Karachay-Cherkess Republic covers 14,100 square kilometers (5,400 square miles), is home to about 475,000 million people and has a population density of 34 people per square kilometer. About 57 percent of the population live in rural areas.The city of Cherkessk is the capital and largest city, with about 130,000 people. For more information: Ministry of Tourism, Resorts, and Youth Policy of the Karachaevo-Cherkess Republic.
Until 1992 an autonomous oblast, the Republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessia occupies 14,100 square kilometers along the northern border of Georgia's Abkhazian Autonomous Republic. A single autonomous region was formed in 1922 for the Cherkess (Circassian) and Karachay peoples; then separate regions existed between 1928 and 1943. The regions were recombined in 1943 as an autonomous oblast. The Cherkess converted to Islam after contacts with Crimean Tatars and Turks; the Karachay are an Islamic Turkic group. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]
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 *]
Karachay-Cherkessia is located a very picturesque, mountainous region in the eastern part of the Caucasus Mountains. Two-headed, 5,642-meter (18,510-foot) -high Mount Elbrus, the king of the Caucasus, is visible from many parts of the republic. With its magnificent mountains, huge spruce trees, and emerald rivers, it is popular with hikers, skiers and climbers. Dombay and Arkhyz are tourist towns popular with skiers and hikers. Khychins are a popular local delicacy, often accompanied by airan or fragrant tea made from mountain herbs. [Source: Russian Tourism Official Website]
Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport is in Mineralnye Vody, located 100 kilometers from Cherkessk. A flight from Moscow takes 2 hours and 10 minutes; tickets start from 2,000 rubles. By Train: The nearest railway station is Nevinnomysskaya, 57 kilometers from Cherkessk. Getting there from Moscow takes 27 hours; second-class tickets start from 3,600 rubles. By Bus: The best option is to first get to one of the cities in the Caucasus Spa region — Kislovodsk, Yessentuki, Pyatigorsk, Zhelznovodsk or Mineralnye Vody — and then take a bus to the ski resorts of Karachay-Cherkessia. Tickets cost 500-600 rubles. The direct bus route from Moscow to Cherkessk is 1,490 kilometers long along the M4-R271 (M29) highway and A155.
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.
History of Karachay-Cherkess
The history of the development of the area begins in ancient times. Archaeological evidence shows that people — Koban culture tribes — lived in area at least by the end of the 2nd millennium B.C. Ancient trade routes inking the North Caucasus to the Black Sea coast in Dioskuriade (Sukhumi). went through the valley of the Big Zelenchuk through modern Arkhyz and further into the valley of the Big Laba through pass Phiya, then through Sancharo pass in Pskhu and finally through the Doe Valley Gumista. These routes connected with the Silk Road. Most of the monuments are left behind Alans, who lived here from the beginning A.D. 1st millennium to 1396, when the Caucasus was overrun by the horsemen of Tamerlane. In the 4th century the Caucasus was invaded by the Huns, who seized Alanian state.
The remains of a large medieval Nizhne-Arkhyz settlement feature three survived magnificent churches. They were built by masters of Byzantine school in the middle of the 10th century, a few decades before the first churches were built in ancient-medieval Russia. On the bank of the Big Zelenchuk river is a rock image of Christ the Savior, dated to the 10th century. The ancient capital of Alania states, whose name is unknown, was situated here. On the wall of one of the churches is an inscription in Greek that reads: "The Church of St. Patron Aspe." Perhaps "Aspe" is the name of Alan capital.
Christianity penetrated in Alanya from Abkhazia but traditional Alanian animist beliefs remained as evidenced by the close proximity of Christian churches to graves with pagan menhirs and burials. In the 14th century the region suffered from severe avalanches and other natural disasters. Today, a wall called the "old house" is believed to be the ruins of a barrier. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Caucasus, was struck by a devastating plague that killed tens of thousands of people. After that time the valley was abandoned. Modern exploration of the Ardhyz began in the valleys of the 20th century. Arkhyz village was founded in 1923. During the Second World War it became the site of fierce fighting for the Main Caucasus Ridge. In 1943, its residents — Karachai — were deported to Central Asia. Return them to their homeland only happened in 1957. In the same year, part of the district (Kyzgych Valley) was included in the Teberda state reserve.
