Akhty is the cultural centre of Lezgins and the capital of Akhtynsky district. The village is located on the Samur River, at the feet of the Great Caucasus Ridge, and offers a magnificent view of Dagestan’s two highest peaks – Shalbuzdag (4,142 m above sea level) and Bazarduzu (4,466 m above sea level). Even though Akhty is merely a village, the market square in its centre makes it resemble a town. In Akhty you will find a Russian fortress erected in the first half of the 19th century, an old mosque (one of the most beautiful Azaans – Islamic calls to prayer – in the entire Dagestan rings out from its minaret every day), a regional museum, a cemetery and a stone bridge, picturesquely stretched over the Akhtychai River. Akhty is also famous for its apple-tree orchards and mineral water springs. The village is a convenient location for trips to southern Dagestan mountains (Rutulsky district, Shalbuzdag, Kurush, or up the Akhtychai River). A Russian military base is deployed in the village, so you’d better get a permit that allows you to stay in the border zone.
Akhulgo is one of the biggest ziyarats (pilgrimage sites) in Dagestan. It is located by the road from Buynaksk to Untsukul and Botlikh, where Avar and Andi Koysu rivers meet. Akhulgo aul, which stood here before 1839, was burnt down when Russian tsar army laid siege to highlanders commanded by Shamil. Even though the aul was conquered, Shamil managed to escape. At the moment, ruins of houses and fortifications can be found where the aul once was. Akhulgo offers magnificent views of the surrounding mountains. Around the village, several portraits of Shamil have been exhibited – marshrutkas (minibuses) stop there, people pray, drink water from the sacred spring and tie pieces of cloth on the trees and handrails, placed along the path leading to the ziyarat. You can get to Akhulgo from Makhachkala – take a marshrutka that goes to Untsukul, Botlikh, Agvali or Karata.
Agul (Agulsky) district is situated in southern Dagestan. To get there, follow a road that goes along a rapid torrent called Chiragchai. The torrent has shaped a deep picturesque canyon called the Mongol gorge (the Mongol troops were passing here in the 13th century when they tried to get into the heart of Dagestan). The capital of the district is Tpig village, located above the forest line. The whole district is situated among green mountain meadows and mounts with gentle slopes that are green almost all year round (unlike mountains in central Dagestan which are barren and dried out). Walking here is pure pleasure. There are several lakes in the region; the most beautiful of them is situated near Chirag village and is considered sacred. Agul consists of several gorges, separated by mountain ranges. The region is crossed by a quite decent road leading to Kulinsky and Laksky districts. You can go to Tpig with a marshrutka from Derbent, or get a bus from Makhachkala to Chirag – the remotest village inhabited by Dargins, currently half-deserted.
Buynaksk is a district city in central Dagestan (the republic’s capital before the October Revolution, called Temir-Khan-Shura at the time). Prior to the Russian conquest it was a village, situated near one of the residences of the Shamkhal of Tarki (the sovereign of the Tarki Duchy) in the Kafyr-Kumukh village. The development of Temir-Khan-Shura sped up in the first half of the 19th century, when the Russian authorities decided to make it the capital of Dagestan province (guberniya). The city soon became the Russian troops’ main fort in Dagestan and its administrative and economic centre. Russians and Armenians predominated among the settlers. After the October Revolution, the city was renamed Buynaksk in honour of a Dagestani communist Ullubiy Buynaksky. After the capital was transferred to Makhachkala, Buynaksk fell into decline. At the moment it is a small sleepy town, although it has its charm, especially when you get there from the crowded, jammed and noisy Makhachkala. In the city centre you can find a Soviet-style building of the city administration and a nice park with a fountain. There is also an Orthodox church (Andreyevsky voyennyi sobor), several mosques, a Muslim university and many brick tenement houses that have witnessed the tsar times. Buynaksk does not quite deserve being visited, although you can stop here for a short break in the mountain-walking. Buynaksk can be reached from Makhachkala with a marshrutka within 1 hour.
Chokh is an aul in Gunibsky district, situated on the mountain slope. It is one of the oldest in Dagestan. A long time ago Chokh was an independent aul, not subordinate to anyone. Along with 19 neighbouring villages it formed a confederation called Andalal. The Chokh inhabitants were remarkable traders. In the 19th century, when Russia was conquering the Caucasus, they immediately acknowledged the Russian authority – in retaliation, Imam Shamil burnt down the village. Many Dagestani communists, teachers and scientists descended from the village. Islam is not deeply rooted here; a lot of people consider themselves to be communists and a monument of Stalin can still be found in the village (built in the wall of the community centre). You can find plenty of old stone houses in Chokh, some of them bearing inscriptions and carvings on the walls and doorframes. The central square of the village, with lots of narrow streets diverging in all directions, is occupied by a newly built mosque. On the hill, towering over the village, you can see a posh residence of Abusupyan Kharkharov, Makhachkala sea port’s current chief who was born in Chokh. You can also find a house of Khalil-bek Musayasul, a famous Dagestani painter, who left Russia after the October Revolution in 1917 and lived in exile in Germany and USA. Dagestani motifs prevail in his paintings (some of his works can be seen here). He also wrote a book on Dagestan titled ‘The land of the last knights’. You can learn a lot of interesting stuff on Chokh from Isa Umulgatov, the deputy headmaster of the local school. Chokh offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains; it is also a convenient location for a trip to Gamsutl.
