Kabardino-Balkaria, the territory of the Kabardin and Balkar peoples, is located along the north-central border of Georgia and the northern slope of the Caucasus Mountains. Kabardino-Balkaria Republic covers 12,500 square kilometers (4,800 square miles), is home to about 866,000 people and has a population density of 69 people per square kilometer. About 57 percent of the population live in urban areas. Nalchik is the capital and largest city, with about 240,000 people.
The autonomous republic of Kabardino-Balkaria was established in 1936 after fourteen years as an autonomous oblast. In 1944 the Balkars, like certain other North Caucasus groups, were deported to Central Asia because of their alleged collaboration with the Nazis, and the region was renamed the Kabardin Autonomous Oblast. Republic status was restored in 1957 when the Balkars were allowed to return. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]
In 1992 both the Kabardins and the Balkars opted to establish separate republics within the Russian Federation, using an ethnic boundary established in 1863, but the incumbent parliament of the republic declared the separation unlawful. Since that time, the issue of the republic's configuration has awaited a referendum. In 1994 Kabardino-Balkaria signed a bilateral treaty with Russia defining respective areas of jurisdiction within the federation. *
Despite Russian immigration into the republic, the Muslim Kabardins and Balkars now constitute nearly 60 percent of the republic's population, which was estimated at 800,000 in 1995. Of that number, 48 percent were Kabardin, 9 percent Balkar, and 32 percent Russian, according to the 1989 census. *
The economy of Kabardino-Balkaria is based on substantial deposits of gold, chromium, nickel, platinum, iron ore, molybdenum, tungsten, and tin. The main industries are metallurgy, timber and food processing, the manufacture of oil-drilling equipment, and hydroelectric power generation. The republic's capital is Nalchik. *
Warning: According to the U.S. State Department: North Caucasus (including Chechnya and Mount Elbrus) – Level 4: Do Not Travel: Terrorist attacks and risk of civil unrest continue throughout the North Caucasus region including in Chechnya, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Stavropol, Karachayevo-Cherkessiya, and Kabardino-Balkariya. Local gangs have kidnapped U.S. citizens and other foreigners for ransom. There have been credible reports of arrest, torture, and extrajudicial killing of LGBTI persons in Chechnya allegedly conducted by Chechen regional authorities. Do not attempt to climb Mount Elbrus, as travelers must pass close to volatile and insecure areas of the North Caucasus region. The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens traveling in the North Caucasus region, including Mount Elbrus, as U.S. government employees are prohibited from traveling to the region.
Tourism in Kabardino-Balkaria
Kabardino-Balkaria has many beautiful places, including magical mountains with glaciers and Alpine lakes, picturesque gorges, lakes and waterfalls. and endless steppe. The highest point in Europe – Mount Elbrus is located here, attracting hikers, skiers and mountain climbers and doesn’t require that much skill to climb, around the world.
In Kabardino-Balkaria you can ride on a high-altitude cable car up to 3847 meters on 5,642-meter-high Mount Elbrus. In the winter season you can enjoy skiing and snowboarding. In the summer you can explore the mountains and gorges or relax by lake or strawberries and raspberries in the mountain forests. The republics capital Nalchik is a small, mellow city, where stroll in the old Park of the resort district Dolinsk or go shopping at the market “Green”. And then there are the amazing Blue Lakes, whose secrets Jacques Yves Cousteau himself tried to unravel.
The climate in Kabardino-Balkar Republic — region where the plains meet the mountains of the Greater Caucasus — is quite variable and depends on where you are and what time of the year it is. The average temperature in January ranges from -2 degrees C in the plains to -12 degrees in the mountains. In July, the average temperature in is 25 degrees C in the plains to 5 degrees in the mountains. On snow-covered of Elbrus, the temperature can drop to -10 degrees C at night even in the summer, when you can watch streams of meltwater running along the slopes turn into ice at sunset.
