Feature: ‘Caucasian Male, Height...’
Ever wondered why white people are referred to as Caucasian? Well, in 1795 the German ethnologist Johann Blumenbach visited the Caucasus and was impressed by the health and physique of the mountain people. Despite them not being quite white, he used the term ‘Caucasian’ as one of his five great divisions of mankind. In bartending, a Caucasian is a mixed drink also referred to as a White Russian.
Feature: People of the Central Caucasus
The Dombay and Elbrus areas are a melting pot of various Muslim peoples. They consist, broadly, of highlanders and lowlanders. The highlanders are the Balkar of Kabardino-Balkaria, who live in the Elbrus and Nalchik areas, and the Karachay, who populate Dombay, Arkhyz and other mountain zones of Karachay-Cherkessia. The Balkar and Karachay speak a similar Turkic tongue and traditionally make their living raising livestock – if you do any travel around here you'll be sure to encounter Karachay and Balkar tending to their herds and flocks in the most remote reaches of the Greater Caucasus.
Feature: Southeast Caucasus
Why does Lonely Planet not cover these areas?
While the security situation in Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia and North Ossetia has improved, the region remains volatile, and government advisories continue to warn against travel here. Poverty and corruption have created a fertile recruiting ground for Islamic extremists and shoot-outs between security forces and militants are not uncommon. It's worth keeping this in perspective, though. Violent incidents, when they do occur, rarely involve tourists.
In Chechnya, the most notorious of the republics, former rebel fighter Ramzan Kadyrov has brought about an uneasy peace for his Kremlin masters. Both Kadyrov and his feared personal army have been accused of torture and murder, as well as other human rights violations, most recently the persecution of LGBT Chechens. Elements of Islamic law are very much in force.
What is there to see?
Adventure and cultural tours into the region are being organised by local expert guides such as Caucasus Explorer.
Dagestan, with a population made up of over 100 different ethnic groups, offers the 2000-year-old town of Derbent, listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site and graced by a magnificent ancient fortress. Other highlights include mountain villages such Rakhata, Gunib, Kubachi and Gotatl (the latter two famous for silverware), the sandy Caspian beaches and the 262m Sarykum dune, the highest in Europe.
Grozny, Chechnya's resurrected capital, boast modern skyscrapers that have locals comparing it to Dubai. You can also witness zikrs (sufi rituals) here.
Ingushetia is a spectacular hiking destination with medieval clan towers standing amid the graceful mountain landscape. The Ingush castle of Vovnushki rises from a steep cliffs on both sides of a narrow gorge. However, you will need to secure a border zone permit to access much of this area.
North Ossetian villages offer curious pagan rituals involving pies and sacred beer. Worthwhile destinations include the striking rock fortress of Dzivgis, medieval settlements in the Mamison valley, and a 'city of the dead' amid dramatic mountain scenery near the village of Dargavs.
Human Rights Watch (www.hrw.org) remains a vocal defender of people’s right to live without fear in the Caucasus.