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«From Black to Caspian» with Michel Behar

North Caucasus, 2 - 17 of July 2016

Guide — Michel Behar & Dmitry Lemeshev

Group: 4 - 7 people

Wellcome_to_Caucasus

Eight republics, a 2000 km journey, maximum altitude, over 3700 meters above sea level, dozens of ethnic groups, hundreds of dishes, and infinite magnificence. Most importantly, on this trip, one can’t stay an indifferent observer: in store for us, are mountain sorties, master classes in arts and crafts, meetings with musicians, scholars, and ordinary villagers. Back home, you’ll be able to rightly claim: “O, I’ve seen the Caucasus!”

Why the Caucasus?

Mountains and Towers

Вовнушки, горная Ингушетия

Complex of defensive towers Vovnushki in mountains of Ingushetia. Photo: Timur Agirov

The elders say: “An entire village can be built out of a tower, but no tower can be built out of a village.”
Apparently, they grow from unconquerable cliffs! Villages on tall ridges look like eagle nests. Ancient mosques and temples are no taller than ordinary houses: here, above clouds God is close at hand anyway!

Look up at the majestic snowcapped peaks where Eternity’s icy breath burns one’s cheeks. Look, beneath are the gentle sea, tropical jungle and succulent fruits. The Caucasus embraces all that! A few hours’ drive takes you from fussy mega-cities to alpine meadows where shepherds in wooly hats guard their livestock just like a century ago.

It is amazing how the mountaineers and their culture merge with the contrastive nature of the Caucasus. The dancing men and women are eagles and swans, while the music of the Caucasus is now a quietly gurgling brook, and now a roaring waterfall…

People

Люди Кавказа

Young people in traditional clothing. Photo: http://daganoff.livejournal.com/

Handsome, dignified and hospitable people are the quintessence of the Caucasus.
The everyday life of the peoples inhabiting this land puzzles the visitor from the outer world. For centuries, the mountaineers have been safeguarding their unique world where the elder’s word is a law, the son is responsible for his father, and household doors are open day and night. Loud conversations in melodious languages rush down the streets of towns and villages like torrents. Customs and traditions sustain the wisdom of remote ancestors. Every nation in the Caucasus is exceptional but jointly they shape the strength, character and heart of the highlands.
To appreciate the Caucasus one has to be able to tell the native of Kabarda from the native of Ossetia, and learn the similarities of Lezghis and Chechens.

Cuisine

Кавказское застолье

You can be at this kind of table in Abkhazia and Ossetia. Photo: tututur.ru

The rich and fragrant Caucasian cuisine is suited to every fancy.
The dishes of Caucasian cuisine have been appreciated throughout the world. The culinary map of the region is diverse and fascinating in each and every spot. Some treats are simple and unassuming, some, hearty and generous. At any rate, the Caucasus is delicious! Needless to say, the foodstuffs are natural (which is one of the secrets of the Caucasian longevity). The recipes have been preserved for centuries, and feasting traditions turn any trip to the Caucasus into a gastronomic tour!

History

Дети из Махачкалы приехали в горное село Чох в Дагестане. Фото: Патимат Тахнаева

Children come to the mountain village from Makhachkala. Photo: Patimat Takhnaeva

The Caucasus is tangible history.
The Caucasus remembers everything: ancient dates, modern Russian times and Soviet power. What’s ancient history in the West is still alive and kicking in the Caucasus! During the journey you will encounter post-industrialism in big cities and clan systems in mountain villages.

Modern technologies amazingly intermingle with olden commandments. Thus in an out-of-the-way Daghestan village a girl climbs up the highest local mountain to catch 3G on her smartphone and, most importantly, to see her boyfriend because down in the village neighbors may intercept their crisscrossing glances.
At wedding parties in Digoria each and every young man covets to ride as closely as possible to the bride’s cortege when she is on her way to the bride-groom’s house. And they battle for this place! A century ago the journey turned into a horse race. Nowadays, young men bump their expensive Toyotas and Nissans unwilling to cede their honorable place in the cortege. A passage to the Caucasus is a journey to the history of mankind!

To be a guest, not a tourist

На празднике святого Георгия в горах.

Celebration of St. George in mountains.