Getting There: By Plane: The nearest airports in Nalchik and Mineralnye Vody. Flights from Moscow to Nalchik take 2 hours and 15 minutes and cost 2700 rubles one way; from Moscow to Mineralnye Vody take 2 hours 10 minutes and cost 2000 rubles one way. To get from these airports to the Elbrus region, the best option is to order a transfer, as public transport and taxis are rare. By Train: The nearest railway stations are in Nalchik and Mineralnye Vody. Moscow-Nalchik: a reserved costs 3144 rubles, and a berth in a compartment, 5048 rubles, the travel time is about 25 hours. Moscow-Mineralnye Vody: a reserved seat costs 2062 rubles, a berth in a compartment, from 4164 rubles, travel time is 21 hours 36 minutes. By Bus: From large cities of the South of Russia there are bus connections with the Elbrus area. The fare from Moscow to Nalchik is 3500 rubles, one way.
North Caucasus embraces seven Russian republics: Adygeya, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkariya, North Ossetia, Ingustetia, Chechnya and Dagestan. The configurations of these republics were primarily the work of Stalin when he was the nationalities commissar in the 1920s. His idea was to group rival ethnic group into the same states rather than give them their own state so they would be too busy fighting among themselves to threaten the Soviet state and to require a strong Soviet military presence to keep the peace. One Russian newspaper editor told National Geographic, “It wasn’t just divide and conquer. It was divide, conquer and tie up in trouble.”
The Balkars live with the Kabardins in Kabardino-Balkariya and the Karachays live with the Cherkess in Karachayevo-Cherkessia even though the Cherkess and Kabardins speak similar languages and the Balkars and Karachays speak similar languages. Northeast Caucasian groups also include the speakers of Nakh-Vaynakh languages, namely the Chechens and Ingush.
The Balkars and the Karachay belong to the same overall Turkic group, although the latter live in the Republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessia immediately west of Kabardino-Balkaria on the north slope of the Caucasus Mountains. Like the Chechens and the Ingush, the Karachay were exiled to Central Asia during World War II. The Cherkess and the Karachay were reunited when the latter were returned from exile in 1957. Established in 1992, the republic is mainly rural, with an economy based on livestock breeding and grain cultivation. Some mining, chemical, and wood-processing facilities also exist. The population, which was estimated at 422,000 in 1990, was 42 percent Russian, 31 percent Karachay, and 10 percent Cherkess. The capital city is Cherkessk. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]
The Balkars are a small tribe that live on the slopes of Mt. Elbrus in the central Caucasus Mountains. There are about 71,000 of them, most of them in Kabardino-Balkaria. They are related to the Karachays. Eighty percent of their territory is above 2,000 meters. The Balkars, also known as the Malkars, are mostly Muslims and speak the Karachay-Balkar language, a member of the Altaic-Turkic family of languages.
The Balkars are Sunni Muslims but they converted very late, in some cases not until the end of the 19th century. Traditional beliefs that have endured include the ritual of dressing up dolls as frogs and dousing them in water to bring rain; protecting homes from the evil eye with horse’s skulls; placing a horse at the entrance of a home for good luck; giving amulets to their animals; and banging on pans during a lunar eclipses to prevent the monster Jelmauuz from consuming the moon.
The Balkars also maintain beliefs in their traditional gods. According to legend the Balkarian people were sent by their gods to earth from the constellation known as the She-Bear to communicate with the mountains.
Kabards (of Kabardino-Balkaria) are one of the Circassian peoples, along with the Cherkess (of Karachay-Cherkessia) and the Adyghe people of the Republic of Adygea,. The Circassians are an ethnic group originally from the northwest Caucasus but are now more numerous in Turkey and the Middle East than in Russia. Circassians (also known as Abaza) are a very mixed lot, with a lot of European and Asian input. Many members of some tribes have blue eyes and blonde or red hair while others are dominated by people with dark hair and fair skin
The Kabardians, or Kabardinians, are the largest of the twelve Adyghe (Circassian) tribes (sub-ethnic groups). They are also commonly known by the plural terms Kabardin, Kebertei, or Kabarday. Along with the Besleney tribe, they speak a distinctive dialect of the Adyghe language.
The Kabardins live with Balkars in Kabardino-Balkariya and the Karachays live with the Cherkess in Karachayevo-Cherkessia even though the Cherkess and Kabardins speak similar languages and the Balkars and Karachays speak similar languages. In the fifteenth century, Crimean Tatars and Ottoman Turks brought Sunni Islam of the Hanafi school to the territory that is now Kabardino-Balkaria, but Muslim precepts have been observed rather superficially since that time. A small group of Christian Kabardins remains.