Karachay Ethnic Group
The Karachay are an ethnic group that lives in the plains, foothills and mountains in the northern Caucasus. There are about 276,000 of them, about half of them in the in Karachayevo-Cherkessia. They are related to the Balkars.
The Karachay, also known as the Qarachayli, are mostly Muslims. They speak a Karachay-Balkar language, a member of the Altaic-Turkic family of languages. Some traditional beliefs such as cults that worship trees and stones endure. They have practiced rain-making rituals, made sacrificial offering in pastures where their animal grazed and placed special stones in the foundation of house to be constructed. Traces of Christianity can be found in the worship of saints such as Elias and Nicholas.
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.
Cherkess Ethnic Group
Cherkess (of Karachay-Cherkessia) are one of the Circassian peoples, along with the Kabards (of Kabardino-Balkaria) 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 Cherkess are the remnants of a once-dominant Circassian group of tribes that were dispersed, mostly to the Ottoman Empire, by the Russian conquest of the Caucasus region in the early nineteenth century. The original Cherkess now inhabit three republics, divided among five tribal groups: the Adyghs, Kabardins, Balkars, Karachay, and Cherkess (who inherited the original generic name).
There are 12 Adyghe (Circassian) tribes (sub-ethnic groups).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). Each of the 12 stars on the green and gold Adyghe flag represents a different Circassian tribe.
Cherkessk is the capital and largest city of Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic. It is home to about 130,000 people from about 80 nationalities, mostly Cherkess and Russians. Over the years the city has had different names; Batalpashinsk, Batalpashinsk, Sulimov, Yezhovo-Cherkessk. Founded in 1804 by the Cossacks third Hoporskogo regiment, the city began as a Russian military fort on the Kuban the border line, where Russian troops under the command of General Herman broke the 40,000th Turkish army Batal-Pasha in 1790.
In 1922 the town became the center of the Karachay-Cherkess Autonomous Region. After 1926, it was the center of the Circassian National District. From 1928 to 1943 it was the Cherkess Autonomous Region. In 1931, the locality was granted town status and name Batalpashinsk. In 1934 it was renamed in Batalpashinsk Sulimov by the chairman of People's Commissars of the RSFSR D.E. Sulimova. In 1937 Sulimov was arrested and executed, after which the town was renamed Yezhov-Cherkessk, in honor of the People's Commissar of Internal Affairs N.I. Yezhov. After his arrest and execution in 1939, the town was simply called Cherkessk.
Since 1957 Cherkessk has been - the center of the Karachay-Cherkess Autonomous Region. Since 1991, it has been the capital of Karachay-Cherkessia. Sight in and around the town include Batalpashinsk Lake, Ruins of the Russian fortifications of the Caucasus war period (1832), the Karachaevo-Circassian historical-cultural and natural museum-reserve, and the memorial "Eternal Fire of Glory" in Victory Park, in memory of defenders and liberators of the fatherland. During World War II, thousands of citizens from the area went to the front as part of Circassian and the district guerrilla units.
Dolmen Area of Kyafar (an hour's drive from Cherkessk) is an ancient ruined town made of ruins of fortress walls, houses and sanctuaries made of hewn stone. The outlines of streets and the main square are visible, and carved images of people and animals can be found everywhere on the stones. Next to the fortress there is a burial ground and a lot of dolmens. Also known as Leso-Kyafarskoye fortress, this unusual place has not yet been fully studied by archaeologists and it is not clear who built Kyafar and lived there. Getting There: By car or bus to Zelenchukaya village, and from there to the Leso-Kyafar farmstead. Getting from the farmstead to the fortress means taking a 1.8 kilometers foot climb to a low mountain. Tourists can rent a room from the residents of Leso-Kyafar starting from 500 rubles per person.