The Caucasus is an undiscovered land.
Quite recently, most of the Northern Caucasus and unrecognized republics of Transcaucasia were hotspots, off limits for tourists. Over the past years, the situation has quite improved: our experience in the region shows that nowadays these lands are safe for travel, while the absence of mass tourist destinations, wilderness and unexplored nature impart incomparable charm to this province. The indigenous population has not yet got used to tourist crowds, and for them we are genuine guests. You will be treated with infinite attention and traditional hospitality!

Why with Michel Behar

Michel Behar boasts an impressive list of credentials and just reading through it makes you want to meet this person and share the road with him. A Dutch citizen, after his studies of Russian and Arabic in the Netherlands he took a course of advanced Arabic at the University of Khartoum in Sudan. Fluent in 12 languages including Farsi, English, Turkish, and Hebrew, he has an understanding of 7 others. He has been a tour manager since 1987 leading groups for US, Dutch, Swiss, German, and British companies.
«I have led some 30 tours to Russia, and at least 20 to the Caucasus. My first time in the Caucasus was in 1994, when I was adopted by a couple of Georgian businessmen, they introduced me to some great food, wines and songs. A week later I received a VIP treatment in Abkhazia, rubbing shoulders with its leaders. I knew I was going to come back many times.»
Michel has a good understanding of history of Caucasus from XVIII to XXth history and current affairs.

Tour to Caucasus in details:

July 2. Welcome to Abkhazia!

We depart from Sheremetyevo airport to Sochi from whence we’ll arrive in the tiny, flourishing and sweet-scented Abkhazia, comfortably located at the Black Sea coast. We’ll spend the night in the famous sea resort of Gagra, a quite prestigious place for a vacation in Soviet times!

What’s interesting today?

Gagra

"Gagripsh" restaurant. It was built in 1905.  One of Gagra's simbols.

«Gagripsh» restaurant. It was built in 1905. One of Gagra’s simbols.

Gagra is a Black Sea resort with an eventful background dating back to the early 20th century, and referred to as the “Russian Riviera“. Lavish villas, palm trees, beaches and the caressing sea turned Gagra into a much desired deluxe Soviet resort, epitomizing the tropical paradise. The aristocratic spirit and unique charm of the town have survived to-date.

Abkhazian dances

Abkhazian-dances
Dances is one of the greatest Caucasian features! Synthesis of dance form and wildness of highlanders produces beauty, which is so strongly related to surrounding nature.

July 3. Russian Riviera

Route: Gagra – Pitsunda – New Athos – Sukhum
Transportation: Toyota Voxy minivan or Mercedes Sprinter minibus
115 km, 1.5 hours

This day we’ll see the coastal Abkhazia and its landmarks inherited from the Roman, Byzantine, Russian, and Soviet empires. The latter were guests who left their legacy here, and left this ancient land unconquered.

What’s most interesting today?

Biking around Pitsunda

The decor of the pool in Litfond resort. Photo: Vladimir Losinsky

The decor of the pool in Litfond resort. Photo: Vladimir Losinsky

Pitsunda is famous, first of all, owing to the grove of the relict species of the pine tree. Unusually long needles abundantly cast by the pine trees discharge medicinal substances like phytoncides. Breathing is especially easy here. Probably for this reason one of the early Christian communities was established in Pitsunda. In the 20th century the town became an elite Soviet resort for officials and foreign tourists.
We’ll have a bicycle ride around the renowned grove and get to know the Soviet-time cultural legacy of the town.

Anakopia: the first capital of the Abkhaz kingdom

Anakopia_fortress
Few conquerors risked to storm the fortress of Anakopia on the steep hill surrounded by malaria swamps back in ancient times. The stronghold was taken only once. How? Your guide will tell you.

The New Athos cave

New_Athos_Cave

In 1961 a 16-year old guy named Givi from New Athos discovered the entrance to the cave which turned into a genuine treasure for speleologists. The first chamber was revealed at the depth of 135 meters, and after detailed exploration it was found that the estimated volume of the cave is 1 million cubic meters! 15 years later the Novy Afon cave was adjusted for visits of untrained tourists and became known all over the USSR. One shall not be a speleologist to get into the underground nature reserve. Suffice it to use the specially built metro. The cave harbors huge chambers, stalactites, stalagmites, lakes and even a waterfall! Enjoying the hidden beauty one appreciates the magnificence and greatness of nature on the one hand, and the ingenuity of man who discovered the invisible and never-seen-before, on the other hand.

