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біля Sagmosavan, Aragatsotn (አርሜኒያ)
Mount Ara is located around 40km from the capital, Yerevan, towards the middle of the Aragatsotn and Kotayk provinces’ shared border, and can be accessed from both sides (from Saghmosavan and Yernjatap in Aragatsotn, or Aragyugh and Saralanj in Kotayk). The elevation of the mountain is 2,606m. Its name is said to originate from the legend of the mythical Armenian king, Ara the Beautiful.
The weather is generally pleasant in the spring and summer, with long, warm, windless days making it an ideal hiking and rock climbing destination, as well as a favourite base from which local paragliders take to the air; whilst in the winter, a considerable snowfall makes it an ideal destination for ski-touring and winter mountaineering. A variety of sub-alpine and alpine flora, lush grassy meadows, steep rocky ravines and spectacular panoramic views also make it an ideal destination for nature enthusiasts and photographers.
A number of routes exist up to the peak, following its crescent-like ridge, as well as easier hikes to the chapel at the heart of the crater, tall cliffs looming on either side. This route covers the majority of beautiful scenery this mountain has to offer, but feel free to wander around and discover some of the hidden beauties of its cliffs.
The Monastery of Tsaghkevank or Virgin Varvara is carved straight into the rock at the center of the crater. Residents of the surrounding areas celebrate both Christian and Pagan holidays here, and visitors will often come purely for the healing spring within it, whose water source has been found to contain a significant quantity of zinc – said to be beneficial to eyesight, and help cure joint diseases and muscle spasms.
With over 650 species of plants growing on its slopes, Mt. Ara boasts an extensive biodiversity. Once the snow melts in spring, a vivid array of flowers, grasses, bushes and trees spring to life, awakening the abundant colors and fragrances, tangible from miles away. Found varying over its slopes in wetter months are blue and yellow bell-flowers, snowdrops, violets and dark and light nuphars, whilst during the drier season, helichrysum species spring to life. Many of the plants found on Mt. Ara’s slopes, including the aforementioned helichrysum, camomile, and yellow dandelions are medicinal, and many more are edible and make for wonderful teas.
Shrubs include the dog-rose (rosacanina), or masur in Armenian, whose large, red fruits are picked between September and March, and eaten or made into delicious jams and teas. Caucasian pines, oaks, ash trees and many other trees make up forests that cover the northern and eastern slopes.
The fauna is evasive but prevalent, and although it is rare, visitors should mind potential poisonous snakes (including the black Armenian mountain viper and the green adder), wolves and brown bears – although the latter two tend to stay clear of humans, preferring instead to chill campers with their howls at night. The forested slopes of Ara provide an ideal playground for the bears to raise their cubs, whilst the wolves make their dens in the ravines and shallow caves.
Other, less ominous wildlife include lizards and rabbits hiding out in the rocky crevices, foxes, squirrels and field mice in the woods, and a variety of birds including grey crows, starlings and woodpeckers.
Legend of Mount Ara
Mount Ara was named after the mythical Armenian king, Ara the Beautiful, who in spite of external pressures never betrayed his homeland. The legend goes that the Assyrian queen,Semiramis (Shamiram in Armenian) fell in love with him and wanted to unite their states, in order to create one powerful nation ruled by the both of them, as the respective king and queen. Semiramis begged the Armenian king to consider it, trying to prove her love, though all she really wanted was to satisfy her lustful desires. However, the Assyrian queen did not take into account one important fact: the Armenian king was already fulfilled, his wife(his beloved Nuard), his home, his child, his army and his homeland being all he wanted.
King Ara rejected all of Semiramis’s dreams and desires, after which the queen attempted to capture the king's heart through battle, declaring war on Ara and the Armenian nation. During this war, one of her strongest warriors injured and killed Ara, striking him with a poisonous spear. Semiramis, who could not come to terms with his death, commanded his body be placed on the mountaintop,so that the aralezs (dog-like mythological spirits) would come to lick his wounds and revive him. King Ara the Beautiful is still allegedly waiting there – hence the name of the mountain, Ara or Arayi (Ara’s) – and, according to legend, in some hidden and yet undiscovered place lies his tomb and final resting place. When looked at from Yerevan, the mountain reflects this in its ridge line, which appears to be the king, lying down.
Legend of Tsaghkevank or Virgin Barbara Monastery
According to another legend, an Armenian prince fell jealously in love with a virgin girl named Tsaghik (flower in Armenian),that lived near Ara,and wanted her for himself. Tsaghik, in fear, escaped to Mt. Ara to hide, where she met a shepherd tending to his sheep at the foot of the mountain, and asked him not to tell anyone where she was.
The angry prince, in his vengeful search for Tsaghik, met the shepherd who, fearing him, reported the hideout of the Virgin. When Tsaghik saw that the prince was coming for her, she climbed to the highest rock and threw herself to her death. At that instant, the traitorous shepherd and his sheep all turned into stone. The chapel is in honor of Tsaghik, with the water drops falling from the roof of the chapel believed to be the tears of the Virgin Tsaghik. People use this water in the hope of curing their eyes and the eyes of their animals.
Safety and Security
Mobile telephone coverage is available throughout Mt. Ara, and the 911 emergency service operates throughout Armenia in case of any accidents.
Be sure to bring bottled water!
During April, May and June there are rivers created by snow-melt.
Best period: April -October
Distance: 40km from Yerevan
Duration: 45 minutes
Hiking trail length: 5.8 km to peak and back: 11 km
Walk duration: 5 hours 30 minutes
Altitude from Sea Level: 1,732-2,606m
Existing Trail Surface: 10% existing, 90% easily discernible
How to Get There
In order to reach Mt. Ara, the most convenient option is to take a taxi from Yerevan. This will cost between 4,000-5,000 AMD. It is advisable to take a taxi with a working meter (be sure the driver uses it), or agree on a price beforehand.
There are also buses to the neighbouring villages that leave from the Northern Bus Station (check with the drivers/passengers to find out where they are going and if they can drop you off along the way), and usually cost around 1,000 AMD one-way.