Dagestan is a place that, if you listen to your embassies and foreign offices, you aren’t really supposed to go. Type Dagestan into Google and you’re hit with the headline “The Most Dangerous Place In Europe,” and most information about this incredibly diverse and hauntingly beautiful republic is littered with references to terrorism and kidnappings. Well, I’m here to set the record straight.
Dagestan is not dangerous. While its capital city Makhachkala is a rather charmless place, the ancient city of Derbent, home to the ‘Caspian Gates‘ of legends past, and the mighty Caucasus mountains (the name Dagestan literally means ‘Land Of Mountains’) are full of gorgeous scenery, fascinating history, soaring eagles and the welcoming hospitality that Dagestanis are rightly known for.
While part of the Russian Federation, Dagestan doesn’t feel like Russia at all. In fact, only around 3% of the population are ethnically Russian with the other 97% made up from over 30 different ethnic groups! There are a dazzling array of different languages, traditions, dress and foods, and each group has its own story to tell. Islam unites the republic and provides another key difference from the rest of Russia, mosques dot the landscape and the ubiqitous vodka is a far rarer sight here. I made my way into the mountains to spend time in the mountaintop village of Chokh, home to Zaur Tsokholov and his family, who have built a beautiful guesthouse where you can get a feel for the culture and history of his group, the Avars, and check out the amazing abandoned village of Gamsutl, cheekily nicknamed the ‘Machu Picchu’ of Dagestan. Scroll down below to check out some pictures!