New Athos monastery

New_Athos_Monastery

In 1874 Russian monks from Greece arrived at the River Psyrtskha valley and a year later established a monastery at the foot of Mt. Afon. Its construction took 20 years, and the amount of work done puzzles the mind even nowadays.
In the early 20th century Novy Afon was a major religious center at the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus, and still is to-date.

Sukhum

Sukhum

The capital of Abkhazia, the old town of Sukhum, comfortably shielded from the outer world by mountain ranges, is located in a spacious harbor.
The town was significantly damaged during the 1992-1993 war, and hasn’t recovered to-date. Burnt-out buildings and bullet-ridden walls are the imprints of history erased unhurriedly, the Abkhaz style. Nevertheless, Sukhum has preserved the charm of the old seaport town.
The town’s architecture started to take shape in the late 19th century when rich industrialists and merchants built their houses, villas and hotels, all in diverse styles! Nice little streets lined up by century-old trees run down to the heart of the town, the sea front, where the townsfolk love to sip coffee in open-air cafes.

July 4. The capital and its environs

Route: Sukhum — one of the villages in Gudauta village — Sochi
Transportation: Toyota Voxy minivan or Mercedes Sprinter minibus
170 km, 2,5 hours

After a morning stroll around Sukhum, there is a culinary adventure in store for us, a trip to an Abkhaz village.
We’ll be hosted at a farm and treated to a traditional Caucasian feast. In the evening we’ll be downtown Sochi, the refurbished Olympic capital.

What’s most interesting today?

Sukhum Botanical Gardens

Сухумский ботанический сад

Photo: Yury Surin

Initially, one of the oldest botanical gardens in the Caucasus was a private enterprise launched by a Sukhum garrison doctor. After its establishment in 1838, the garden was twice devastated by the Turks but it was planted anew. Its flourishing and proliferation started by the end of the 19th century. Nowadays Sukhum Botanical Gardens possess one of the most significant collections in the Black Sea region and the Caucasus.

Feasting in the village

Хрущев и Фидель Кастро в Дурипше

Khurschev and Fidel Castro in Duripsh village. 1963, Abkhazia.

In Abkhazia people sit at the table not just to have a meal. It is rather a special form of communication with God and people. It may seem, the Caucasian feast has neither beginning, nor end, whereas actually it is a quite structured ceremony, not without improvisation. On this day we’ll be its participants, and will partake of Abkhaz food cooked by Abkhaz hostesses, and traditional toasts.

July 5. Mezmay, the mystery of the Caucasian forest

Route: Sochi — Khadydjensk — Mezmay
Transportation: fast train “Larkin”, minivan Hyundai Starex
143 km, 3 hours 16 minutes by train, 150 km, 2,5 hours by car

In the morning, we’ll board the “Larkin”, a high-speed commuter train, and ride to Khadyzhensk, a town famous in the region for beer brewing. Then we’ll take a two-hour car ride to the village of Mezmay, in the most distant corner of Krasnodar province in the forest close to Lago-Naki plateau (UNESCO world heritage site). In Mezmay we’ll take a short stroll in the canyon with picturesque waterfalls and box-tree groves of a magical fairy-tale forest. In the evening, we’ll be treated to the genuine Russian “black” bath and home-made dinner in the village.

What’s most interesting today?

Trekking in Kurjips Gorge

Photo: Alexandr Sheikin

Photo: Alexandr Sheikin

A simple but quite picturesque and diverse walk. Nature tenderly covered this land with a carpet of relict box-trees, ancient linden-trees and gigantic vines climbing up the rocky canyon walls. In the gorge, one loses the sense of reality, and it seems this world is inhabited by fairies and elves, light and dark, good and evil.

Russian bath

В русской бане

It is not just good rest but a ritual of cleansing and healing adored by our ancestors. The bath in Mezmay is one of these genuine places. It combines both the “black” and “white” types. Having steamed yourself here, you will realize that you knew nothing about the true Russian bath. A professional bath attendant will be in charge of the ritual.