Lower Arkhyz Archeological Site
The Lower-Arkhyz Historical, Architectural, and Archaeological Complex (in Arkhyz, 100 kilometers southwest of Cherkessk) dates to the 7th-14th centuries (the Alan Period) and is located in Zelenchuk District. The capital of Alania — the city of Maas — was located there in the 10th-13th centuries. The Alans were a medieval people, ancestors of the Karachays, who created a strong and well-developed state in the area of the Laba and Argun rivers. Alania was the first state in Russia to convert to Christianity, doing so several decades before Rus adopted Christianity.
Five Christian, cross-domed churches dated to the early 10th century and their adjoining architectural and archeological monuments dating back to the 7th-14th centuries still exist in Karachaevo-Cherkessia. Three of the five churches are located within the Lower Arkhyz Archeological Site: they are the North, Middle, and South temples, built by Byzantine craftsmen in the 10th century. There are also 10th-century monastery buildings and remnants of an ancient township. The image of Jesus, the oldest rock icon in Russia, is of particular interest.
Other places of interest include unique astronomical structure with a a solar calendar and a variety of medieval observatory objects(the oldest in Eastern Europe). In ancient times, a portion of the Great Silk Road passed through the lands of Alania from China to Europe. The Lower Arkhyz Christian religious structures are the oldest of their kind in Russia.
Alanian Churches From the 10th Century
In the Caucasus, the Christian faith took hold earlier than it did in Russia, and the ancient-medieval churches found here are remains from that era. There are five of them in Karachay-Cherkessia, each in pretty good condition considering theeir age. They were built in the 10th century, when the lands were still part of the Alanian kingdom.
Three out of five, the Zelenchuk cluster, are found in one place within the Lower Arkhyz fortress, next to the observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the highway leading to the resort of Arkhyz. They're usually denoted as the North, Middle, and South. The South (Ilyinsky) temple is the smallest one, but it is considered to be the oldest working church in Russia. The other two Alanian temples, Shoaninsky and Sentinsky, stand on the mountain branches in the Teberdinsky Gorge, near the route to Dombay. Roads have been paved towards them.
Getting There: By car or bus to the Zelenchukskaya village and from there to the village of Lower Arkhyz (Bukovo). e, while a ticket to the Lower Arkhyz historical, architectural, and archaeological complex costs 100 rubles. Accommodation: Hotels of Bukovo will accommodate visitors at a price starting from 500 rubles per day. There are no hotels in the area close to the Shoaninsky and Sentinsky temples. Tourists can stay in Teberda or Dombay.
Shoana Church (35 kilometers south of Cherkessk, seven kilometers north of Karachayevsk near Kosta Khetagurova village) was built in the 10th-11th centuries on a rock spur of Chuana mountain, which rises above the Kuban river. This landmark of the early Middle Ages Christian architecture is part of the Karachay-Cherkess Open-Air Museum.
The Church is clearly visible from the Cherkessk-Dombay highway. The church's history is connected with the adoption of Christianity in Alania and the rise of Alans into the international political arena in the 10th-11th centuries, when relations were established with Byzantium, Georgia, and other countries. It is believed that the Christian churches in Alania, especially the complicated and monumental ones (which demanded deep architectural knowledge), were constructed under the guidance of invited architects. Perhaps, later on, traditions were adopted by local masters as well.
Shoana Church is a comparatively small building (about 13 meters high) crafted in architectural traditions that were greatly influenced by the Byzantine architectural school. The square of rock solid ground was initially too uneven and small for the planned building. The first step was erecting a massive stone retaining wall on the western side to serve as an artificial platform for the building. Chuana Mountain also boasts a natural landmark — a yew grove watered by a local spring (the needle leaf yew tree is listed in the Red Book and protected by the state).