Although the tribal system of the Kabardins disappeared with the first contact with Russians, some aspects of the traditional clan system persist in society, and family customs are carefully preserved. Unlike other ethnic groups in the region, the Kabardins were strongly pro-Russian in tsarist times; they did not participate in the numerous uprisings of Caucasus peoples between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. This affinity survived into the Soviet period despite the dominant position of the aristocracy in Kabardin society. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]
Despite the Soviet administrative divisions that placed Circassians under four different designations and political units, namely Adygeans (Adyghe in Adygea), Cherkessians (Adyghe in Karachay-Cherkessia), Kabardians (Adyghe in Kabardino-Balkaria), Shapsugians (Adyghe in Krasnodar Krai), all four groups are essentially the same people (Adyghe). One of the 12 stars on the green and gold Adyghe flag represents the Kabardian people.
There are about 2.6 million Kabardian dialect speakers. Of these, 590,010 live in Russian; 500,000 live in Kabardino-Balkaria; 56,000 live in Karachay-Cherkessia; 1 million live in Turkey; 100,00 live in Jordan; 43,000 live in Syria; 23,000 live in Saudi Arabia; 15,000 live in Germany; 5,500 live in the United States; 1,300 live in Uzbekistan; 475 live in Ukraine.
See Separate Article CIRCASSIANS factsanddetails.com
Nalchik (70 kilometers north of the Georgia border, 60 kilometers southeast of Pyatigorsk) is large town in the Caucasus foothills. Home to 250,000 people and located at an elevation of 550 meters, it contains a regional museum and art museum and is good place to make arrangements for trips to Mt. Elbrus and other Caucasus peaks.
Set in a horseshoe of mountains, Nalchik is the capital and largest city of Kabardino-Balkaria but has a Russian vibe. The official founding date of Nalchik is when the Russians established a fortress there in 1818. Military-linked settlers — from places like Penza, Tambov, Voronezh, Saratov, Poltava and the Don region — began showing in numbers in 1839. Later a Mountain Jews settlement and a German colony were established and the Nalchik Russian population was divided into two groups: the "natives" and "non-resident".
Nalchik is situated on the Nalchik (Pool Terek) River and its elevation varies from 400 to 600 meters above sea level. Among the attractions are Nalchik burial, Agubekovskaya parking, Dolinskoe settlement, Belorechenskie mineral springs., Kabardino-Balkarian State Museum of Fine Arts, State Joint Museum of the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic and National Museum of the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic
Chegem George (16 kilometers north of Nalchik) contains beautiful waterfalls and several archeological sights. About 45 kilometers up the canyon there is place that is only 20 meters wide but has walls that are 250 meters high. Golubye Ozera (53 kilometers from Nalchik) is an area with three picturesque lakes.
The Chegem gorge is very narrow and the sun rarely penetrates into its depths. If you keep driving on a dirt road higher into the mountains, you’ll reach a beautiful, spacious area, flooded with sunlight — the Upper Chegem. This area attracts circling eagles, paragliders and rope jumpers. Chegem waterfalls are beautiful and spectacular in the winter, when they turn into sparkling ice stalactites and stalagmites. Most people visit the area as part a day trip.
Blue Lakes (30 kilometers from Nalchik) are located at the beginning of the Cherek Gorge. The lower terrace, at an elevation of 809 meters, is famous for the lower Blue lake. This lake is of karst origin and is essentially a natural well with a depth of about 258 meters. Only Lake Baikal and Teletskoye are deeper. No river flows into the blue lake, but about 70 million liters of water flow out of it every day. The lake is characterized by it surprisingly blue water and the presence of hydrogen sulfide. About four 4 kilometers from the lower on the way to the upper lakes is “Secret and Communicating.” At Dry Lake is a funnel-shaped hole that is meters deep and 90 meters in diameter.
