An amazing journey through the mountains of Kabardino-Balkaria.Legion Media
Together with local tour guide Artyem Babaritsky, we show you why this is one of the most underrated regions of Russia. According to Artem, the nature on the territory of Kabardino Balkaria is more “rigid” and “serious” than in the neighboring republics of the Caucasus. This is comparable to a human face: one moment it is kind and smiling (while we are in the Karachay-Cherkessia) and then suddenly this kind face starts to frown and becomes more severe.
The most famous attraction of the republic – and the Caucasus in general – is Mount Elbrus, the highest peak of the European continent. With a mighty height of 5,642 meters above sea level, Elbrus is actually a dormant volcano. Its permanent icecap feeds 22 glaciers, which, in turn, give rise to the Baksan, Kuban and Malka rivers.
Naturally, if you’re into mountain climbing, this is a peak that you will want to conquer at least once in your lifetime. Here are some detailed accounts of what it entails.
And this is what you’ll see along the way.
Not into mountain climbing? Not to worry! In summer, you can still reach an altitude of 3,658 meters from the bottom of the Azau Valley, thanks to a small network of cable cars and ski lifts. This will give you a bird’s eye view of the entire Main Caucasus Ridge – an extremely impressive sight to behold. And, of course, you’ll be right at the foot of the Elbrus glacier.
In winter, skiers and snowboarders can shred some sweet gnar on 23 kilometers of slopes serviced by 6 ski lifts. The winter sports area is situated between the elevations of 2,350 and 3,840 meters. There are plenty of accommodation options for a comfortable stay and a good selection of cafes and restaurants to refuel your energy supplies.
Translated from the local language, “Dzhily-su” means “warm waters”. The Tract is located on the slopes of the heart of the Caucasus at an altitude of about 2,400 meters above sea level, where you can enjoy the breathtaking view of Mount Elbrus on a clear day. On the territory of Dzhily-su, there are many unique mineral springs that aid in healing from various diseases and strengthening the body.
“It’s an amazing sensation when you lie in a warm mineral bath and dozens of small bubbles rise around you. Also, Dzhily-su is the land of waterfalls that bear beautiful male names like Sultan, Emir and Shah. Thanks to the unusual energy, esoterics are particularly fond of this place, because there are natural sand castles, amazing stone mushrooms and the energetic mountains Sirkh and Tuzluk,” Artyem says.
The road to Dzhily-su is considered one of the most beautiful in all of Russia: It’s a serpentine-like asphalt mountain road that follows along a huge cliff, over which you will see many eagles circling. If you decide to do the trip on your own, Artyem warns that you must get hold of an off road vehicle, because many of the roads that you will need to take are dusty gravel roads.
This is one of the main tourist attractions of Kabardino-Balkaria and it’s not hard to see why.
“The views that stretch along the Chegem gorge are simply amazing. The Chegem gorge is quite big. You will begin your encounter with this area with the beautiful Chegem waterfalls that cascade down the rocky slope. Right at the foot of the rocks, there is a small market where local women sell various hand woven wool products. There is a ‘ladder of happiness’ consisting of two 222 steps, leading to the source of the waterfalls at the top of the cliff. Climbing it is not at all difficult, the views are amazing and there is a cozy cafe at the top, as well as at the bottom, where you can enjoy dishes of national cuisine,” Artyem says.
In winter, the Chegem waterfalls freeze and have a certain wild beauty to them. Some locals say that, perhaps, they are even more beautiful than in the summer. Ice pillars and columns of frozen jets and streams of water, like giant twisted candles, or stalactites, hang down all the way to the river.
There is no more asphalt road beyond the waterfalls, but you can still continue along the gorge on gravel, along the turbulent Chegem River. The road is very dusty, so Artyem advises visitors to drive along it in a car with closed windows and the air conditioning on. After about 30 kilometers, you will arrive at a paragliding station.
According to Artyem, the Chegem paragliding station is famous for its powerful, ascending wind currents. Thanks to them, paragliders can soar in the sky from morning to evening. On the territory of the station, there is also a zip line and a few other adrenaline-filled activities for those looking for some thrills.
If time permits, you can continue moving along the Chegem gorge and arrive at the village of El-TuByu, a place with enormous history. This mysterious ancient Balkarian village is the focal point of the history of the entire Balkaria. Ancient watchtowers, remains of Greek temples and anomalous phenomena attract both adventure seekers and connoisseurs of beauty. The main highrise, the Balkarukov Tower, is also dubbed the ‘Tower of Love’. Legend has it that Akhtugan Balkarukov built it to defend against the relatives of the beautiful Kerime, stolen by him from Dagestan.