This region gave birth to several placenames: Chuana-Kaya (Chuana Rock), and Chuana-Suu (Chuana river), a tributary of the Kuban river. The name derives from the Karachaevo-Balkarsky word “chuana” meaning a sanctuary, high-set place. The region is also associated with the tale of Gilyastyrkha, a character of the Karachaevo-Balkarsky epochs who had his own fortress here, Chuana Kala (The Kala Fortress).
Sentinsky Historical and Architectural Complex (50 kilometers south of Cherkessk, 18 kilometers south of Karachayevsk.) includes the 10th century church, as well as the buildings of the Spaso-Preobrazhenskiy female monastery, founded in the late 19th-early 20th century. It is one of the branches of the State Karachai-Cherkessia Historical, Cultural and Natural Museum-Reserve.
The Sentinsky church is located on the high cliff of the Burun-Syrt massif above the village of Nizhnyaya Teberda (the former “Synty” in Karachai language, in the Russian transcription “Senty”) on the left bank of the Teberda River. On this mountain slope there are also monastery buildings. The time of construction of this church until recently has been the object of discussions. Different dates from the 6th to the 12th centuries were supposed. However, most scholars agreed that the church was built during the heyday of the Alanian kingdom and dates back to the 10th-11th centuries, that is, time, when the Alans were freed from Khazar dependence and formed an independent state. Only recently, archaeological scientists managed to find a Greek inscription under the layer of frescoes, indicating that the church was built in April 967.
Similar to other this Alan shrines, the church is characterized by a cross-domed architecture. The church is a composition in the form of a “pure” cross. The building is constructed of carefully hewn blocks and sandstone slabs on a lime mortar. The technique of laying the Sentinsky church is remarkable for its cleanliness and durability. It is perfectly preserved, without making a single crack. On the walls there are traces of a fresco painting dated to the 11th century. The length of the building without an apse is equal to its width and constitutes 8 meters, the height from the floor to the dome is 10 meters. The church and the mausoleum next to it are built on a platform, reinforced with masonry and repeating the contours of the rock spur. In the middle of the 18th century, on the approaches to the church a female monastery was built, now inactive. Numerous buildings of the monastery are well preserved.
The place for the church construction was not chosen by chance. Let us recall that one of the branches of the Great Silk Road passed through the Teberda gorge, leading from the steppes of Ciscaucasia to the eastern coast of the Black Sea. Establishing a Christian church on a high rocky ledge, the Alans, and through them the Byzantines, built a kind of a stronghold — a conductor of their economic and political interests.
As studies of archeological scientists have shown, the Sentinsky mountain was a cult place long before the construction of a church on it. Around the monument, also on the slope of the mountain, numerous ancient burials with things of the 5th-8th centuries were found. The church itself is built on the site of an ancient pagan sanctuary. This is evidenced by the fact that in its masonry stone blocks with petroglyphic images of snakes and geometric patterns are found. Such facts are known: many Christian churches were established on sites of ancient “pagan temples” or even rebuilt from them (Bethlehem in Palestine, Jvari in Georgia, etc.).
Khumarian Settlement: Khazar Fortress
Khumarian Fortress and Settlement (over the Aul Humara, on the right bank of the Kuban River) is dated to the A.D. 8th-10th century and located in the area on the same rocky plateau as the upper reaches of the Kuban River at an altitude of 1000 meters. The oldest artifacts date 8th-10th centuries B.C. Due to its advantageous strategic position settlement is characterized as the "iron gate" Alanya, defending the way up the Kuban and Teberda valleys up to the mountains and to the passes in Abkhazia.
On three sides of the plateau Khumarian are protected by natural obstacles. The western edge drops steeply into the Kuban valley. Cliffs and steep slopes are situated to the north, south and southeast. A narrow isthmus connects the fortress to the northeast and of the mountain range of the Rocky Ridge and the a plateau.
Khumarian fortress existed in the era of the Khazar Khanate (8th-10th centuries), the first state in the Southeast of Europe, which included not only the heyday of the North Caucasus, but also the Crimea, the lower reaches of the Volga and the Don. The creators of the settlement were Turkic tribes of Bulgarians (Bulgars) and the Khazars.
