New East Digital Archive

Dagestan diaries: we rode 1500 km across the Caucasus and renewed our faith in humanity

4 November 2016

From the heights of the Altai mountains to the depths of the Moscow canal, Olya Ivanova’s beautiful but fragile Russian heartlands often hide a troubled past. It is in the autonomous republic of Dagestan, a region with a turbulent recent history, that Ivanova instead finds magic — quite literally in fact. Magic happens to be the nickname of her travel companion and friend Magomed, with whom she traversed 1500 km across the “land of mountains” in a Lada to shoot a travel guide to the region. “We ate lots of bread and meat, and heard hundreds of stories. We lived without electricity, water and gas. We slept in hundred-year-old houses, sang with hundred-year-old-old women and washed in hot springs. We had garlic-milk and ate dried meat for breakfast,” she recalls. Ivanova leads us through mountain views to charming villages and reflects the people’s generous hospitality with vivid, almost-tactile imagery of food and home comforts. “Everyone’s racing in Ladas on mountain roads, portraits of Putin hang alongside surahs from the Qur’an. For dinner you’re given khinkali (dumplings), garlic, vodka, and a pu-erh (fermented) tea with Soviet sweets. They cover their faces and say Islam forbids having their photo taken. The girls there are pale and laugh into their palms. The local oligarchs break walnut shells between their teeth as they offer you grass,” Ivanona reveals. Though it was her second time in Dagestan, Ivanova still admits she doesn’t quite understand it, which makes the journey in her words “all the more satisfying”.