Not far from the village, two ancient defensive Greek stairs go up a rocky wall. They rise to a height of about 30 meters and lead to a small area surrounded by walls up to two meters high and about half a meter thick. A bit above the Greek stairs are the ancient Balkar mausoleums, where local nobility were buried in the VIII-XVIII centuries. Artyem advises to go with a tour guide, because there is just so much incredible history in this village.
The Valley of the Narzans is a balneoclimatic resort area. It is located in the foothills of the northern slope of the Skalisty Ridge of the Greater Caucasus, in the Khasaut River valley, at an altitude of 1,300 meters above sea level (near the border with Karachay-Cherkessia).
What is Narzan water? It takes six years for the water from the melting snow in the mountains to become Narzan water. It needs this time to find its way through the fissures and cracks in the underground rocks, become enriched by more than 20 minerals and salts, congregate in the underground lakes and then appear on the surface as a spring. In the local language, its name sounds like “Nart-san-e”, which means “a drink of brave warriors”.
Visitors can come with empty bottles and fill them with different kinds of mineral water. The territory of the valley also has cafes with local delicacies and plenty of souvenir stands, where the local women sell traditional knitwear, mountain honey and other arts and crafts and delicacies from the region.
The two lakes - Lower and Upper Shadkhuei - are still little researched. Underwater currents, turmoils and a large network of underwater canals prevent scientists from doing deeper research. The estimated depth of each lake is more than 200 meters, though there is no data yet on the actual depth.
“This is a great place to spend some time, especially during the summer months. The water temperature is kept at the same level all year round – about +15 degrees Celsius. The two lakes are located close to each other and fascinate visitors with their magical colors, luring them into their emerald water,” Artyem says.
In Artyem’s experience, only with rare exceptions, no visitor can resist the urge to plunge into the water. Even without bathing accessories, both ladies and gents make it their priority to jump into the turquoise waters. Around the lakes there are a few gazebos so you can easily stay for the whole day, have a picnic and swim in the lakes to your heart’s content.
A little piece of Europe in the middle of the Caucasus Mountains, Chateau Erken is a majestic pseudo castle in the Romanesque style (it was actually built in the 1990s) surrounded by about 1,000 hectares of vineyards.
“If you want to have a relaxing day, try experiencing the fairy tale that is Chateau Erken. It stands right on the water and is absolutely stunning. There is also the option to do some wine tasting inside,” Artyem says.
These three places make for an easy day trip, because of their proximity to one another. Start your journey at the Blue Lake. The deep blue waters of this stunning lake, hidden in Russia’s Caucasus mountains, are shrouded in mystery. It’s uninhabited by fish and avoided by locals, but, in recent years, it’s become a popular site for tourists.
After soaking in the lake’s beauty, continue onwards to Upper Balkaria, which is just several kilometers away along the Cherek gorge. This is a small ancient village that almost seems like it’s hiding from the outside world. Architectural monuments, defensive towers, graves and ground crypts have been preserved there. Upper Balkaria serves as an excellent example of Balkarian life and culture. You’ll learn a lot about the ancient auls (Caucasian mountain or desert settlements) and Balkarian settlements from different historical periods.
On the left bank of the Cherek River, in the village of Aushiger, there are a few healing hot springs. The territory of the health resort includes a healing lake, an open reservoir and indoor baths.
“This place can be reached by car, mostly by asphalt road. Then, the car drives into a special lift, together with people and climbs up along the cliff. What a sight this is! There is a border control here, so it’s a good idea to have some ID on you,” Artyem cautions.
After driving along a relatively easy dirt road, you will get to a mountain climbing base. From there, you can take part in some light trekking, 4 kilometers there and back. Adventurers also have the opportunity to make a wish in the Valley of Desires, see waterfalls, go to the glacier and the huge, magical mountain Ulu Tau, which means “Mother Mountain”. Finish up the hike at the Silver Spring.
“Here, you can always encounter wild mustangs, they always come to graze on the beautiful meadows of lush grass and drink the healing water from the spring. The spring is the source of incredible strength - locals say that whoever plunges into it three times will be healed of many diseases,” Artyem boasts.
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