The fortress had a strategic importance for the Khanate. From the east, from the steppes could easily be accessed through the passes of Gumbashi, Gitchi-Ira-Ira and Ulla. Another route led to the Black Sea. Thus the fortress controlled an important final link of the Silk Road route from China to Europe. It is assumed that Khumarian fortress is the main administrative and military center of the Khazar-Bulgarians in the North Caucasus. It ceased to function in the tenth century, after the collapse of the Khazar Khanate.
Arkhyz (30 kilometers northwest of Dombay and 120 kilometers southwest of Cherkessk) is mainly known as a ski center but is also attracts people with its dozens of hiking, equestrian, and cycling routes that start in the valley near the town and wind through the area’s mountains and gorges. Arkhyz means “pretty girl”. There are 75 beautiful lakes in the area.
Arkhyz was founded in Zelenokumsk district of Karachay-Cherkessia in 1922. The village occupies a bank of the Greater Zelenchuk River, itself a fun water track suitable for kayaking, rafting and boating. The resort area of Arkhyz includes charming Romantic and Lunnaya Polyana villages. ,
A relatively new ski resort is located in Arkhyz. The infrastructure is complete. A multifunctional center with ski equipment rental office and other service facilities are available. The total length of pistes at the resort is about 15 kilometers. The season here lasts from November to April. In the village of Arkhyz there are dozens of hotels and recreation centers with rooms ranging from economy class to four-star.
Special Astrophysical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences is located on Mount Pastukhova, near the villages of Lower Arkhyz and Zelenchukskaya. The giant white dome of the observatory's telescope, 45 meters in diameter, can be seen from afar. About 1,000 meters lower, in the village of Zelenchukskaya, is RATAN-600, one of the world's largest radio telescope.
Tourists can get there by car or bus, first to the village of Zelenchukskaya and from there to Akademgorodok (Bukovo village, also known as lower Arkhyz). An entrance ticket to the Special Astrophysical Observatory compound is 120 rubles, and 80 rubles for children. The cost of a night tour with observation of the starry sky is 5000 rubles for a group of up to 12 people. In Akademgorodok hotels, accommodation prices start from 500 rubles per person.
Face of Christ in Arkhyz was found on a hillside near the Mitseshta Lower Arkhyz in 1999. The image was first noticed locals who reported the find to the Nizhne-Arkhyz museum. A small expedition led by museum workers discovered a cave in the rock of sandstone image. The image is 140 by 80 centimeters. It is an image of Christ like the Sinai Icon of the Pantocrator (Almighty).
The was made using an egg tempera technique used in the Byzantine Empire, suggesting the image was made in the 10th century. Christ from the cliff faces east, where the temple is located in North Lower Arkhyz settlement. It is theorized the rock icon is connected somehow with the emergence of Christianity in the ancient capital city of Alanya. According to one theory, the face of Christ was originally constructed on the inside wall of a mountain cave and safely tucked away from the weather and the winds, but was revealed when the cave collapsed over time. In 2011, a stairway with 526 steps and railing was installed so that the pilgrims could make their way up the near vertical slope to the icon site and faithful light candles before the image. The rock icon can be seen for free.
Dombay (130 kilometers south of Cherkessk, 200 kilometers southwest of Pyatigorsk and 50 kilometers west of Mt. Elbrus) is the main jumping off point for major mountains in the Central Caucasus west of Mt. Elbrus. Situated at an elevation of 1,500 meters, it is surrounded by snowcapped peaks and defined by valleys carved by glacier-fed streams. Great views can achieved by hiking and on chair lifts. Dombay means “bison” in a local language. There are some reintroduced European bison in a nearby nature reserve.
