Northern Caucasus is a region of the Caucasus located in Southern Russia, bordering Georgia to the south and Krasnodar Krai, Stavropol Krai, and Kalmykia to the north. Unfortunately, while this should be one of the world's most exotic and thrilling destinations, it is currently very dangerous and inadvisable to visit due to extremely high levels of corruption and criminal and political violence. Potential visitors should consider getting a taste of the North Caucasus in a safer area, such as Northern Georgia, Northern Azerbaijan or in the south of Krasnodar Krai around Sochi and Krasnaya Polyana.
- Cherkessk — capital of Karachay Cherkessia
- Derbent — were this ~5,000 year old UNESCO World Heritage site city, location of the mythical "Gates of Alexander," not located in a borderline war zone, it would justly take its place as one of Russia's, and the world's, top historical tourist destinations
- Grozny — war-torn ruined city
- Makhachkala — capital of Dagestan and the Northern Caucasus' largest city
- Nalchik — capital of Kabardino-Balkaria
- Vladikavkaz — North Ossetia's capital and the regional transit hub
- Dombai — beautiful mountain resort in Karachay-Cherkessia
- Mount Elbrus, Europe's highest mountain
- Mount Dychtau, Europe's second highest mountain
- Mount Koshtan, Europe's third highest mountain
The Northern Caucasus is one of Russia's most beautiful regions and is most certainly its most mountainous. Its peaks are Europe's and Russia's highest. In the west, near the Black Sea, the climate is subtropical, while the eastern areas near the Caspian Sea are more arid. The most beautiful natural images of this region are of its rushing mountain rivers running through deep gorges. There are also man-made monuments left behind by the mountain people of the region, particularly their fortress-like stone "auls" (mountaintop villages), as well as by former kingdoms such as Alania, Albania, and most famously the Sassanid Empire's ancient fortress at Derbent.
While there are many autonomous-ethnic regions throughout Russia, ethnic Russians outnumber the namesake ethnicity in nearly all of them. But the Northern Caucasus proves the exception: travelers to the republics of the Northern Caucasus visit wholly different nations, albeit ones strongly influenced by Russia.
In addition to being the only region of Russia in which non-Russian minorities constitute a majority, the Northern Caucasus has been Russia's most rebellious and unstable region since the beginning of the Russian conquest at the start of the 19th century. As result of this long conflict, the ethnic makeup of the region has changed dramatically. The western half of the region has largely been emptied of its former inhabitants, the Turkic people of the Crimean Khanate and the "Circassian" Adyghe, and is consequently more Russified and generally safer to visit. The eastern Caucasus nationalities were mostly deported en masse to Kazakhstan following WWII, when Stalin denounced them as Nazi collaborators. This massive deportation was brutal and large proportions of these ethnicities died from hunger and lack of shelter. Under Malenkov and Khrushchev, however, they were allowed to return to their ancestral lands and have lived side by side with their Slavic compatriots for many years.
The current conflict in the Northern Caucasus is complex and any potential travelers should be aware of its fault lines. The conflict began near the fall of the Soviet Union when Chechnya, a region of the Russian ASSR, declared its independence from Russia and Russia responded with a military invasion. Russia's first attack was largely unsuccessful, but was followed by a second invasion under President Putin following a Chechen invasion of neighboring Ingushetia and a series of terror attacks allegedly carried out by Chechen terrorists. The second war, although this time successful, was particularly brutal, with the Russian military attacking population centers and the Chechen rebels resorting to guerrilla warfare and terroristic attacks against Russian civilians in the Northern Caucasus and further afield in Russia. As throughout the history of the conflict between Russia and the people of the Northern Caucasus, members of other ethnic groups have joined the Chechen rebels under the umbrella of a proclaimed "jihad," in particular, the Ingush, and certain mountain groups in Dagestan. Large scale war has ceased in recent years and most high-ranking rebels, warlords and terrorists have been killed, but small-scale conflict and widespread corruption continue to plague most of the region.
This mountainous region is an extraordinary patchwork of peoples and languages (Circassian, Turkic, Persian, Mongolian, and a whole host of smaller groups unrelated to any other)—the relatively small region contains an incredible 8 language families and 46 different languages (35 in Dagestan alone)! Fortunately for the traveler, Russian serves as the region's lingua franca and is spoken by nearly everyone, even by villagers in remote mountain auls.
- Mountain climbing
- Relaxing at a Soviet resort in the high Caucasus
- Attend a performance of traditional regional dances (they're raucous!)
Pelmeni, khacahprui blinis are really popuilar and are as a delicasy
Heavy military activity, terrorist bombings, kidnappings, and unexploded mines and munitions are widespread. Throughout the region, local criminal gangs routinely kidnap foreigners, including Americans, Canadians, and UK nationals, for ransom. Close contacts with the local population do not guarantee safety. Sadly, the authorities may pose an even greater threat to travelers than rebels, bandits, and gangs.
In the event of emergencies embassies can do very little, and/or more likely, will not send any help. All governments assume they will not be able to anything more for its citizens other than deliver messages.
As a general rule of thumb, the farther you are from Chechnya, the safer and more plausible your travel experience will be. Outside Chechnya (which no one should be visiting at present), Dagestan and Ingushetia are the least stable and most dangerous destinations. Rumor has it that you will be safer in the cities than in more remote mountain auls, but make no such assumptions in this unstable region.
The Northern Caucasus is actually pretty difficult to "get out" of. The border with Georgia (the logical next step on an itinerary) is closed to all non-CIS nationals (and may be closed to many CIS nationals as well). The borders of all the region's republics are also closely controlled by Russian authorities; expect to be interrogated and bothered at border crossings and frequent roadblocks as to your purpose in traveling in the region. Flights leave from many of the subregional capital cities to Moscow, otherwise, it is easiest to leave as you come in: via Sochi or Stavropol/Mineralnye Vody.
This page was last edited at 00:59, on 25 November 2008 by Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel. Based on work by Peter Fitzgerald, Sergey Kudryavtsev, Keeffey, Stacy Hall and Andrew Haggard, Wikitravel user(s) Pgtimer8 and WindHorse and Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel.