Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Ossetia, not even the more experienced travelers can pin-point all these places on a map. Neither could I before I traveled this region for one month in the summer of 2019. But isn’t this the best reason to head out to such very off off the beaten tracks? Most of the time I travelled on my own on public transport. I felt completely safe, actually I was overwhelmed by the help I received from total strangers. For a few days I joined six other people to visit South Ossetia, since a special invitation is required for this tiny country. It was the perfect mix, four weeks on my own knowing about 20 words of Russian might have been a bit lonely.
Snow-capped mountains, deep gorges, popular shrines of traditional Ossetian religion, ancient watch tower, Dargvas, the city of dead and the most pleasant capital Vladikavkaz. Yes, rattling off all of North Ossetia’s wonders leaves you breathless, like the natural beauty of this Russian Republic. The place breathes history. Starting with the Alans, ancient warriors of the Caucasus region to World War II, when the Germany attempt to grab the oilfields of the Caucasus region was stopped right there.
What comes to your mind when you think of Chechnya, and Grozny in particular? A bombed-out city, bearded men and veiled women? Well, you could not be more wrong. When I visited in August 2019, not only the capital, but an entire country did not show the slightest traces of war. I was baffled, it was only 15 years earlier that a brutal war was raging in this country between Islamic separatists and the Russian army. What erased this part of Chechnya’s recent history was the program “Chechnya without Traces of War”. It started in 2005, one year after the war ended and made Chechnya, cities and also rural areas, look brand new. Nothing should remind of the horrible war, no ruins, abandoned buildings nothing.
Ingushetia is the tiniest of the Russian Caucasus republics, sandwiched inbetween North Ossetia und Chechnya. Magras was my only stop in this tiny republic, which has a lot more to offer, like stunning nature and ancient watch-towers. Ingushetsia’s capital Magras offers two places interest: the local museum in a watch-tower-replica and the memorial guiding through the history of the Ingush people.
Dagestan is not a safe place to travel, if you listen to official sources, all I encountered was a peaceful country whose people bent backwards to make me feel welcome. Actually the trip would not have possible without the help of locals, who basically “passed me on” from village to village.
The name of the republic translates into “The country of mountains”. Not less than 30 peaks in Dagestan are above 4,000 m. More scenery is simply not possible. The few tourists, exclusively Russians vacation at the Caspian Sea and fill the short promenade at night. During my one week trip through the villages of Dagestan I met one non-Russian tourist. So how do you travel such a place, without speaking Russian? I could not find a travel guide to Dagestan and there was very little information online.
Iturup has a certain rawness that comes with being such a remote and exposed place. For me, simply being in such an inaccessible place was already an adventure. Add climbing volcanoes, walking along endless beaches and bleach-white cliffs, soaking in super hot rivers, marveling at spectacular waterfalls, chasing bears and catching my first fish ever. It was an epic trip.
Each trip is unique, but almost every country I travelled to I noticed something truly unique. this “Oddities” can be a certain dish, a tradition, clothing, wildlife, flowers, hair do anything. For Russia I find those worth mentioning:
Russian outdoor holiday wear
Without generalizing too much, camouflage jump suits are the VERY popular among Russians when they are outdoors. Rubber boots and a cushioned pad wrapped around the hips are must-have accessories.