Dombay (also spelled Dombai) is a mountain resort town with hotels and camps that can accommodate about 2,000 people, In the summer the place is alive with hikers, wild flower viewers, hang gliders, paragliders and white water rafters. But it is most active in the December to June ski season, offering some of the most challenging runs in Russia. Dombay offers seeminly unlimited recreational opportunities: helicopter rides, hang-gliding or paragliding flights. You can hire snowmobiles and ATVs. There are mountain climbing camps, horse rental places, and places you can rent hiking and skiing equipment, the rescue service, etc.
Ethnic groups found in the area include Russians, and Karachay, a Muslim Turko-Tatra mountain people. The area enjoys 320 days of sunshine per year (much more than the alpine resorts in Europe). The Dombay summer is sunny but not hot. In the mornings and in the evenings it is cool. The winter here is snowy, with the snow cover generally reaching a depth of 1.5-2 meters. It lasts at least four months. But temperature in the winter rarely exceeds 2-3 degrees below zero during the day. It is frequently warm and there some when it warms up to 18 degrees: and people can sunbathe and ski on the same day. There are lovely Alpine meadows that come alive with wild flowers in the spring. Autumn has the greatest number of sunny days. It is sometimes windy, but the wind blows generally blows in from the south.
Dombay is relatively compact and has many hotels of various sizes and price ranges. Dombay glades is located where three gorges — Alibek, Amanauz and Dombay-Yelgen — come together. There are small, cozy cafes all along the Moussa-Achitara slope. Small markets selling local crafts can be found on the Dombay clearing and the Moussa-Achitara slope. Local masters make original, exclusive knitwear of wool and down, offering a very wide range of products. Nearby is the charming village of Pikhtovy Mys (“Silver Fir Cape”). The official website of the Karachaevsk Municipal District Administration / karachaevsk.info
Dombay is one of the main ski centers in the Greater Caucasus mountain range. It features 10 tracks of various levels of difficulty, each about 8 kilometers long. The main skiing area is the slopes of Mount Mussa Achitara. The altitudes of the starting areas range from from 3,200 to 2,277 meters. There’s 20 kilometers of pistes, most geared for beginners and mid-level skiers. There are six cable cars and ski lifts in Dombay that take you to a height of 3,000 meters. The season lasts from November to April.
The Moussa-Achitara slope is accessible by five chair-lift lines, a cable car line and several high-speed draglifts which operate in the ski season. The chair-lift lines total 6.8 kilometers in length. The jig-back aerial tramway is 2,100 meters long. Four draglift lines are 200 meters long each, and the fifth is 750 meters long.
The resort has several snow groomers for preparation of the ski slopes. The ski slope is 7,000 meters long. It starts at around 3,000 meters and ends at the Dombay clearing, a vertical drop of almost 1400 meters. The total length of ski tracks on Mussa-Achitara is 3.8 kilometers. There are ski rentals and ski schools as well as cafes, restaurants, shops, parking lots, markets, cable car stations and hotels at Dombay glades, where of three gorges — Alibek, Amanauz and Dombay-Yelgen —come together at an altitude of about 1,650 meters.
The ski pass and chair lift system can be a little strange and complicated. You can ride a cable car to the mountain slopes. At certain ski lifts, Dombay ski passes are not accepted, so sometimes tourists have to pay cash when embarking a lift. Benefits for certain groups exist. The tricky pricing system is best figured out when you get to Dombay before you hit the slopes.
Hiking Destinations from Dombay
Dombay lies near the Teberdinsky Nature Reserve, home to lynx, bear, deer, black griffin and reintroduced European bison. Some hiking areas near Dombay are off limits to tourists to protects wildlife and rare plants. Others require a permit because they are protected areas or are near the borders with Abkhazia and Georgia. To get to the protected areas, you will need to pay an environmental fee of 200-300 rubles. If you want to take a hike to Karachaevo-Cherkessia’s borders with Abkhazia and Georgia, you will need to secure a pass from the border guard in advance.