July 6. Plains and mountains of Western Caucasus

Route: Mezmay — Maikop — Zelenchukskaya — Arkhyz
Transportation: minivan Hyundai Starex
330 km, 5,5 hours

This day we’ll visit the household museum owned by Zamudin Guchev in the outskirts of Maykop where we’ll familiarize ourselves with the culture of the Adygs, the indigenous population of steppes and foothills of Western Caucasus. After a long ride down the plain, we’ll arrive in the Cossack village of Zelenchuk. Here we’ll see the largest radio telescope in the world, a legacy of Soviet science operated by researchers to-date, and one of the oldest early Christian churches in Russia built in the Alan period in the 10th century.

What’s most interesting today?

Zamudin Guchev’s household museum

Cherkess_autentical_music

The Circassians (Adygs) are an ethnic group that inhabited the western edge of Northern Caucasus and adjacent steppes prior to the Caucasus War, i.e. before 1763. The war and the Soviet system undermined the Circassian culture, however, the leader of the “Zhyu” ensemble does his best to revive the ancestral traditions. He teaches young people to weave “ardjen” mats and other subtleties and intricacies of old times. Zamudin will be glad to meet you and show a small performance.

RATAN-600, the largest radio telescope in the world

Внутри радио-телескопа. Фото: Тимур Агиров

Внутри радио-телескопа. Фото: Тимур Агиров

Here you will see the operation of this huge construction, and ride on the reflector, and see the scientists at work. Observatory researchers will explain to you in what way their work, that is apparently remote from earthly matters, affects our everyday life.

Zelenchuk churches

Один из аланских храмов X века у ст. Зеленчукской. Был отреставрирован русскими монахами в XIX веке. Фото: Тимур Агиров

One of Alanian churches of X century near Zelenchukskaya village. It has been renovated by Russian monks in XIX century. Photo: Timur Agirov

Alania was a mighty and highly developed state in the 6th -12th centuries A.D. in the territory of Northern Caucasus, modern Ossetia and the Caucasus steppes.
In 916 Alania adopted Christianity. Since that time churches have been built on hilltops and high mountains.

July 7. Imperial resorts with a view on Mt. Elbrus

Route: Arkhyz — Gum-bashi pass — Kislovodsk — Essentuki — Pyatigorsk
Transportation: minivan Mercedes Vito, 240 km, 4 hours

The Central Caucasus is magnificently serene! Most of the day, we’ll be touring around the first Russian «SPA resorts». They were established as an alternative to the German Baden-Baden and the British Bath. Officers wounded in action and crème de la crème of Russian aristocracy were treated here. Kislovodsk, Essentuki and Pyatigorsk are still considered the best health resorts in Russia.

What’s most interesting today?

View on Mt. Elbrus from Gumbashi Pass

Вид на Эльбрус

From Arkhyz we’ll ride to Kislovodsk via Karachayevsk. The road runs along the River Mara valley and climbs up to Gumbashi Pass. In fair weather, a classical view on Mt. Elbrus can be seen from this place.

Kislovodsk park

Курортный парк в Кисловодске

Kislovodsk park. Photo: Timur Agirov

Size-wise, the Kislovodsk park is the second park in Europe after the Richmond park in England. The establishment of this resort park was ordered by General Yermolov in 1823. To plant trees on bare hillsides, the rocky banks of the River Olkhovka were covered by fertile black soil. Nowadays, the park’s collection comprises over 250 species of trees and bushes, most of them very beautiful!

Essentuki mud baths and mechanotherapy chamber

Грязелечебница в Ессентуках

Mud bath was built in 1915, in 1923 it was named in honor of N.А. Semachko — one of the creators of Societ health care system.

Essentuki is a popular Russian health resort. Essentuki mud baths built in the Roman imperial style are the symbol of the town. In the basement, there is a reservoir for mud pumped from the bottom of Lake Tambukan, 12 km from Pyatigorsk on the boundary with Kabardino-Balkaria.
The mechanotherapy chamber is the predecessor of modern gyms. Unique “treadmills” were designed by the Swedish physiotherapist Doctor Zander in the mid-20th century and purchased 50 years later by the Administration of Caucasus Mineral Waters. According to the local lore, such celebrities as the singer Fyodor Shalyapin and theater director Konstantin Stanislavsky were working out in this old gym.