Datuna is a village in Shamilsky district. In its environs you can find a small medieval Orthodox church, which is said to have been the longest-functioning Christian temple after Dagestan adopted Islam (the church was shut down in the 18th century). The Christianity is believed to have been spread here by Georgian missionaries; however, it was gradually pushed out by Islam.
Derbent is the second largest city in Dagestan, beautifully located on a narrow strip between the Greater Caucasus Mountains and the Caspian Sea. Derbent is one of the most interesting places in Dagestan, a city with extraordinary atmosphere reminding of the Middle East. It has always been an important trade centre and a strategic location between the South Caucasus and the steppes stretching out to the north of the Caucasus. The Arabs who conquered Derbent in the 7th century called it “Bab al-abwab”, which means “the gate of the gateway”. After the conquest, Derbent became the main centre of Islamisation in eastern Caucasus. Invaders have divided the city into magals, where people from the Arabian Peninsula were settled (there were Palestinian, Mosulian, Damascene and other magals). Mongols, who conquered the city in the 13th century, called it “Demir-kapy” (which means “the Iron Gate” in Turkish). Before being conquered by Russians in the 19th century, Derbent was the capital of a local independent duchy. The city’s most interesting and well preserved monument is the Naryn-kala citadel that towers over the city, built by Persians in 5-6th century. There is also a regional museum and a small souvenir shop. Stone town walls with nine gates stretch out from the citadel to the sea. The wall called the Dag-bary once stretched out several dozen kilometres into the land (parts of it have survived until the present day). Another place worth visiting is a juma mosque (Friday mosque) erected in the 7th century, where Sunni and Shia pray together (there are 13 other old mosques). Downhill an old town stretches out with a labyrinth of narrow streets and houses with flat roofs. In Derbent you will also find many old cemeteries with numerous tombs of Muslim saints and shahids, worshipped by Derbent’s inhabitants – it all creates a unique atmosphere. The most famous cemetery is Kyrkhlyar with a tomb of 40 Arab warriors-martyrs who died fighting Khazars, and a mausoleum of a woman ruler Tuti Bike, who ruled Derbent in the 18th century. There is also a closed Armenian orthodox church and a Mountain Jew synagogue. Mountain Jews have lived here for 1500 years; the language they speak is called Juhuri and is close to Persian. In 2003, Derbent has been classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
You can get to Derbent from Makhachkala with a marshrutka from the south bus station (they run approximately every 30 minutes). In Derbent you will find several private hotels, cafes and restaurants (including a posh Shakhristan restaurant) and a bazaar where you can get fresh fruits and vegetables, excellent cheeses and smoked fish. You can stay for the night in Chayka tourist centre, south of Derbent (to get there, take a marshrutka from the bazaar). Chayka is beautifully located on the Caspian Sea shore and a sand beach, with a nice café nearby. However, the centre itself offers rather Spartan accommodation. You can see the mountains of south Dagestan from Chayka, weather permitting.
Gamsutl is an abandoned village in Gunibsky district, located between Chokh and Sogratl. At the moment there is only one person living here. The village is located in a difficultly accessible area and is surrounded by chasms; to get there you have to follow a mountain path. Tightly-built stone houses make the village an impenetrable fortress, while narrow streets create a genuine labyrinth. There are also ruins of mosques and a pre-Islamic cemetery. The village does have a unique atmosphere; looking at it, you can easily imagine what old Dagestani auls looked like. Centuries ago, Dagestan-wide famous jewellers known for their silverware lived here. Gamsutl, once a densely populated settlement, has been getting depopulated since the 1960s. Due to hardships, its inhabitants have been moving to the plains and other villages in the vicinity. Almost any place in Gamsutl offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains. If you want to get there, set off from Chokh (follow the road to Sogratl) and turn right before the bridge – the path (a hairpin path, to be precise) will lead you to Gamsutl. It takes about 2 hours to get to Gamsutl from Chokh.