Scenic mountains in the Dombay area include Mount Ine (3455 meters), Mount Erzog (3683 meters), Mount Sufruju (3871 meters), and Mount Belalakayu (3861 meters). Among the popular hikes are: 1) 3000-meter Mussa-Achitaa offers splendid views of the Dombay-Yolgen Valley and the Dombay Valley. It can be reached by hiking trails and chair lifts; 2) Chuchkur Waterfall and Ptysh Valley; 3) Amanauz Valley; 4) Alibek Glacier, with views of waterfalls and hotels where you can spend the night; 5) Klukhor Pass, a 2,784-meter-high pass with views of alpine meadows, spectacular mountains and lakes with ice floes.
Other popular destinations include the Crystal Pass, the Muridshinsku and Azgekskie lake groups and the Dombay-Terberda road. Peaks tackled by mountaineers include 3,800-meter Sofridzhu, 4,000-meter-high Dombay-Yolgen, 3,600-meter-high Klukhor Bashi, 3,400-meter-high Sulakhat and 3,600-meter-high Semenov-Bashi.
Mt. Elbrus (50 kilometers west of Dombay) 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.
Most people reach Mt. Elbus from Terskol, Prielbrusye and Baxan Valley in Karachayevo-Cherkessia, but it can also be reached from Dombay in Kabardino-Balkariya, See the Karachayevo-Cherkessia for more detailed information about Mt. Elbrus.
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.
Alibek Gorge and Glacier
Alibek Gorge (near Dombay) is perhaps the most visited place in the Dombay area. The trail to the lake is well-marked and well-trodden. The lake lies at edge of moraine ridge. The lake is small but very nice. Until mid-June it is covered with ice. The color of water in the lake varies somewhat depending on the weather. Alibek is also called Alibeksky and Alibekskogo.
Alibek waterfall is one of the largest and most spectacular waterfalls in the Dombay area. It situated in the western (upper) part of Alibek Gorge. The waterfall is more than 25 meters high and formed by the stream that flows from Alibekskogo glacier. Rocks is the water of the falls is called "mutton foreheads". Alibek waterfall appeared in the mid 20th century. In 1930 there was no waterfall. The ledge from which the waterfall drops was covered by glacier ice. , but it is always deep and rich.
Alibek Glacier is widest and most low-lying glacier in the Dombay region. It covers 975 hectares and is 4.6 kilometers in length. During Hot summer cause the snow and ice to increase in weight and huge crevasses, up to 60 meters deep to appear. Hiking to the glacier is pleasant walk. The route on the glacier is difficult, far above the level of tourists. The glacier is now retreating about a meter and a half a year and reaching it now requires hiking on a marked trail through dense shrub birch. A few decades the glacier reached Alibek waterfall.
Teberda Nature Reserve: Home of Bison, Brown Bear and Mountains Goats
Teberdinsky Nature Reserve (20 kilometers north of Dombay) is home to lynx, bear, deer, black griffin and reintroduced European bison. The Teberda Nature Reserve was established to preserve the unique environment of the two flora zones and the junction of the western and central Caucasus. This region supports a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. The Teberda Nature Reserve is among the top ten most visited nature reserves in Russia.
The reserve is located on the northern slopes of the Greater Caucasus mountain range, specifically in the easternmost part of the Northwestern Greater Caucasus highlands, where the transition begins to the Central Caucasus. The Teberda zone of the Natural Reserve is located on the northern slopes of the Greater Caucasus mountain range in the upper reaches of the Teberda valley. The Arkhyz zone of the natural reserve is located in Kizgych valley (Bolshoy Zelenchuk river head). The area occupied by the reserve is typical mountain terrain, ranging from 1,260 to 4,047 meters above sea level. About 85 percent of the territory is at an altitude above 2,000 meters.
Thirty rivers and streams flow through the natural reserve. Within the Teberda zone, all of these rivers are feeders of the Teberda river. Within the Arkhyz zone, they feed the Kyzgych river which in turn flows into the Bolshoy Zelenchuk river. The rivers flow from glaciers, snowfields, and lakes. Flowing on the steep slopes, they often form rapids and powerful waterfalls. One of excursion routes in the reserve includes a visit of Chuchkhursky waterfall, which is 6 kilometers from the Dombay meadow. This is one of the easiest hikes for tourists. The waterfall is 12 meters high.
