Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Dagestan: Day 3

Minister of National Policy, Ted's Lecture, and Shashlik on the Beach

"I love Makhachkala"

First of all, I apologize for the delay in getting these Dagestan posts out; there are so many photos  to go through (from multiple cameras), and we did so many things that it has taken some time to sort, write, and edit it all. There are two more days in Dagestan to write about after this post, and I'll try to get them out in a more timely manner!

Our third day in Dagestan was our last day spent in the capital city of Makhachkala. Eldar Eldarov made an amazing arrangement for us to meet Dagestan's Minister for National Policy at her office in one of the government buildings off the central square. 

I was a little nervous because it seemed like a really big deal to meet such an important government figure, but the minister put me immediately at ease. She has a round, kind face, she smiles a lot, and she was so welcoming. We met with her and several other ministry employees in her office, around a large table where tea and candies were served. You can see a photo of the minister at this weblink (first photo). 

She and Ted talked for a bit about the work that the Ministry does, his work here in Russia on Buddhism in Kalmykia, and then we exchanged gifts. Ted gave the ministry a book on the history of the University of Arkansas, with lots of historical photographs. It was a small gift in comparison to the stack of beautiful books the minister gave us, detailing the culture and people of Dagestan. 

There was a secretary taking notes and a photographer taking pictures, and later in the week an article was published on the ministry website about our visit. It was all very exciting. 

After our meeting with the minister, Eldar's daughter Bela joined us and we walked around Makhachkala for awhile, enjoying the sunshine and wind-free day. 

A nice park walkway off the center square

More beautiful tulips in Makhachkala

This decorative flower shop caught my eye.

Bela showed us a nice kofenya (coffee house) where we were able to order cappuccinos and sandwiches. We hadn't had a sandwich in 2 months (We've never seen one in Kalmykia!) so it tasted extra delicious.

This coffee shop reminds me of a Barnes & Noble Starbucks.

After our little lunch and coffee break we walked down to the beach so we could enjoy the Caspian Sea again - this time in the warm sunshine. We weren't the only ones who had that idea today! There were many people sitting along the boardwalk, walking along the water, and of course, taking photos - just like us. 

I just love the image of that man sitting on the log next to the little boy.

Eldar and Ted:  future album cover if they ever start a band

A close-up of the texture of the "sand"

Bela Eldarova (Eldar's daughter) and Mackenzie

This respite helped to relax us before Ted's second big event of the day - giving a lecture to the local university's ecology and sustainable development department, in the most interesting classroom I've ever been in: the "Green Room." 

The floor under the projection screen.

Without a translator, Ted lectured in Russian about Geography and Cultural Landscape and then took questions from the students and faculty who attended.

As always, everyone was very welcoming, and we enjoyed the experience of being in a classroom in a Dagestan university. When the lecture was finished, the students and faculty posed for photos with Professor Holland. What a great experience for Ted!

By this point, Ted was exhausted from speaking Russian during our meeting with the minister and lecturing in Russian. Eldar asked if we would like to go back to the beach to relax and eat some shashlik (grilled meat, pronounced "shash-LEEK"). We agreed, thinking we would just walk back to the boardwalk and buy some kabobs to eat on a bench somewhere. But Eldar had something much, much better in mind!

Eldar called a taxi, and we stopped outside a grocery store for about 5-10 minutes while Eldar ran inside. At this point we knew that we were going to grill the meat ourselves, but we still thought we'd return to the public beach we had previously been to. 

After Eldar put his grocery purchases in the trunk, we headed off, out of Makhachkala. After a 15 minute drive we pulled off the main road and followed a dirt road out to a different beach outside of the city. It was lined with wooden shacks, closed now but probably open during the summer to sell food and drink to beach-goers. 

A man in an SUV picked us up from the taxi and drove us further down the beach to Eldar's friend's private boat house. Here his friend rents out windsurfing equipment and teaches windsurfing lessons. 

The Boat House

The men and boys at the boathouse went to work starting a fire and setting up a makeshift eating area with wood pallets. Meanwhile, we bundled up against the cold wind and walked around taking photos in the early evening light. 

With the addition of some rugs and blankets, the wooden pallets made for a nice little outdoor "dining room."

Wood burning down to make some hot coals for shashlik. At left, the samovar (tea urn) has a hollow chute in the middle where hot coals heat the surrounding water. The rock above the samovar is tagged "LOL." :)

We brought Eldar a winter hat from the University of Arkansas,
which turned out to be very useful on this cold, windy evening on the beach.
Looking away from the water, you can see low mountains and the city in the distance.

There are not adequate words to describe the deep satisfaction and joy that came from eating freshly grilled shashlik and drinking samovar tea on the shore of the Caspian Sea as the sun set behind the distant hills. The air was chilly, the fire and tea were hot, the chicken shashlik was perfectly seasoned, and everyone was in good spirits. 

In fact, as we ate, word seemed to spread that there was an impromptu grill party on the beach, and a few additional men showed up to join us. One of them even brought us a bottle of Dagestani cognac as a gift! Each time someone new showed up, we'd all shift or set up another stool to make room; it was a cozy and carefree affair. 

Grilling chicken shashlik

Along with shashlik, there were tomatoes, pickles, cheese, and fresh bread - ingredients for the perfect picnic.

View from our table
After we had eaten our fill of shashlik, the samovar was brought over and tea was served. Everyone in Dagestan and Kalmykia drinks tea - it is much more common than coffee. We usually drink tea brewed from tea bags, but on this night Eldar's friend pulled out his special samovar that has been in his family for generations. 

This is Eldar's friend - the owner of the boat house. He is filling the teacup with hot water after a dose of concentrated tea has been poured in. On the table you can see a teacup holding this concentrate, waiting to be topped off from the samovar.

This smaller teapot is for making the "tea concentrate."
The man added big pinches of dried mint, an unidentified dried herb (shown below),
and opened cachets of black tea. 

Tea is always served with an assortment of candies and cookies.

Our third day in Dagestan ended on this perfect, peaceful note. So far, we have found all the people we've encountered to be friendly and extremely generous, and we're learning a lot about the cultures and traditions of Dagestan. 

We returned home to get a good night's sleep because our plans for Day 4 included an early morning departure for Ted's most anxiously anticipated adventure: the fort at Derbent!


  1. Just wonderful to read your account! What indelible memories (even if wind was cold off the sea)! Thanks for sharing the kindnesses of the Rusdian people.

    1. Hi Wendy! It is my pleasure to share; this is like my online journal that I'll be able to look back upon after we've returned to the U.S. Thanks for commenting! I love to know that people are reading and enjoying the blog.

  2. What a perfect way to end a stressful day. There is just something about being on the edge of the sea--no matter where it is--that raises one's spirits. And cookies help, of course!

  3. Мистер Холланд. Мне было очень приятно познакомиться с Вами и с Вашей женой. Этот день я запомнил как один из прекрасных дней в моей жизни))

    1. Hi Alik, It was terrific to meet you, too. Thanks for sharing the wonders of the Naryn-Kala with us. We will remember our visit and your wonderful company for a very long time! Best, Ted

  4. This blog is just the greatest. Dylan and Hayden love it too. The Russians really seem to know how to treat guests. I have a newfound admiration for the Russian people of Kalmykia and Dagestan.

    1. Thanks for letting us know that you enjoy the blog! It's a labor of love. We also have a great admiration for the hospitality of our Russian hosts - we've learned a thing or two about how to treat guests!