Mt. Elbrus (100 kilometers west of Nalchik) is the highest mountain in Europe. Located on a northern spur of the Caucasus range, it is 5,642 meters (18,510) feet high, almost 1,000 meters 3,000 feet higher than Mt. Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps. Caucasus people refer to the mountain as a queen, calm and shrouded in white glaciers on the outside but fiery and unpredictable on the inside.
Unlike most of the Caucasus Range Mr. Elbrus is an active volcano. It is has two glacier shrouded cones — the western one with a 18,510-foot-high summit and the eastern one with a slightly lower 5621-meter (18,444-foot) -high summit. The eastern cone was active 1,500 years ago. Sulfuric gases leak out from fumaroles on the eastern face.
Coniferous forests cover the slopes. The ice on the summit is said to be 200 meters thick. The Balkar people live in the high altitude valleys below the slopes. They tend sheep and regard the mountain as sacred and call it Mingi-Tau ("Thousands Mountains"). Standing on the peak of Elbrus, on a super clear day it is said that it is possible to see the Black Sea, Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.
History of Mt. Elbrus
The ancient Greeks knew of Elbrus. It appears several times in Greek mythology. Some believe it was the mountain to which Prometheus was eternally chained. The name "Elbrus" was given to the mountain in the 2nd century B.C. by ancient Iranians. Some say It was the name of mythical chain of mountains and the name means "two heads.". Other say the name “Elbrus” comes from the Persian word “elboros,” meaning glittering or shining. Local ethnic groups have their own names. The Balkar name is Mingi-tau (eternal mountain). In Georgian, it sounds like Yalbuz (snow mane). And Oshkhamakho, the Kabardian version, means “happiness-giving mountain”.
According to Russian scientists Elbrus last erupted in A.D. 50 A.D., give or take 50 years. The mountain consists of alternating layers of ash, lava, and tufa. Thermal springs located near Elbrus slopes confirm that the mountain still has hot magma in its depths. Some say that Elbrus gave birth to the famous healing spring waters of the North Caucasus resorts: Kislovodsk, Pyatigorsk, Yessentuki, and Zheleznovodsk.
The slightly lower eastern summit was first reached in 1829 by Circassian hunter Killar Khashirov, as a member of Russian scientific expedition. The west summit was reached in 1874 by a British expedition led by the Balkar Akihiya Sottayev. Sottayev is regarded as a hero to the Balkar people. This means his name never should never be spoken aloud.
Elbrus's status as the highest mountain in Europe has not been lost on European leaders. In the 1930, a Soviet team erected a bust of Stalin on the Summit (it is now gone). During the German invasion of Russia in World War II, Hitler sent a team of commandos to the Caucasus to capture the mountain. In the Soviet era groups of 400 workers reached the summit as part of a struggle expedition. People have landed light crafts on the summit and descended from it on hang gliders, skis and motorcycles.
Elbrus National Park
Elbrus is located on the border of the Kabardino-Balkar and Karachaevo-Cherkess Republics. The western peak is 5,642 meters high and the eastern one is 5,621 meters. The distance between them is about 3000 meters. The slopes of Elbrus are one big ice field. Permanent snow cover starts at an altitude of about 3,800 meters. Twenty-three glaciers extend down the snow cover of the two peaks. Ice and snow cover 135 square kilometers. At some points, the ice is 400 meters thick. Three major rivers are fed by the glaciers of Elbrus: the Baksan, Malku, and Kuban.
Elbrus National Park was established in 1986 to preserve the unique natural complex of the Elbrus region. It covers an area of 101,000 hectares. Among the attractions in the park other tahn Elbrus are has the Glade of Narzans, Syltran-Kel Lake, Maiden Spit and Sultan waterfalls, the upper reaches of the Malki river, and the tract Gila-su at the foot of Elbrus.
Elbrus National Park (National Park Prielbrusie) covers an area between the southern slopes of Elbrus to the main Caucasus ridge and parts of the Baksan and Chegem Valleys. Another part of the park, in the northern Elbrus region, is in the upper reaches and sources of the Malki River.
The territory of the national park is located in the central Caucasus region, in the middle and high-mountainous zone (1400-5642 meters above sea level) and includes part of the Main Caucasus and Lateral ranges. Within the boundaries of the national park are several morphological forms: high-mountainous-glacial, medium-altitude mountainous relief, lava flows, lacustrine-basin. The fauna of the national park is rich and includes 63 species of mammals, 111 species of birds, 11 species of reptiles, 8 species of amphibians, 6 species of fish and a huge number of insect species.
