer (Bears) Cave in Armenia / Photo: Aram Arekhtsyan
In some of the halls deep inside the cave we saw bats leisurely hanging from the ceilings. They too were part of the living organism of the cave system. And we ourselves had temporarily become part of that organism too, realizing how fragile the natural balance inside that system was to intervention from humans. We were trying to be as discreet as possible not to damage any of the cave formations that we had the privilege of seeing.
We went out of the cave at dusk when the sun had already started coloring the mountains around. It was interesting to observe how the sense of time disappeared inside the cave once we were carried away by the completely new world we had just discovered for ourselves. After that first experience of exploring the caves of Vayots Dzor, I pushed aside my discomfort (to say the least!) of closed spaces several more times to visit the caves again, and the caves still remain one of the most incredible experiences of discovering Armenia for me!
Please mind that both Mozrov and Arjer Caves (especially the latter) are complex cave systems with many chambers, passages and corridors some of which are very dangerous to pass. It is highly risky to enter the caves without proper safety equipment (proper clothing, helmets, gloves, headlamps, ropes etc.) and without a professional guide.