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Dagestan. Invitation to Go for a Trip

For the Akhal-Teke lovers, Dagestan and Stavropol are the Russian regions constantly competing with each other for taking home titles of World and Russian Champioamong Akhal-Teke horses. It’s a great pleasure to see those horses at the show rings, but may be a bigger pleasure is to visit them at their homeland to see as many horses as possible and to learn how they are raised, what is the land and how people live there.

Why Dagestan was choused for establishing the biggest Akhal-Teke breeding farm of that time in Russia? The answer was given by the famous AT breeder and founder of studfarm “Dagestansky” Vladimir Shamborant: What is good about Turali (not far from Makhachkala) – that the nature is the same as at the motherland of Akhal-Tekes in Turkmenistan, but here is also the sea. What can be better?

If you like to learn more about Dagestan as the region in general, this article is for you.

Dagestan popular wisdom says, “the one who came to us as a guest, would leave us as a friend
“But what is Dagestan and where is it?” – you may ask and you will get a lot of answers: simple and wise, serious and witty: “the country of mountains”, “above and below an eagle’s wing”, “the place where the sun lights the mountains”, “at the silvery waters of Caspian Sea” and since the second half of XX century – “the place to go for Akhal-Teke horses”.

Dagestan is situated on a small strip of land which is only 50.300 square kilometers. But there you can see sandy deserts and liana forests, grand snow peaks and blooming valleys, fast mountain rivers and warm sea beaches, eternal glaciers and fragrant grape and fruit plantations, clear mountain healthy air and mineral medicinal springs, ancient fortresses and a miracle of engineering – the Chirkei hydro-electric power station. There are famous Kubachi jewelry, wonderful hand-made wool carpets, Balkhar ceramics.

A flight from Moscow takes 2.5 hours and the first you see from the sky when coming closer are the great mountains and so we will also start the tour from the mountain giants.
- The most famous mountains of the Great Caucasian mountain range, Shalbuzdag and Bzazarduzu, are covered with eternal snow and remind the views of South Tyrol in Alps of Switzerland.
- The Tarki-Tau mountain is the favorite rest place of the residents and guests of the Dagestan Capital. It stretches along Makhachkala parallel to the Caspian Sea and looks like a sleeping giant beast.
- Sarykum barkgan (sand-hill) is the highest in Europe and Asia. It’s situated not far from Makhachkala. In windy weather the crest of the sand-hill smokes like a volcano and changes its form all the time. This yellow sand-hill with the vegetable kingdom which is not typical in Dagestan is a piece of a real desert.
- In Gunib you see a rock called “The sleeping Beaurty”, near city Isberbash the mountain ranges under the morning sun rays resembles the profile of the Great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin.

Many Dagestan rivers rush along mountain canyons. On their way there appear the slopes of the ravines – the unique phenomena. You will feel the breathtaking of eternity and bend your head before these ancient masses. There are a lot of caves in the ravines which persistently keep a secret of their origin. Famous French writer Alexander Duma was delighted with one of the most wonderful in Dagestan – the Sulak canyon. “I have never seen anything like this neither from the peak of Vollorn, nor from Etna”, he said.
The unique Gunib canyon rouses special interest and admiration. This canyon has fantastic outlines. Here you will also see a famous pavilion of Shamil.

Many nature-lovers like to visit the Chirkei Sea. It came into being together with the building of the unique arched dam of the Chirkei hydro-electric power station – the pride of Dagestan.
Near aul “Gherghebil”, you can see the picturesque valley of the river Kara-Koisu. From here you can make a tour to the aul of national craftsmen Untsukul and to Gherghebil hydro-electric power station which was the first in Dagestan.

The Caspian Sea has very interesting history. Many centuries ago the ancient Greek poet Homer mentioned the Caspian Sea and called it the Pond of the Sun. This is the first name of the see. The Chinese called it the Western Sea, the Arabians – the Khazar Sae; the Georgians – the Derbent Sea. In Ancient times on the Western coast of the sea there lived a tribe of caspiys, and the memory about them remained in the name on the sea.

Dagestan is rich in three main treasures: land, sea and people. Other treasures are obtained with the help of people’s craftsmanship. Strong and courageous, hard-working and gifted, hospitable people of Dagestan are the match for its nature. Dagestan is called not only the country of mountains, but the “mountain of languages”. Here 30 nationalities merge in a multi-colored, sparking stream. One of the old time travelers wrote about Dagestan “The tribes of this region are more numerous than the tribes of any large state. Each mountain is occupied by its own tribe and each village speaks its own language which is incomprehensible for other”. Among the thirty native nationalities, the main of them are: the Avars, the Lezghins, the Darghins, the Kumyks, the Tabasars, the Nogays, the Lakhs, the Rutuls, the Aguls, the Tsakhurs, the Tats. Mountaineers say “To feel the height of the mountain you should look from it downwards. To feel the present moment and see the future prospects you should remember the past”.

Dagestan is one of the regions with ancient settlements. In 3000 B.C. people had lived here. Dagestan is not large. On a globe it is a little spot which you can cover with your little finger. But when the unique wares of the goldsmiths from Kubachi and craftsmen from Untsukul, carpets from South Dagestan and ceramics from Balkhar are displayed at the international exhibitions; and Dagestan wine wins gold medals at the competitions in Paris, Dublin and Budapest, you become sure that our mountain region is boundless. And a spot on the globe does not seem to be so little.

Dagestan is the birthplace of the hero pf the Patriotic War of 1812 Petr Bagration, writer Olga. Forsh, outstanding surgeon A. Vishnevsky and marshal or the engineer troops M. Voroniev. Dagestan is the motherland of more than 50 Heroes of the Soviet Union, who had got this high awards for courage and bravery, boldness and fearlessness which they displayed in the years of the Great Patriotic War 1941—1945 (Second World War).

Makhachkala – the capital of Dagestan – build from concrete and glass, marble and whine stone, stretches along the Caspian sea coast at the foot of the Tarki-Tau mountain. Makhachakal is one of the picturesque seaside towns of the Caucasus with the population of about 400 thousand and it looks like a white ship as Rasul Gamzatov (the famous poet from Dagestan) said. The history of Makhachkala is connected with the name of Russian Tsar Peter I. During his Persian campaign he set up a camp not far from the aul of Tarki. In 1844 the stone fortress and the first houses had been built. So the new town of Petrovsk was born, where later on a port and a branch-line of the Vladikavkaz railway were built. In 1921 Port-Petrovsk was renamed into Makhachakala.

Derbent, one of the ancient towns in Dagestan, is situated at the place where mountain merges with the sea. It is the second biggest town in Dagestan. It is called the museum town, the town of “a thousand legends”. For many centuries Derbent used to be a strategic key which opened the way to the Caucasus. That’s why it also called “the gate in the wall” and this is reflected in the town defense work and architectural monuments. Here you can also see the minarets and mosques, bath houses with arched roofs and hydrant fountains. The Derbent stone fortress with citadel, surrounded with the Caucasian wall, and the Naryn-Kala fortress rouse admiration. Other ancient monuments and constructions, which had been created during 25 centuries, are also very interesting. In the upper ancient part of the town “magali” you will see narrow twisting streets and blind alleys with houses, which overlook the yard, and clay fences. Derbent is very famous for its carpets which are the wonderful works of local carpet-makers.

People say: "spread your carpet out and I shall tell you what kind of person you are”. And you make sure of this popular wisdom when you see the unique works of modest carpet-makers from the distant mountain Lezghin and Tabasaran auls. Complicated and fine patters of the ornament, original gamut of colors are achieved with the help of the ordinary crochet hook and natural dye-stuffs from the grey clover roots, walnut, pear and apple-trees bark.

Gunib. One of the most wonderful and beautiful places in the Caucasus is the aul Gunib. The Russian scientist N. Kuznetsov wrote in the beginning of the XX century: “Gunib is more beautiful and more interesting than many places in Switzerland”. Mild climate, very beautiful nature and clean air makes Gunib one of the most attractive places in Dagestan. From here you can see the Inner Caucasus and the peaks of the Main Caucasian Range.

Kubachi. Very long ago in the Eastern countries people spoke about the country of the chain armour makers with was situated somewhere in the Caucasian mountains. The Arabian traveler Al-Masudi wrote” “Their country is inaccessible”. This country was called “Zirekhghiran”. The works of zirekhghirans were famous not only in the Caucasus but also in Persia, Turkey and European countries. The most courageous military leaders considered it an honor to have the arms form the country of Zirekhghiran. Countries passed. The cavalry of Chinghizkhan and the horsemen of the “Iron Lame Man” – Temerlan rushed past through the Caucasus sweeping out of existence everything on their way; the Persian shahs put the Caucasus to the sword. However, all these events by-passed the country of Zirekhghiran. Foreign invaders were afraid to go far in the mountains. But in spite of this, changes took place in it too. Gradually the Persian name Zirekhghiran was forced out by the Turkish name Kubachi that also was translated as chain armour makers. In due course the chain armours became unnecessary and craftsmen began to make fire arms, but then the demand for arms began to reduce. And chain armour makers devoted themselves to the engraving. For many years the craftsmen from Kubatchi had been working out wonderful and original ornaments, complicated technique of drawing, inlays and chasing on the precious metals. Nowadays the masterpieces created by the gifted craftsmen from Kubachi delight not only the visitors of exhibition in Russia, but also in New-York, Tokio, Paris, Sidney, Mexico and Montreal.

filly Zirekhgeran

*could not resist the temptation and added a picture of a beautiful Akhal-Teke filly named Zirekhgeran, born in Dagestan (Djigit), now living in the US (Akhal-Teke Stud)*

Balkhar. People say that Prometheus who had stolen the fire from the gods, created the first man of clay. That’s why clay was always a very important stuff. People make of clay very useful and beautiful things with the help of fire. In due course the ceramics developed and improved. Only in the distant Dagestan aul Balkhar it remained the same as it had been in the times of Prometheus who was the first potter. And vessels made in Balkhar nowadays resemble their remote ancestors, as if they were found by the archeologists in the ancient ruins. The shapes, rough surface, original ornament which is like a poetry of Dagestan – discreet, wise and lyric, everything is the same. Only women are engaged in ceramics in Balkhar and there is something bewitching in their work.

We are finishing our trip to some interesting places of Dagestan. Climb the highest mountain, breath this wonderful mountain air once more and spread your arms… the old men say that in the mountain people acquire wings… Have a nice flight our dear guest and friend. The country of mountains is famous for its hospitality. That’s why people in Dagestan say “Those who came to us as guests, would leave us as friends”.

The article is based on a book
“Dagestan. Invitation to Go for a Trip”,
by L. Golubeva, Makhachkala, 2001.

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