Towns Around Mt. Elbrus
Prielbrusye is one of the most popular centers for mountain climbing, hiking, and skiing in the Elbrus area. Infrastructure is developed along the southern slope of Elbrus. The third and final line of the modern gondola brings one to 3,847 meters above sea level.
Baxan Valley (100 kilometers southeast of Pyatigorsk, near the base of Mt. Elbrus) is a tackily developed tourist area. It is less attractive than Dombay but closer to the Mt. Elbrus. It has lots of tourist facilities and fills with day trippers from the spa towns in the summers. Cable cars can be used to reached places with views of Elbrus and other high mountains in the area. There are also some of hotels further up in the lest developed Azau Valley.
Terskol (base of Mt. Elbrus) is the last villages on the way to Mt. Elbrus. It is located at an elevation of 2130 meters and has several hotels. A 40 minute walk on a road leads up the upper Azau valley, where you can catch a cable car and a trail to the upper slopes of Mt. Elbrus.
Climbing Mt. Elbrus
Climbing Mt. Elbrus requires relatively little mountaineering skill even though the though the top of the mountain is covered in glaciers. The route follows relatively gentle slopes and fit hikers with crampons and an ice ax and a guide to show the way around crevasses have a good chance to make the summit. Russian climbers traditionally used the mountain as warm up before tackling the big peaks in the Pamirs and Tien Shen in Central Asia and the Himalayas.
The biggest obstacle is altitude sickness. It is advisable to give yourself as much time as possible to get acclimated to the height before setting off for the summit. The second major obstacle is severe weather. Fierce storms can whip up very quickly and trap climbers in white out conditions.
Most ascents of Mt. Elbrus are organized through tour groups. Hikers generally ride a cable car to Mir Bar (3,470 meters) or the chair lift to Garabashi (3800 meters and often not working) to Camp 11 (4,127 meters), which serves as both a ski and hiking center. Most hikers rest here for a couple of days and get acclimated to the thin air and make for the lower 18,441-foot summit rather than the higher 18,510 foot one, which takes several hours more to reach and has more treacherous ice conditions.
The final assault is usually done in a single day: 8 hours there and 8 hours return. Hikers are advised to start early and give themselves plenty of time. Most hikers begin the hike to the summit around 4:30am and trudge steadily along with slow, small, steps. Around 8:00am they reach a group of boulders, known as the Pastukhov rocks, at 15,700 feet (those with enough money can be chauffeured in a snow cat to this point).
The final assault begins at a 17,500-foot-high saddle. Describing the hike from here Maura Reynolds wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "I never thought my lungs could work so hard and accomplish so little. I am taking three or four breaths per step. I try hard to find a rhythm but can't. I keep stopping. Just to breath. Just to feel the heaving of my chest subside a little."
A large number of people from all over the world to make the ascent. The climb to Elbrus is considered doable and affordable even for beginners without much money. The best season is from June to mid-September. You can choose to climb several different peaks. The most popular route is on the South side. The route from the North side is considered more difficult and picturesque.
Skiing on Elbrus
Skiing on some slopes of Elbrus is possible all year round. The cable car on the mountain is the highest in Russia and Europe, reaching 3847 meters. The total length of the trails is more than 35 kilometers. Recently the ski facilities at Elbrus were modernized and the ski infrastructure was improved. Now there are six tracks on Elbrus: two blue, three red, one green.
For snowboarders, the snow-rich fields with the second turn of the pendulum (from the “Mir” station) are especially interesting. For fans of off-piste and backcountry skiing there is an opportunity to join groups with a guide. These area are located mainly on the north side of the mountain.
On the cable cars of the Elbrus region, the lower stations in the Azau glade, there are different ski passes depending on the season: winter, summer, new year, holiday. On average, the cost of a single ascent and descent on the old pendulum road with wagons for 20 people (Azau-Old horizon-Mir station) is 700 rubles. A ski pass for 1400 rubles a day. Prices for the new gondola (8 people in a gondola) are higher: a single ascent and descent is 950 rubles; A ski pass is 1600 rubles a day.
