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Horseback Ethnographic Expedition to South Ossetia

South and North Ossetia, 28th of June - 7th of July 2019

Guide — Dmitry Lemeshev

Group: 3 — 6 people

Keli volcanic plateau

This expedition is a unique opportunity to visit hardest-to-reach places of the Caucasus. In the places we are going to visit, you don’t get to see tourists, even local ones, let alone foreigners. On this route, we cannot guarantee anything beyond the sincere hospitality and welcoming spirit of the highlanders and experience of venturing into a real mountain expedition…
We will do our best to ensure maximum comfort, safety, and convenience to our guests. Even inexperienced travelers with no horseback riding skills can participate in the expedition.
So, what exactly we are going to do in South Ossetia? We’ll take part in real Kuvd, which is a celebration of a religious holiday, see the everyday life of Ossetians in the villages up in the mountains and fertile plains and rich farms, climb the Keli Highland volcanic peak and the extinct volcanoes which rise more than 3,000 meters (9,842 ft.) above sea level. We are going to visit two Ossetian capitals — Tskhinvali and Vladikavkaz — where we will meet dancers, musicians, and wine-makers…

Itinerary

Day 1. June 28. Friday. Arrival in Vladikavkaz

Piece avenue in Vladikavkaz. Photo of Timur Agirov

Our guide will pick you up at the Beslan airport (Vladikavkaz).
On this day, we’ll walk around the city, visit the city museums, and the modern art zone called Portal. This is where we’ll get to enjoy the fruits of the Western civilization for the last time before embarking on the trip.
We’ll spend the evening in the craft Ossetian brewery and the night at the Alexandrovsky Hotel 4*.

Day 2. June 29. Saturday. Going to South Ossetia

Trans-Caucasian highway, the only way to get South Ossetia from Russia. Photo of Sasha Levin

On this day, we are going to Tskhinvali. The road will take no more than 3 hours, but we will make stops in interesting places along the way, and crossing the border can take up to 1-2 hours.
We’ll make it to Tskhinvali around noon.
When there, we will walk around the city, visit the National Museum, and talk with veterans of the wars of independence.
In the evening, we will go to the Mejida valley where they will be waiting for us for dinner.

Day 3. June 30. Sunday. Holiday in the Mejida Valley


Turn on English subtitles in settings of the video.

In the morning, we will go for a short walk. We are going to visit one of the local shrines and then the high cliff Margiev Family Tower which was built in the Middle Ages.
By noon, we will get back to the village to participate in the Uatsilla celebration and to try out our horses in action.
We’ll spend the night in the village.

Day 4. July 1. Monday. To Horse!

Horses on the Haruli ridge. Photo of Svetlana Yudina

By morning, our horses will be waiting for us in the highest mountain village of the gorge. We’ll use the previously mentioned off-road vehicles to get there.
This day, we’ll do a 6-7 hour hiking along the Kharuli’s Ridge to the Keli Highland volcanic peak.
We’ll spend the night in tents right beneath the ancient volcano with Сырх дзуар on top. Сырх дзуар means Red Sanctuary in Ossetian which is 100% accurate by the way, the mountain is red on one side and green on the other. There are two twin Lakes under the sanctuary. They say that in ancient times only twins could climb Syrkh Dzuar.
We’ll spend the night in tents near one of the lakes.

Day 5. July 2. Tuesday. The Keli Highland Volcanic Plateau

Одно из озер Близнецов (Цителихатских озер) и Сырх дзуар. Photo of Irena Dzhioeva

We will walk near the plateau to the Keli lake which is the largest and most popular lake around there. We’ll walk around there in the afternoon and see the sights.
We’ll spend the night in tents.

Day 6. July 3. Wednesday. Walking Around the plateau

Walking on Haruli ridge. Photo of Svetlana Yudina

On this day, we will choose a route for a walk around the lake. It will depend on the mood of the group and how you are going to feel that day.
We’ll spend the night in tents.

Day 7. July 4. Thursday. Going to Erman

Keli lake. Photo of Dmitry Egorov

On this day, we will go to the headstream of the Ermandon River and visit Erman which is the highest mountain village in South Ossetia. It is located at an altitude of 2,100 meters (6,890 ft.) above sea level. We’ll also visit the village of Edisa located at the fringe of the forest. There, we will be met by the hospitable highlanders.
In the evening, we will go to Tsey Gorge. It is located on the way to Vladikavkaz in Russia.
We’ll spend the night at the Vertical hotel.

