A guide to the New East

Journey to the North Caucasus

Explore the rugged natural beauty of this hitchhiker’s paradise

From dramatic mountain peaks to extraordinary emerald reservoirs, peaceful farmsteads to vibrant vineyards, breathtaking scenery is found at every turn in the Caucasus. Boasting delicious food and some of the friendliest people, the region makes a unforgettable travel destination. Director and producer Diana Aroutiounova has travelled the world creating documentary films for the BBC, Discovery US, National Geographic, Channel 4, capturing and sharing her adventures on Instagram. Earlier this year her job took her on a four-week expedition across Russia’s seven North Caucasus republics, a region that’s suffered a turbulent recent history, yet today satisfies thrill-seekers and cultural tourists alike. 

Earlier this year, I worked on the Channel 4 documentary From Russia To Iran: Crossing The Wild Frontier, presented by British explorer Levison Wood. Wood is known for his trecherous expeditions that include walking the entire length of the river Nile and pursuing a death-defying trek through the Himalayas. I was the producer on this shoot and was responsible developing, casting and producing the series, as well as planning the route from Sochi to Dagestan in Russia's North Caucasus, for which I joined the crew. We chose the Caucasus because it's a very diverse cultural region yet almost, yet not many people in Europe have ever heard of it. Located between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, the North Caucasus includes seven distinctive republics: the Republic of Adygea, Karachay–Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia–Alania, Ingushetia, Chechnya, and the Republic of Dagestan. Each republic has their own language, traditions and culture like no other. Dagestan alone has around 30 ethnicities and 14 official languages. 

I was totally blown away by the warm local hospitality and rare natural beauty of the land. The Caucasus has long been considered a troubled region riddled with ethnic conflicts, but it's changing and transforming itself anew. Sadly, many Russians and Europeans still consider it unsafe. To my surprise it was the smoothest, most enjoyable journey. My most memorable place has to be the mountainous terrain of Dagestan, with its stunning villages nestled at 3,000 metres high. They preserve so many of their traditions, from tightrope walking to craftmanship, and for this reason the villages are incredibly interesting to explore. 

We decided to hitchhike and stay with locals we’d met along the way throughout our travels. As a result, we found ourselves attending a Chechen wedding, getting drunk with Cossacks, flying a Russian civil army MI-8 and learning about the Sufi Zikr. I wanted to capture the raw beauty and authentic character of this region, and show how a visit to North Caucasus promises a trip of a lifetime. 

Text and image: Diana Aroutiounova

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