Cheget Ski Area is five kilometers from Elbrus. The height of Cheget mountain is 3700 meters and the maximum drop for skiers is reach 1140 meters. The total length of the trails is 20 kilometers. The best period for skiing is from late November to mid May. At the moment there are four lifts and three queues on Cheget mountain: chair and the top — rope. The wild mountains Donguz-of Orunbashi and Asausage Karibushi have an abundance of snow and has good backcountry runs. But be careful because the region is avalanche-prone.
Accommodation: In the villages of Terskol there is year-round accommodation at several dozen hotels of varying degrees of comfort. The hotels built in recent years on the Glade Cheget meadow in Terskol, offer a decent level of service. You can rent a room for 1500 and 4000 rubles per day.
Hikes in the Elbrus Area
Hikes in the Elbrus Area: 1) Mt. Cheget, a spur of 3,769-meter-high Donguz-Orunbashi. It offers spectacular views of Mt. Elbrus and can be reached by trail or cable car. 2) Doguzorunjyol Lake, which sits magnificently in front of 4,456-meter-high Donguzorun-Chegetkarabashi. 3) The "hanging" Terskol glacier can be reached easily from Terskol village.
Ullu-Cost-Mother Mountain is known to locals call Ullu-Tau God's mountain or Mother mountain. It is believed that if you make a wish at the foot, it will be fulfilled within a year. To get there, you need to go on the Federal highway “Caucasus” to the Southeast of the city of Baksan, then West along The Baksan gorge. The length of the protected gorge is 14 kilometers.
Near the mountain, at 2380 meters above sea level, in a magnificent pine forest is located Alpine camp “Ullu-Tau”.On this trip, you must have a passport with you, as you get to the border territory.
Upper Balkarian Necropolis (20 kilometers east of Elbrus) is a “Town of the Dead”, an ancient cemetery and a complex of mausoleums, located in a picturesque place high in the Caucasus mountains, a few hundred meters from the Eltbyu village. Here are the “houses of the dead” or “keshen” of the early Middle Ages (10th-12th centuries) and later the Muslim mausoleums of the late 17th-early 18th century.
In total, eight mausoleums are preserved: four rectangular ones and four octagonal ones. All of them do not have doors, but there are small windows in their walls. Inside is empty, although the walls are neatly plastered. Apparently, from the outside they were also originally plastered and whitened. The hypothesis that the structures are crypts is confirmed by archaeologists who conducted excavations here and found many interesting artifacts, as well as the remains of ancient people.
Hot Springs Near Elbrus
Kabardino-Balkaria is famous for its mineral springs, there are both sanatoriums and “wild” baths. You can plunge into the healing water with a view of Elbrus in Gila-Su at an altitude of 2380 meters, but there is no infrastructure here only a few basic guest houses. Even higher, at an altitude of 3000 meters, lies a glade of stone mushrooms-unique rock formations. And behind them is a place called “German airfield”, where allegedly Tibetan lamas were brought during World War II on Hitler's orders.
Gili-Su is translated as “warm water” and is widely known for the healing qualities of mineral water. More than fourteen sources are scattered along the tract in the upper part of the Malki River. The Narzan mineral water found here has unique healing properties, and has been called “a drink of the hero”. It is considered to a source of strength for the tribes in the area since ancient times. The water temperature is 22-24 degrees C.
It is said that taking baths of Gily-Su helps the recovery of the nervous system, improves memory, causes headaches to disappear and reduces stress and high blood pressure. For people with diseases of the musculoskeletal system, this unique water helps to remove salt from the joints and restore their mobility. Water has a healing effect, improves the tone of the vessels, thanks to the combination of the temperature regime and the action of the chemical composition of the Gyly-Su water, in which is high in calcium and silicon, which has a beneficial effect on the bone system.
Kabardino-Balkarian Nature Reserve
Kabardino-Balkarian Nature Reserve(70 kilometers southwest of Nalchik) is a high-mountain reserve created to preserve and study high mountains ecosystem of the northern part of the Central Caucasus range. It was established in January 1976 in the mountainous part of the Chegem and Soviet districts of the Kabardino-Balkarian ASSR. Initially Kabardino-Balkarian highland reserve covered of 53,300 hectares. However, the needs of cattle herders in the area were ignored led to opposition from agricultural organizations.
