KAPAN — “I don’t need to see the route, I feel it by my feet,” says Armen Kazaryan adamantly, as he swiftly navigates the lush terrain of Southern Armenia for an afternoon hike. Armen is probably the only blind hiking tour guide in the world, or at the very least, the only one in Armenia.
Over a decade ago, he was working at an international bank as an accountant in Moscow, when all of a sudden his eyesight quickly began to deteriorate. Before he knew it, he was nearly 90% blind. No longer able to continue his desk job, he was at a crossroads. What followed was a spiritual journey that took him first through Sochi, where he worked as a massage therapist for 4 years, and finally, back to his native land. In Armenia, Armen met Siranush, now his loving wife. The two resettled in Armen’s hometown of Kapan.
It was in Kapan, capital of the Syunik region, surrounded by some of Armenia’s most breathtaking landscapes that made Armen realize perhaps he had gained more than he had lost. His senses rejoiced in the healing powers of nature and he reconnected with the people and landscapes that so profoundly shaped his youth.
With all the tourists that travel to Armenia each year, less than 1% make the trip to Kapan, making the city and its surrounding villages extremely neglected and underexposed. Meanwhile, Kapan is a mere hour’s drive from Tatev Monastery, one of the largest tourist attractions in Armenia.
“For too long, Kapan has been branded only as a place for mining,” says Armen, “Too long it’s been neglected as a touristic destination by the international community. The situation needs to change, needs to become more sustainable and encourage eco-friendly practices. Tourism is a great place to start for that.”
Recognizing the incredible potential of Southern Armenia to provide joy and healing to others, it wasn’t long before Armen and his wife made the bold decision to launch an NGO called ARK Armenia, which immediately started marking hiking trails in the region, making various landmarks accessible to the tourists passing by. Before long, they were acquiring volunteers, who provided valuable labor, helping build the region’s first eco-camp and marking more hiking trails.
This is why ARK Armenia has recently launched an ambitious effort called the ARK Bridge Project, which is raising $3,764 to mark and map a hiking trail from Tatev to Kapan. The project will lead tourists to integrate with local, rural communities and find shelter in newly built eco-camps along the way. The campaign started mid-February and will be running until the end of March, 2016.
ARK Ecological NGO is a registered NGO based in Kapan, Armenia. Its mission is to develop ecotourism infrastructure in the region and spread sustainable ideas of organic farming and permaculture to the great community. ARK’s activities mainly rely on crowdfunding, volunteering and use of recycling materials. If you’d like to be a volunteer, please visit our website: www.arkarmenia.org.