Travel to DagestanOver the past decade, Ted has written and published three academic articles with a colleague who lives in the Republic of Dagestan - a colleague he has never met in person! While here in Kalmykia, we had to take advantage of our proximity to Dagestan and visit him.
Last Tuesday we set off on our long journey to Makhachkala, a large city on the Caspian Sea. Dagestan is a little different than Kalmykia when it comes to travel; there are police checkpoints along the roads and in the cities, so we had to make sure all our documents were in order as foreigners traveling through the republic.
We first took a taxi from Elista to the southern border of Kalmykia. Once outside of Elista, it was steppe as far as the eye could see... for 3 hours. Luckily, we had a terrific taxi driver who had a great balance of conversation and playing music, which made the time pass quickly.
At one point we stopped at a cafe outside a small village to use the restroom. There were cows in the road anyway, so it was a good time to stop.
When we got out of the car I headed toward the cafe, only to realize that our driver was headed toward the bathroom, in a very different direction....
If you've never done a road trip outside the U.S., you may not realize this, but most roadside stops don't have toilets, just a hole for squatting over! Maybe this is where the term "pit stop" comes from...
|Our driver got a kick out of us taking this photo.|
To be honest, it feels much cleaner than many of the U.S. gas station bathrooms I've been in.
At the border between Kalmykia and Dagestan we had to stop at our first checkpoint. There, after all our documents were scrutinized and approved, we were picked up by two employees of the Dagestan Geographical Society who drove us the rest of the way to Makhachkala.
|"Border patrol" :)|
The first 10-15 minutes of the Dagestan looked similar to the Kalmyk steppe, but the scenery soon changed, growing hillier and more lush with plant life.
There was also a change in the religious landscape, with roadside khuruls (Kalmyk Buddhist temples) being replaced by roadside mosques:
|There was a small mosque attached to almost every gas station in Dagestan.|
|Here we are, stopped at the police checkpoint near the Chechen border.|
After we unpacked our bags and rested for a bit, Eldar picked us up in a taxi and took us to his home (He doesn't drive, and after a few days of riding in a car around Dagestan, we understand why!).
|View from our hotel balcony|
|Another view from our hotel balcony|
Eldar's home, a very nice apartment in the city, was lavishly decorated and very comfortable. His wife and daughter had prepared a feast for us, and we were so happy to see all the vegetables! The tomatoes in Dagestan are out of this world - I could have eaten only tomatoes for dinner and been very, very happy.
|Clockwise from top: Russian potato salad; salted fish and boiled potatoes with dill; chicken and roasted potatoes; a plateful of delicious tomatoes and sliced cucumber sprinkled with parsley; and pink pickled cabbage|
|Photo credit: Bela Eldarova, Eldar's daughter|
|Of course there was incredibly smooth Dagestan cognac, too!|
Photo credit: Bela Eldarova
|After dinner treats included chocolates, cookies, and a nutty bun similar to a cinnamon roll, but not as sweet|
After dinner, we sat around and chatted, and Eldar's daughter let their house pet run around and greet everyone:
|The rabbit's name means something like "jewel" in Russian, but I can't remember the exact word...|
|Ted and Eldar, together at last|