Day 8. July 5. Friday. North Ossetia’s Attractions

Rekom

Rekom shrine. It is one of the most respectable holy places of Ossetians. Photo: Sergey Norin

We will spend the morning in Tsey and then off-road to the Fiagdon mountain resort through the picturesque villages of the Alagirsky Gorge. We will take a look at medieval towers and scenic landmarks on the way.

«City of Dead» near Dargavs village. Photo of Anton Agarkov

We’ll have lunch at one of the country’s best restaurants and see Dargavs, the largest medieval crypts complex in the Caucasus. We’re going to stop at the Midagrabinskiye Vodopady (waterfalls), one of them is more than 600 meters (1,968 ft.) high. But it depends on the weather.
In the evening, we’ll eat dinner at a restaurant. There is Russian banya (steam bath) for those who want to try something new.
We’ll spend the night at the Alexandrovsky Hotel 4*.

Day 9. July 6. Saturday. Vladikavkaz

We will spend this day relaxing and enjoying cultural activities. We will meet with professional choreographers to learn Ossetian dancing traditions and young people who are passionate about ancient Ossetian musical instruments and chants. In the evening, we’ll drop by Konstantin Dzitoyev, one of the Russia’s best wine producers.
We’ll spend the night at the Alexandrovsky Hotel 4*.

Day 10. July 7. Sunday. Going home

Transfer to the Beslan Airport (Vladikavkaz) or Mineralnye Vody Airport.

Map

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Conditions

Group

We need at least six people for the expedition. But if there are just three, we’re still doing it! Thus, everyone will get our full attention. And even in the wildest mountains, we’ll take care of your comfort and security. You don’t have to possess any special skills for this expedition. All you need to do is to be ready for physical loads and some degree of discomfort. There are places where you’ll have to walk because the horses can’t pass there. Be ready for an outhouse, sleeping in tents, and a cold wind and rain that will knock you off your feet... Getting around We will be using off-road vehicles, horses, and our feet to get around. Even inexperienced riders will have no problems with the horseback riding part of the trip because in addition to the guide, you will be assisted by two local experts, and we have special horses from a horse farm where they are specially trained for tourism purposes.

Accommodation

Only the best for our clients. The best hotel in the entire Ossetia is located in the heart of the historic district of the city of Vladikavkaz. In the villages, we’ll be living in the houses built by wealthy villagers living in cities. In the mountains, we’re going to camp in the wild. Don’t worry, we’ll take care of everything.

Food

All-inclusive. In the cities, we’re going to be eating in our favorite restaurants. In the villages, we’ll enjoy Ossetian cuisine and homemade dishes. In the mountains, fresh vegetables, dried meat and fruits, hiking food with Ossetian flavor cooked by our guides. You will get to taste real Ossetian Pies cooked in a mountain village and also learn that in addition to Ossetian Pies there are many other delicious things in South Ossetia.

Safety

First, South Ossetia has been a peaceful country for 10 years now. Secondly, Ossetians are hospitable people who are happy to welcome guests especially from far away because tourists are rare in those places. In fact, if you're a guest in Ossetia, you shouldn’t worry about your safety at all. The owner of the house you stay in will take care of everything. Traditionally, the owner is responsible for your well-being and making sure you get good impressions from your stay. Finally, a very impressive team of more than 5,000 people will protect you. We’re talking, the 4th Military Base of the Russian Army, the Border Service of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation personnel, and officers of the Armed Forces and the KGB of South Ossetia.

Included:

  • guide + local experts;
  • transport (Toyota Sienna or Mercedes Vito minivans, Mercedes ML and UAZ Patriot SUVs, UAZ Hunter off-road vehicle for the most impassable roads, and horses where there are no roads at all);
  • accommodation (Aleksandrovsky Hotel 4* - 3 nights, Vertical Hotel 3* - 1 night, rural homes in the Medzhid Valley - 2 nights, tents - 3 nights);
  • food (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and a reasonable amount of alcohol...);
  • other (entrance tickets, workshops, etc.);

Excluded:

  • flight to Vladikavkaz and back (we’re talking about 10-12 thousand rubles from Moscow and back);
  • souvenirs;
  • other personal expenses.