Kabardino-Balkarski Nature Reserve embraces the main ridge of the north Caucasus Mountains. It contains all of the mountains in Europe over 5,000 meters except Mt. Elbrus and Mt. Kazbek, and contains the most glaciers. The ridge at the reserve forms the famous "Bezengi wall" consisting of the peaks Gestola (4859 meters), Katyntau (4858.8 meters), Dzhangi-Tau (5058 meters), Eastern Dzhangi-Tau (5033 meters) and Shkhara (5068 meters). There are 256 glaciers in the reserve's boundaries. The reserve is situated in the Chereksky District of Kabardino-Balkar Republic; it was created in 1976, and covers an area of 825 square kilometers ha (318.56 square miles).
The reserve's territory and borders have changed many times. It has became more and more “alpine” and increased in size, as the cutting ofd the lower meadow areas used by the herders was compensated for by adding more high mountain areas. About 1,000 species of vascular plants have been found on the territory of the reserve. A total of 74 species endemic to Caucasus have been identified here. Of these 54 are endemic to the Central Caucasus, and six to Kabardino-Balkarian reserve. Among the animals found here are brown bears, fox, jackal, wild cat, martens, ermine, weasels, Altai squirrel, hare, and several species of rodents, shrews, and bats. The only fish found in the streams are brook trout.
As it a strict nature reserve, the Kabardino-Balkaria Reserve is mostly closed to the general public. There are several 'ecotourist' routes open to the public, but they require permits that have to obtained in advance. Three popular tourist routes are: 1) To the Bezengi Glacier. A high mountain path to the Bezengi Glacier, with an observation tower and passing Xu Chukhur waterfall; 2) Mijirghi, three kilometer mountain path to a lake at the foot of the Miirghi Glacier; 3) Narzan Source, through mountain forest to the source of the Nazran natural mineral waters. The main office for the park is in Kashkhatau.
Bezengi Wall (70 kilometers south of Nalchik, near the Georgia border) rises from the south over Bezengi glacier and has a drop of about two kilometers. The 12-kilometer-long wall includes the following peaks: Shkhara East (4866 meters), Shkhara Main (5068 meters), Shkhara West (5057 meters), Shota Rustaveli Peak (4960 meters), Jangi-Tau East (5038 meters), Jangi-Tau Main (5085 meters), Jangi-Tau Western (5058 meters), Katyn-tau (4970 meters), Gestola (4860 meters) and Lal'ver (4350 meters).
“Bezengi” in the Balkar language means “the place from which the glacier came down”. It's a region of the Caucasus amazing in its beauty and grandeur, where the majestic snow-white peaks stretch to the sky amidst the grandiose blue of the glaciers. Five of seven Caucasus peaks above 5,000 meters are in the Bezengi area. Russian mountaineers call this region Small Himalayas for the ruggedness of the mountains and vastness of the glaciers, which extend down the large mountain valleys.
Bezengi wall is the highest section of the Main Caucasus Range. Bezengi Glacier stretches from the northern slopes of this part of the range for 18 kilometers is one of the longest glaciers in the Caucasus. The Northern Massif is a giant 15 kilometer horseshoe with nine main peaks. From east to they are Koshtantau (5151 meters), Tikhonov peak (4670 meters), Krumkol (4676 meters), East Mizhirgi (4927 meters), Western Mizhirgi, (5,025 meters), Borovikov peak (4888 meters), Pushkin peak (5100 meters), Eastern Dykh-tau (5180 meters), and Main Dykh-tau (5204 meters). In the south, the Northern Massif features rock walls, buttresses and ridges.
The area is very popular among mountain climbers. Most of the ice and snow routes have been laid out. Bezengi alpine camp is located at the intersection of two gorges leading to the Northern Massif. The territory of the Bezengi Gorge is a national reserve. It located in the border zone and access is often restricted.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (official Russia tourism website russiatourism.ru ), Russian government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in September 2020