July 8. Kabardino-Balkaria and Digoria

Route: Pyatigorsk — Nalchik — Digoria — Tsey
Minivan Mercedes Vito (till first ossetian village), then Nissan Patrol + Lada Niva
240 km, 6-7 hours

Our familiarization with the Adyg culture will be crowned by a meeting with the master of swordsmanship which conquered the world from Chukotka to Paris. Thereafter, we’ll make an off-road trip to old mountain villages in Northern Ossetia via an alpine mountain pass and at sundown we’ll arrive at the Tsey canyon worshiped by the Ossetians as a shrine.

What’s most interesting today?

Meeting Felix Nakov, master of swordsmanship

The sword (shashka) is a famous blade weapon of the Circassians. It is very light-weight, flexible and sharp, oftentimes compared with the Japanese katana. The art of swordsmanship is almost forgotten but Felix Nakov the director of Kabardino-Balkaria National Museum has revived the tradition. We’ll meet F. Nakov and his disciples to see the Circassian sword in action.

Galiat and Kamunta villages in Digor valley

105 years old lady in Kamunta village. Photo: Anton Agarkov

105 years old lady in Kamunta village. Photo: Anton Agarkov

The houses in North Ossetian villages are 300-400 years old. Over the past centuries, the appearance of these dwellings hasn’t changed; they are inhabited by genuine Caucasian long-livers, men and women. The oldest grandma is 105. Traditions are sacredly preserved here, and the most delicious cheese is made in Ossetia!

Zgid pass

Дорога через Згидский перевал

The road through Zgidsky Pass is highly conditional. Sometimes it’s just a track in the mud … There is nothing to do here without an experienced driver and prepared all-road-car … Photo: Elnar Mansurov

We are going to overcome 17 km of bumpy muddy mountain roads amid fresh alpine meadows and colorful flowers. In this ride we’ll see harshness and gentleness interwoven by nature.

July 9. North Ossetian mountains and Vladikavkaz

Route: Tsey — Ursdon — Dagom — Midagrabin waterfalls — Dargavs — Vladikavkaz
Transportation: Nissan Patrol + Ssangyong Rexton
135 km, 4 hours

We are going to ride through the entire historical Ossetia and see the most famous landmarks: the Rekom shrine, the Ursdon rock fortresses, the Tsymiti towers, the Midagrabin waterfalls, and the Dead City of Dargavs. In the evening we’ll meet the leader of the folk-music band “Kona” who is reviving the Ossetian musical tradition. If we are not exhausted, we’ll take a walk around the town, otherwise, we’ll postpone it for the next morning.

What’s most interesting today?

The Rekom shrine

Святилище Реком в Цее

Photo: Timur Agirov

One of the most famous and revered sacred places in Ossetia is the sanctuary of Uastyrji, the patron of warriors and travellers. Once a year (usually, in the third weekend of June) Ossetians from the entire world arrive at this place to celebrate the people’s main holiday with religious rituals, singing and dancing.

The Midagrabin waterfalls

Мидаграбинские водопады

This is one of the most stunning places in the North Caucasus. The headwaters of the River Midagrabindon are crowned by a multitude of waterfalls which create the impression of water streams falling right from the sky. The highest one (600 meters), the Great Zeygalan, is referred to as the “falling avalanche”.

Dargavs

Даргавс, "Городок мертвых"

Фото: Сергей Мухамедов

Sepulchral town built during the pandemic plague in the 16th century. The people who knew about their disease came here to die in whole families. Nowadays the Dead City in Dargavs is one of the most mysterious, scary and astounding places in the Central Caucasus.

Vladikavkaz

Мечеть во Владикавказе

Mukhtarov’s mosque on Terek embankment. One of cymbols of the city.

This city is referred to as the “St. Petersburg of the Caucasus”. For a long time, Vladikavkaz has been and still is a major cultural and commercial center of the region. The streets of the old town are adorned with houses dating to the 19th – early 20th centuries built by Russian officers and merchants. Walking down the central street of Vladikavkaz, Peace Avenue, one feels the measured rhythm of provincial life. Comfortable coffee houses and unhurried happy local residents please the eye.
At the same time, Vladikavkaz embraces purely Caucasian features: hell-driving, and views on snowcapped summits from central streets!