The natural reserve has 157 lakes with total area 1.6 square kilometers. Most of the lakes are small, but there are a few large ones: Klukhorskoe, Goluboe Murudzhinskoe, Chernoe Murudzhinskoe. Some of these lakes may be as deep as 30-50 meters. One of easiest hiking routes goes to Badukskie lakes. The glaciers in the vicinity of the Teberda reserve are an integral part of the high-mountain terrain. These are valuable for the natural storage of fresh water. The water in these glaciers has been accumulating for many decades. Melt water from glaciers and snowfields gives rise to almost all the rivers and streams. In total there are 109 glaciers in the nature reserve.
In Teberda Reserve there are 46 species of mammals, including those typical of the taiga, but also endemic species that live only in the Caucasus. The Caucasus goat is the most numerous inhabitant of the rocky areas in the highlands. This animal is on the emblem of the nature reserve. There is another rare species of Russian fauna in the nature reserve: a bison that has been listed as endangered for a long time already. To date, the bison (which number about 20) have reclaimed much of the reserve, while some individuals or groups of them even explore the lands in neighboring areas.
Of large carnivores living in mountain forests, the brown bear is perhaps the most numerous. Bears have remained in the Karachaevo-Cherkess Republic, where they can be found on the slopes of the Greater Caucasus mountain range from Bolshaya Laba river head and its feeders in the west, to Elbrus in the east. In the reserve, bears live in a variety of places, even high up in the mountains at the edge of the glaciers and snowfields. The Caucasus brown bear is not aggressive and only in exceptional cases attacks domestic animals. When encountering humans, they tend to run away as quick as possible. About 219 species of birds inhabit the reserve. Some of them live here throughout the year, while others come here for the summer, nest, and hatch their young. After growing, the young stock fly to wintering areas thousands of kilometers away.
Caucasus State Nature Biosphere Reserve
Caucasus State Nature Biosphere Reserve (where Krasnodar Krai, Adygeya, and Karachay-Cherkessia come together) is located in the middle part of Northwest Caucasus in the upper reaches of Belaya, Malaya Laba, Golovinka, Mzymta rivers. It occupies a heavily mountainous section of the Northwest Caucasus Mountains the mountain ridges of Krasnodar Krai, Adygeya, and Karachay-Cherkessia.
Caucasus Nature Reserve is the largest and oldest protected natural area in the Caucasus, created in 1924 as the Caucasian Bison Reserve. In 1979, the site was named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and in 1999 included in the Western Caucasus UNESCO World Heritage Site. Covering 2,803 square kilometers (1,082 square miles), the reserve is bordered to the south by Sochi National Park and the ridge of the Caucasus bordering Georgia (Abkhazia). Altitudes range from 260 meters to 3,360 meters. There are more than 120 mountain lakes, Most are small and stay covered in ice until the middle of summer.
There are 3000 kinds of flora, more than half of which are vascular plants. Most of reserve is covered by forest vegetation; in the high mountain areas are subalpine and alpine meadows and glaciers. About 20 percent of the vascular plants are endemic to the Caucasus. Some of the coniferous yew trees in the Khosta sector are over 2,000 years old. The typical trees of the lower elevations are oak and alder. The upper forest levels are more dark fir and spruce. Caucasus Reserve forest differ from those of northern Europe by the presence of vines. The animal life of the reserve is noteworthy for the large number of species, particularly of large mammals. Scientists on the reserve have recorded 89 species of mammals, 15 species of reptiles, 9 of amphibians, 21 of fish, over 100 species of molluscs, and more than 10,000 species of insects. Bird life is also prolific, with 248 species of birds, including 112 that nest within the borders of the Caucasus reserve.
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