A December 2006 trip
to Groznyy by jorgejuan
Quote: I headed to the Caucasus to visit the seven Bellicose Caucasian republics, from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea.
I headed to the Caucasus to visit the seven bellicose Caucasian republics, from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea. I knew that it would not be an easy journey judging by the recent news in that part of the world: wars, kidnapping people, Russian Army that would see suspicious to find a foreigner travelling in that troubled area, corruption, bandits, etc., apart from the bad weather conditions in December 2006. But the magic of adventure is so powerful that I did not consider any of these dangers and thus went ahead without any fear! FIRST REPUBLIC: DAGESTANI arrived early in the morning to Makhachkala, Dagestan capital. Just at the railway station I saw a plaque commemorating the visit of Stalin in the twenties, and I felt uncomfortable. After walking around the town for a few hours I decided to go southwards, to the 5000 years old city of Derbent, considered Patrimony of the Humankind by the UNESCO. Once in Derbent I was delighted. While in Makhachkala there was snow, in Derbent the weather was more pleasant and the view over the Caspian Sea was fantastic. The town seems to belong to the middle Ages. There is an imposing old fortress over the top of the hill that I visited at once, and then entered inside the citadel. People still wear exotic caps made on animal skins and spoke many different languages, but mainly Azeri, because of the short distance with neighbour Azerbaijan. In Dagestan speak 46 languages, but everybody understands Russian. After Derbent I left for Nalchik. During the post controls between republics the army always asked me baksheesh. Usually I refused, even if that meant to be searched my bag and being asked questions about my presence there, but sometimes I gave a few rubbles, especially in the border with Chechnya where an officer, 1.90 meters tall, almost 2 meters I think now, between Rambo and Tarzan type, with muscles everywhere, even in his ears, requested me baksheesh for "champagnski". He was so nice and gave me so much information about the Caucasus and Abkhazia that I gave him 100 rubbles for "champagnski" (a bottle of Sovietskoe Shampanskoye costs about 70 rubbles in the supermarkets). Then he asked me for chocolate as well, because Russians drink champagnski eating chocolate. Finally I gave him 100 rubbles more for chocolate. He was extremely happy and wished me best luck during my hazardous journey. Early in the morning I reached Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino Balkaria.SECOND REPUBLIC: KABARDINO BALKARIANalchik is nice, very clean, with large avenues. After visiting the most interesting tourist attractions, I mean the local market, religious buildings, museums and natural wonders nearby such as waterfalls, lakes, etc., I went back to the bus station to continue my journey. There I saw taxis, minibuses and buses announcing Groznyy. I was astonished. I thought that in Chechnya war was still going on and nobody could get there, except Army people. But a bus was already almost full with women and children. I bought my ticket for 150 rubbles and sat in the back row, camouflaged among voluminous women with enormous bags filled with fruits and vegetables. Soon we left for Groznyy.THIRD REPUBLIC: CHECHNYAIt was easier than I had expected to get into Chechnya. WELCOME TO GROZNYY (Dobro pojalavats, in Russian), said a sign at the entrance of the town. In Groznyy there were many barricades made with sand bags with soldiers wearing waistcoats against bullets. There were more soldiers than citizens. Almost every car was controlled in the many check points along the broken roads. The aspect of Groznyy was worst than Sarajevo, Baghdad, or Beirut in its most horrible times. Most of the buildings were in ruins. Edifices half destroyed were inhabited by people and they even hanged clothes in the balconies, like in Italy or Spain. In the bombed part of the houses nobody lived. I did not risk taking pictures getting off the bus, but through the windows of the bus, fearing that the Russian soldiers would find it suspicious. I did not want to be interrogated by the KGB for my presence there. Where to sleep in Chechnya without being detected by the Army? I arrived at 6pm and a notice panel notified that there was curfew in the town from 9pm to 5am. I saw a hotel not far from the bus station but... somebody in the bus, whose name I do not want to quote here, offered me help and thus I went to his (o her!) house where I spent two days observing life in that unusual city. During the evenings, while having dinner, we watched TV but with a very feeble light. Mobile telephones worked and the local market was very busy with stalls selling all kind of products and changing foreign currency.The third day I left to Ingushetia.FORTH REPUBLIC: INGUSHETIALots of soldiers everywhere in Nazran, old Ingushetia capital. Until recently, Ingushetia was united to Chechnya, like Kabardino to Balkaria or Karachay to Cherkessia. In the streets I was requested to show my passport several times because of my aspect, like a "churka" (black hair and brown eyes). After visiting the local market and a mosque I learnt that Magas, not far from Nazran, is the new capital of Ingushetia. Since there were not buses or marshruts going there (only rich people and politicians live in Magas, and the entrance to the town is protected by heavy armed guardians), I hired a taxi driver for 1 hour to get me there and back, for 100 rubbles. Just besides Magas I noticed an old traditional Ingush house and ordered my driver to take me there. It was a museum out of the ordinary. It was devoted to the repressed nationalities, 14 in total, which Stalin exiled to Siberia and Central Asia during WWII, to inhospitable places, with many thousands of people dying along the way. I felt like crying when I visited it and learnt the horrors performed against Tatars from Crimea, Kurds, Ingush, Chechens, Turks... After Magas I returned to Nazran and left to Vladikavkaz.FIFTH REPUBLIC, OSETIYA
Vladikavkaz is a wonderful city traversed by the river Terek. I walked during hours along the main avenues. There were romantic tramways, and the river Terek cross the town. I saw beautiful Orthodox churches and a ravishing mosque besides the hotel Vladikavkaz. While, making friends with the nice Ossetins and drinking raki in a horn with them, I told them that I just came from Ingushetia. They could not believe their ears, and one of them even touched my hand and pinched it to verify that I was real and alive. All were amazed to the limit at learning that I had not been kidnapped in Ingushetia, republic where (so they affirmed) the main industry is to take hostages to ask money to their families or Embassies for their release. After Ossetia I left to Cherkessk.SIXTH REPUBLIC: KARACHAY CHERKESSIAThe marshrut took the Bakinskaya Trassa, or the highroad uniting Rostov na Don with Baku. We stopped in Beslan for about 45 minutes. Passengers from my bus then informed me that, during the last summer, Western tourists where very interested in visiting Beslan because of the recent sinister terrorism act that killed several hundreds of children in a school. There was even a monument besides the school dedicated to that massacre that the excited tourists photographed with anxiety. I considered the idea of walking there, but arrived to the conclusion that I would feel miserable if I would go to visit that monument, like an idle tourist, so I preferred to remain in the bus station premises drinking chai. When reassuming the journey and passing close to that school I made the Christian sign of the cross over my body. In Cherkessk I found two Orthodox churches, one open and one closed. The mosque was not interesting at all, and is situated at the end of the town. Along the street Kirov there is a double line of Soviet Union heroes’ statues. After Cherkessk I travelled to Maykop.SEVENTH REPUBLIC: ADIGEAAdigea is the only Caucasian republic where Russians make majority. In the other six Caucasian republics Russians are few and far between. It was Sunday in Maykop. I visited the typical tourist’s attractions, monuments, cathedrals and the like. The main mosque was very nice looking. Inside, the faithful people treated me very well and said that the one who build a mosque in this world will receive as reward a palace in the paradise. Besides the mosque there is a huge monument since the USSR times commemorating the 400 years of friendship between Russians and Adigea people. From Maykop I took a train to Adler, in the Black Sea, and then, in Psou, crossed the border and entered Abkhazia, thus ending my Russian adventure.