Meeting «Kona» folk-band

July 10. Towers: ancient and modern

Route: Vladikavkaz — Djeirakh district of Ingushetia — Grozny
Transportation: Mercedes Vito или Sprinter
185 km, 4,5 hours

Off to the mountains again! Here we’ll see the most remarkable Caucasian tradition of tower construction. The Ingush call themselves the “galgai” or tower dwellers. Apparently, here the culture of tower construction originated and reached its peak. By nightfall we’ll arrive in Grozny, the capital of Chechen republic. The evening is the best time to walk around the town!

What’s most interesting today?

Erzy

Эрзи

Photo: Timur Agirov

In the Ingush, “erzy” translates to “eagle”. First of all, Erzy is a dozen well preserved towers above the River Armkhi in Ingushetia. The defense towers and walls of the compound are built of river boulders on the bedrock without foundations. The towers are 25-30 meters high and just 6 meters wide at the foot. Historians date them back to the 17th century.

Vovnushki

Вовнушки

Photo: Timur Agirov

In the Ingush language “vovnashke” means the “place of defense towers”. One of the most colorful and exotic tower compounds in Ingushetia, Vovnushki occupies the narrow canyon of the River Guloykhi and entirely bars access from Chechnya. The towers are built of stone, and look like a natural extension of the cliffs on which they are erected. Tall, with narrow firing slots, the towers are rather formidable. In the past the towers were quite impregnable.

Tkhaba-Yerdy

Тхаба-ерды

Photo: Timur Agirov

The oldest Christian church in modern Russia.
It is believed that the first building appeared here in the 8th century and then it was reconstructed by Georgian missionaries in the 12th century.
The current shape of Tkhaba-Yerdy church dates back to the 14th-16th cc and since then it had been used for the exercise of traditional Vaynakh cults. The church was a cult and spiritual center of mountainous Ingushetia until deportation in 1944.

Grozny at night

Фото: Абдулла Берсаев

Photo: Abdullah Bersaev

Night is the best time to tour around downtown Grozny. Highlighting emphasizes the beauty of the city and its symbol, the Akhmat Kadyrov mosque “Heart of Chechnya”. The mosque is one of the largest in Europe; it was built in the Ottoman style and reminds of the Blue Mosque of Istanbul.

July 11. Chechnya mountains

Grozny -Urus-Martan («Dondy-Yurt» museum) — Itum-kali
Transportation: Nissan Patrol + Nissan Patrol
170 km, 5 hours

This day we’ll visit the most unusual museum in Chechnya, the private museum of Adam Satuyev, Dondy-Yurt. Thereafter, we’ll go to the mountains to enjoy the beauties of the Argun canyon, and climb to Tsoy-Pede, one of the largest pagan burial grounds in the Caucasus. We’ll spend the night in a guest house in the alpine village of Tazbichi.

What’s most interesting today?

Dondy-yurt

Создатель музея "Донди-юрт" Адам Сатуев на фоне своей сакли. Фото: Абдулла Сатуев

The creator of the museum «Dondi-Yurt» Adam Satuev on the background of his hut. Photo: Abdullah Bersaev

It is an open-air museum created in the courtyard of Adam Satuyev’s house. Apparently, the museum is randomly and haphazardly built, however, it reflects the diverse interests of its founder. Here is a collection of fossils dating back to the Mesozoic Era. Next to it is a Soviet vintage corn cleaning device, and a collection of traditional Vaynakh towers built by Adam Satuyev.

