-Dr. Rahul Kumar, senior correspondent, the Asian independent UK-
Having been to quite a few amazing places across the globe, I would list Dagestan among the destinations definitely worth visiting.
Situated in the south of Russia on the Caspian Sea and in the North Caucasus, Dagestan can boast the wide-screen wilderness and striking beauty of its mountains, mirror-smooth lakes, picturesque mountain rivers, remote half-abandoned villages to head for to discover their authenticity and tranquillity, legacy of what once used to be part of the Great Silk Road, and other interesting things and sites that will make your trip there unforgettable.
Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan and the largest city in the North Caucasus, is just a three-hour flight from Moscow. The city may not be known for its white sandy beaches, though it is located on the Caspian Sea, but there’s no denying Makhachkala is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in Russia. The vibes are of an old bustling market town. Head for authentic ambience and cuisine at Restaurant-Museum na Lermontova or choose a ritzy spot like Syrovarnya on Lake Akgel.
The next day you might want to visit Derbent, which claims to be the oldest city in Russia and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It changed ownership many times due to its strategic location and at the beginning of the 19th century it passed to Russia. Now it holds legacy of many cultures like Persian, Arab, Mongol, Timurid, Shirvan and Iranian. Derbent is also renowned for its Medieval fortress, Naryn-Kala, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Travel back in time wandering its cobbled streets and enjoying breath-taking views on the city and the sea. The oldest mosque in Russia that was built in 734 is also located in Derbent.
Another notable site is the Sulak Canyon, the deepest canyon in Europe and one of the deepest in the world. The views are absolutely fabulous and stunning both from the top of the mountains down the canyon and when you are in a speed boat exploring the untouched beauty of the Sulak river. On your way back stop by Glavryba, the eco-friendly tourist spot. Not only can you savor freshly caught trout there, but also ride a jet ski or kayak down the Sulak river.
To further uncover Dagestan’s natural wonders, set off on a road trip to Ghunib, a rural locality up in the Caucasus Mountains. Along the way revel in the serene waters of the Irganai reservoir (you might as well want to take a boat trip) and make a stop at one of the roadside home cafes in Shamilkala to have a light meal of hot oven-baked bread, cheese and local herbal tea with homemade jam. A friendly host or hostess will most probably invite you in their garden to treat you to their seasonal fruit and nuts. I was visiting the place in November and ate persimmon and walnuts right from the trees. That was a truly genuine experience. Once in Ghunib, visit its local historical museum and then go further up in the mountains to take in spectacular wide-screen mountain views. Later in the evening you might want to try local specialities like khinkal, kyurze and chudu in the café in the main square.
Stay overnight in Ghunib and next morning head for Chokh, a village with only two streets and less than 1000 inhabitants, located on top of craggy cliffs. From there, on the opposite mountains, you will see the ultimate goal of your journey – the ghost village of Gamsutl, which is sometimes referred to as the “Machu Picchu of Dagestan”. Located 1500 meters above sea level, the village is believed to date back 2000 years. Once there were around 300 houses and also shops and a hospital but the last resident died in 2015. The only way to reach the place is first by car and then with an hour-long climb on foot along a narrow path. The dramatic and epic views from top of the village are undoubtedly worth the effort. Also, evidence of various eras and religions can still be distinguished on the house fronts like Christian crosses, Persian inscriptions, Arabic script, and the Star of David.
Dagestan has a lot to offer those looking for adventurous and authentic experiences. You just have to start planning your trip there. The best time to explore its intact nature is from April to October when scenic landscapes are at its best. And in the summer heat, if you feel like having a swim in the Caspian Sea, head to resort cities Kaspiysk and Izberbash.
Come and visit Dagestan, a land with a mix of riddles and revelations, adventures and tranquillity, old and new, off-grid and comfortable, and you will fall in love with it once and forever.