Kabardino-Balkaria: ancient graves, greek temples, Ginggis-khan and kidnapped brides.

To have a better image of the place where I invite all my flying friends to visit at least once in their life – a post about Kabardino-Balkaria and the Gorge of Chegem in particular.

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Kabardino-Balkaria is one of the republics on the south of Russia. Its main ethnic group is called Kabardintsy – more than 50% of the populations, followed by Russians and Balkartsy. The most numerous tribe counts its history from VI BC, from the ethnos of Adygy – those mentioned by the authors of the Antique world.

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Nazir, my dear friend, in his turn belongs to the group of Balkartsy, representatives of the most ancient native Koban archaeological culture of the Central Caucasus. His ancestors were hunting in these mountains already in XIV-XIII BC.

I won’t get too far into the history of this region but believe me it’s very fascinating. Such a central” location between Asia and Europe attracted here all types of battailous tribes and conquerors, including inglorious Genghis-knan and Tamerlane.

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The flag of the Republic. As you can guess, the mountain in the middle is Elbrus (5642m), the highest mountain of Russia and Caucasus.

Kabardintsy and Balkartsy traditionally have big families and very strong tights between their members. Though, between two ethnos there’s not too much mutual sympathy. I heard the story that a young Balkar woman was prohibited to get married with a Kabardin man. So the latter had to kidnap her. This tradition is very ancient, and my mother still is very preoccupied every time I go to travel around Caucasus. But, honestly speaking, such occasions nowadays happen only from mutual agreement between the enamored. If you ask me, I wouldn’t mind being kidnapped by my beloved man 🙂

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The gorge of Chegem is called after the mountain river and cuts all the  Kabardino-Balkaria in two halves. “The Broken land” – this is how its name might be translated. In the narrowest part of it the waterfalls attract heaps of tourists: Su-Auzu or The throat of water. They break forth from the rocks 50 m above the bottom of the gorge.The legend tells:

One Balkar village was famous for beauty of its young women. Once enemy entered the gorge and enslaved its inhabitants. The girls escaped from their native settlement to the  edge and jumped down to the abyss. While falling, their gorgeous long hair clung to the rocks. This is how the waterfall were born. By the way, they freeze in winter, and I was told it’s a marvellous scenery.

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These’re not famous Chegem waterfalls. But around the gorge you’ll find plenty of hidden streams and cascades.

Chegem Paradrom is a walking distance from the Balkar settlement El-Tyubyu (Эл-Тюбю). Some of its houses were built here several centuries ago. The tower of the principles Balkarukov is a monument to a love story. According to the legend, Ahtugang Balkarukov constructed it to protect his lands from the family of Kerime, a woman he kidnapped in Dagestan (another Russian republic). But the Middle Age is not the most ancient period of time that remembers the Gorge of Chegem. Not far from the village the Greek temples cut in rock massifs are found. There locals hid themselves from numerous conquerors passing through the gorge.

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Dead of ancient times still stay around the lively village. A bit up the hill – and I’m surrounded by mausoleums – dolmeny, how they are called here. Estimated X-XII centuries.

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And the last fact to leave you interested: not far from El-Tyubyu the abnormal zone was found. Kum-Tyube, “sandy hill”, a volcanic massif, is notorious for mysterious events happening around it….

Well, there’ll be something to do there in a rainy day, don’t you think? 🙂

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As I mentioned in the previous post devoted to the Chegem Paradrom and paragliding, it’s possible to make a cross to Elbrus from the Gorge of Chegem. I haven’t done that but I summited this mountain through its Northern face (the opposite side of Kabardino-Balkaria). On foot 🙂 So my next post will be about that – I hope you’ll be interested 🙂

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The skies of my Motherland

It’s been a while I didn’t write to my blog but kept wandering the world. My life has changed when I learnt the art to fly – PARAGLIDING. Since then, me and my Independence Dragon have been to many amazing corners and would love to tell about them to everyone! 🙂

Recently back from Caucasus, in my electronic box I’ve found an e-mail from National Geographyc – an invitation for another photo-contest named «From Above». I’m quite skeptical about my own chances to attract attention in the community, where there’re so many professional photographers, but still – I sent a couple of my photos. Couldn’t but send when I look from above on the land of such an incredible beauty!

“From Above”

This is Kabardino-Balkaria, the republic on the south of my Motherland and the most beautiful spot I’ve ever flown!

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Honestly speaking, my breath stopped when I saw the Chegem gorge from above!
Already from Saint-Petersburg I called to Nazir Bashtakov, “chief” of the Paradrom Chegem. He and Marat – the chief of the second younger base – generous hosts, who receive pilots and people who come there to fly tandem.

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Nazir, thank you so much for your hospitality! These were fantastic, beautiful, generous and inspiring days! Nazir offer a couple of containers-hostels with beds and warm blankets – like at home. If you wish it’s possible to camp, there’s lots of place for that. “The base” has a shower, a kitchen and a dining room under the roof. And a place for barbeque.

A place in the container is 300 rub. per night. The menu is combined of all the traditional Caucasian dishes – home-made and very reasonable priced. Sofyad, Nazir’s wife, cooks them right there, on the little kitchen of the camping ground.

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I was in Chegem at the beginning of August, and the morning we spent waiting – for valley breeze to set. As soon as the flags were waving actively enough, we were leaving for the start. It’s not far on foot, if lucky – a car with tandem passengers might give a lift.

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The plateau behind “The Triangle”

Flights: thermodynamic. Two take-offs – the lower «cucamber» and the upper one. Altitude of the take-off – about 1600m, 170m about the landing. Coordinates of the take-off: N 43° 17′ 27” E 43° 10′ 12”

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The first step – to gain altitude in the dynamics of the valley breeze along the “shovels” of the mountain Zinki. Then more variants emerge. For example,

  • head to the “Triangule”, where normally it’s not hard to find a “duty termal”. After reaching the summit – to the neighbor watershed, where it’s already much easier to gain altitude. From there – feel free to try a cross along the spurs of the Greater Caucasus.
  • head to “the red rocks”. They face west, so they need time to warm up in the morning. If to grab luck to gain altitude, it’s possible to aim at His Majesty Elbrus – the highest summit of Russia and Europe (5642m) – according to some versions. Nevertheless, attention – the currents of air on “the red rocks” are capricious.

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The cloud ceiling in a clear day is more than 4000m.

After midday clouds arrive. Rain doesn’t happen every day though. Even if comes, the pilots fly almost till the first drops.
What a view from above – words can’t express! Snowy shiny slopes of the Greater Caucasus, enormous rocky plateau, villages in the depth of the valley stretching to Georgia. By the way, the border is not far.

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How to get there: the closest big city – Nalchik, it’s easy to get there from any Caucasian city. From Nalchik at 17.00 every day public bus to Bulungu leaves. We’re going 75 km from Nalchik, 16 km on a dirt road after the touristic Chegem waterfalls. Hop off on the stop Paradrom – have to ask the driver in advance, and from there to the Paradrom the dirt road goes. The base of Nazir is in the depth of the gorge, the last one.

TO BE CONTINUED… (In the next post  I’ll tell a bit more about this piece of land – about hot-blooded tribes, ancient graves, wonders of nature and local legends)

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