Nikhaloy waterfalls

Нихалойские водопады

Ushkaloy towers

Ушкалойские башни

Ushkaloy towers. They blocked the trade route, which took place on the Argun gorge in the Middle Ages. It was kind of customs. Photo: Timur Agirov

Tsoy-Pede

Цой-педе

Tsoi-Pede translated from Chechen means «settlement of spirits» It is a complex burial structures pre-Islamic period, one of the largest in the Caucasus. Photo: Timur Agirov

July 12. In the mountains of Chechnya and Daghestan

Rout: Tazbichi — Sharoy — Botlikh — Gotsatl’
Transportation: Nissan Patrol + Nissan Patrol
200 km, 7 hours

This is going to be a long day rich in scents and fragrance of alpine meadows and mountain landscapes. We’ll have a 7-hour off-road car ride. On our way we’ll see the largest lake in the Caucasus. Finally, we’ll arrive in Daghestan (the last republic in our journey), and will learn how felt cloaks and “urbech” are manufactured. The night will be spent in the Avar village of Gotsatl famous for its jewelers.

What’s most interesting today?

Kezenoi-am lake

Кезеной-ам

Kezenoi am — the largest lake in the North Caucasus. It is located near the border of Chechnya and Dagestan. In the past many conflicts happened over the lake and the surrounding pastures between Chechens and Andi (Dagestan people, neighbors Chechens). Photo: Timur Agirov

Burkas workshop

Rakhata-burki

Урбеч

Урбеч - дагестанская Nutella, паста получаемая перетиранием семян льна, конопли или абрикосовых косточек на каменных жерновах. Сейчас урбеч делают из почти любых семян и орехов.

Urbech — Dagestan’s Nutella, the paste obtained grinded flax seed, hemp seed or apricot on millstones. Now urbech is producing from almost all possible seeds and nuts.

Gotsatl’ village

Gotsatl'

The Avar village of Gotsatl’ is somewhat distant from the highway to the regional capital. Far below, there is a huge stone field where ancient hoards and skeletons were found, according to the local lore. On one edge, there is an abyss overgrown by wild hemp called “Gotsatl’ grass”. On the other edge, there is a road with a traffic control barrier. Last year a young Gotsatl villager was murdered by strangers, and since then, the village council has decreed to seal off the village from the outer world. Nowadays, at night, only escorted strangers are allowed into the village. In daytime, all movements around the village are monitored by cameras. This, however, does not scare off numerous traders from South Russia who arrive in the village to purchase the jewelry made by local masters: bracelets, weapons, and wine horns.

July 13. Mountains and traditions of inner Daghestan

Route: Gotsatl’ — Balkhar — Kubachi
Transportation: Nissan Patrol + Nissan Patrol
150 km, 5 hours

In the morning we’ll visit some masters to learn about the working day of the jeweler. We’ll be able to see the best finished works and have a cup of tea with the masters.
The measured morning will be replaced by a car ride down the mountain roads of Daghestan. Our destination is the Land of the Lak who are famous for their craftsmanship and smartness. We’ll have lunch at the village of Balkhar famous for traditional earthenware manufacture. After lunch, there will be a short master class in ceramics.
By the end of the day, we’ll visit the territory of the medieval state Zerikhgeran known for its coat-of-mail makers and blade-smiths. Nowadays, Kubachi, the capital of Zerikhgeran, is known thanks to its jewelers. The people of Kubachi are a small ethnic group speaking in an isolated dialect of the Darghin language.
We’ll spend the night at the house of a jeweler, and will be able to compare the traditional styles of Kubachi and Gotsatl’.

Karadakh gorge

Karadahskaya-tesnina

Balkhar

Балхарская керамика

Balhar women work on potter’s wheels. Photo: Ivan Dementievsky

Kubachi

Кубачи

Each house in Kubachi has a room with a collection of dishes, pitchers, etc. The woman shows how to carry jugs of water. Photo: Nikolay Rykov

July 14. The Sea!

Route: Kubachi — Kala-Kureysh — Derbent
Transportation: Nissan Patrol + Nissan Patrol
115 km, 3 hours

SONY DSC

In the morning we’ll visit Kala-Kuresh, an abandoned village which in the middle ages was the capital of Kaytag principality. For a long time, the state was ruled by Arabs of the Kureyshid tribe from which Prophet Muhammad descended. There is a 12th century mosque and a mausoleum. The population reveres Kala-Kuresh as a holy place. By lunch-time we’ll arrive in Derbent the southernmost and most ancient town in Russia.

Дербент, Кырхлярские ворота. Фото: Иван Чистопрудов и Николай Рыков

Derbent, Kyrkhlyar gates. Photo: Ivan Chistoprudov, Nikolay Rykov

The recent days were full of various impressions and jeep rides. That is why after lunch we’ll enjoy languid rest. Our hotel is situated within 50 meters from sand beaches!

July 15. Discovering Derbent and Makhachkala

Derbent (2)

We’ll start with a tour of the historical quarter, walking down the comfortable streets and visiting the Naryn-Kala stronghold, the oldest mosque in Russia, ancient baths, the Armenian church turned into the Museum of Carpets and Jugs, and the Kyrkhlyar cemetery the burial place of the 40 Askhabs, the associates of the Prophet who brought Islam to Derbent and died in a battle with the Khazars. After lunch the group will split. The options will be as follows:

Option 1

Route: Derbent — Nakhachkala
Transportation: Mercedes Sprinter, 130 km, 2 hours

We’ll go to Makhachkala, the capital of Daghestan, and the busiest town in the Northern Caucasus. We’ll walk around the central streets with a local guide and have dinner in the best shish-kebab place in town. In the evening, after dinner, there will be a lot of leisure time in the hotel.

Option 2

Route: Derbent — Akhty
Transportation: KIA optima, 125 km, 2,5 hours

Akhty

We’ll travel to the old Lezghi village of Akhty, on the border with Azerbaijan. In the evening, we’ll bathe in thermal springs and have a long feast.
We’ll go to bed early, as in the morning we are going to climb Mt. Shalbazdag following the pilgrims’ trail.

July 16. A day in Makhachkala

Option 1

Рынок в Махачкале

Herbalist’s shop on the «Second» market in Makhachkala. Photo: Maxim Avdeev

In the morning we’ll walk around the famous “Second” market place. It’s a town within a town! Here you’ll find the treasures of Daghestan: aged sheep milk cheese, alpine herbs, honey, “urbech”, dried mountain meats, fresh Caspian fish and even black caviar (under the counter).
We’ll stroll around the streets rich in antiques, arts and crafts. By lunchtime, we’ll visit one of the typical national cuisine restaurants.
Here we’ll learn to make “khinkal” and other Daghestani dishes. After lunch we’ll have some free time to take a breath, and in the evening we’ll meet one of the remarkable characters in town.

Option 2

Route: Akhty — Miskindja — Erenlar — Miskindja — Makhachkala
Transportation: UAZ «Bukhanka» then KIA optima,
300 km, 6,5 hours

We rise at dawn, i.e., 4:30 a.m. In a Russian-made off-road van “UAZ” (nicknamed “brick-bread”) in 2.5 hours we’ll reach Erenlar where the most high-altitude mosque in Europe is situated.
Altitude: 3000 meters above sea level!

Паломница поднимается по тропе.

Pilgrim climbs the trail.

Thereafter, with hundreds of Daghestani pilgrims will take the rocky trail to climb up to Mt. Suleyman. Altitude difference is 700 meters! These breathtaking places remind of the Himalayan landscapes. Rarified air and unique energy create a psychedelic effect.
By 14:00 we’ll get back to the mosque, and then return to Makhachkala. In the evening we’ll be at a comfortable hotel, and if we are still capable, we’ll join the other group of our companions in their city tour.

July 17. Coming back to Moscow

Transportation: Mercedes Sprinter, 20 km, 20 minutes

Fly to Moscow in the morning.

Maps of the tour «From Black to Caspian»

Fron Sochi to Vladikavkaz (1-8 day)

Карта тура по Северному Кавказу "От моря до моря", часть 1

Click to see scaled map here.

From Vladikavkaz to Makhachkala (9-16 day)

Карта тура по Северному Кавказу "От моря до моря", часть 2

Click to see scaled map here.

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Conditions

Included:

  • guide 24 hours per day;
  • all local guides;
  • accomodation (3-5* hotels, 2 nights - home-stay);
  • 3 meals per day;
  • transportation;
  • all tickets, entrance fees and so on;
  • border-zone permits.

Not included:

  • your tickets to Sochi and back from Makhachkala;
  • extra alcohol;
  • souvenirs and other personal expenses.

Price:

  • 4 pax - 6 000 USD
  • 5 pax – 5 000 USD
  • 6 – 7 pax – 4 850 USD

Single supplement 350 USD