Gimry aul is a birthplace of Imam Shamil. The aul is beautifully situated in the mountains of central Dagestan. In the vicinity you will find picturesque canyons channelled by the Avar Koysu River. Thanks to the unique warm climate and geographical position (the aul lies in a valley, encompassed by the surrounding mountains) Gimry is famous for its apricot tree orchards. At the moment an anti-terrorist operation is conducted in the region, so getting to the aul is not easy. Gimry is connected with Buynaksk and eastern Dagestan with a several kilometre tunnel guarded by the military. Officially, the tunnel is closed, but marshrutkas that go to the mountainous districts (Tsumadinsky, Botlikhsky etc.) are let through if the driver pay 500 roubles. The tunnel itself is stunning: it was bored in solid rock but hasn’t been finished; water trickles from the ceiling, it’s pitch-dark there and there is no road surface. Even if you don’t have the possibility to get to Gimry, try to visit the tunnel (the road to Akhulgo leads though the tunnel, too). While in the region, you should expect numerous document checks, being asked questions, etc.
Gotsatl is situated in Khunzakhsky district. It is known for its craftsmen, who produce copperware and silverware. In the 19th century they even established jewellers’ guild in the village. In Gotsatl you can visit their workshops and acquire such goods as tableware, glasses, trays, bracelets, earrings, necklaces and kinjals. Gotsatl is situated close to the Makhachkala-Khunzakh road.
Gunib is a district village in central Dagestan, situated on a difficultly accessible plateau, surrounded by several hundred metre deep chasms. Today’s Gunib is located in the lower part of the plateau, on a ledge of rock that hangs over the Karakoysu River. Gunib is a large village with a market square, a view terrace and a regional museum. In the 19th century a tsar army garrison was located there. A hairpin road leads from Lower Gunib to Upper Gunib – in the latter you will find a tourist centre (turbaza) and a botanical garden, as the Gunib plateau has a microclimate and boasts many endemic plants. An aul surrounded by terraced fields existed here before 1859, but was destroyed following the fights between Russians and highlanders. It was in Gunib that Imam Shamil, the insurgents’ leader, was captured by the Russian tsar army. His imprisonment has ended the Caucasian war that had lasted for nearly 50 years. In Upper Gunib you can visit a place that commemorates the mentioned events and a fortress built by Russians in late 19th century, beautifully located and offering a stunning panorama of Dagestan’s mountains. While in Gunib, you can go for one-day trip in the plateau, e.g. up the canyon channelled by the river.
Kalakoreish is an abandoned aul in Dakhadayevsky district, close to Kubachi and Dibgalik villages. The name of the aul can be translated as “the town of the Quraysh”, because its current inhabitants originated from the Quraysh, one of the Arabic tribes who were resettled here in the middle ages by the Arabian invaders. The fortress town was erected in order to spread Islam among local Dagestani tribes. Throughout centuries, Kalakoreish was an important missionary and trade centre. Many Muslim scholars (alims) and Sufi sheiks lived here. Merchant caravans, travelling through Dagestan, used to stop here. Kalakoreish inhabitants used Arabic for centuries, but with time they assimilated and became known as Dargins. In the 1950s the Soviet authorities resettled them to the plains. Nowadays no one lives in Kalakoreish, but renovation works are underway to restore the village’s former splendour. In the village you will find a well preserved mosque erected in the 11th century – a popular pilgrimage destination because of the Muslim saints who have been buried there. Inside the mosque you can see beautiful stone sculptures with ornaments, with traces of Achaemenid Persian empire culture, while in the local cemetery – carved gravestones and vaults. Some of the stone houses are also getting slowly rebuilt. To get to Kalakoreish, follow a path from Dibgalik village (the path runs close to the road from Derbent to Urkarakh). Another way to get to Kalakoreish is to take a road from Trisanchi village that runs among picturesque wooded hills (the road is quite decent, by the way). After you ford the brook, you will step on the old stone road with hairpin bends that will lead you to Kalakoreish. The village is a truly magical place with unforgettable atmosphere.
Khuchni is the capital of Tabasaransky district. Its main attraction is a beautiful waterfall. Khuchni is a popular picnic site for Dagestanis from Derbent and its surroundings. Unfortunately, a growing number of visitors results in a growing amount of litter on site. In 2007, a new hotel was constructed near the waterfall (with prices amounting to $25); the employees of the hotel can help organise trips in the neighbourhood, e.g. to a nature-made rock bridge between two valleys. Another place of interest is the so-called Seven Brothers Fortress in the vicinity of Khuchni, resembling the Derbent fortress. You can get to Khuchni from Derbent with a marshrutka within 1 hour.
Khunzakh is a large village in central Dagestan situated on the Khunzakh plateau. It is a convenient location for trips to nearby canyons and gorges. There are many picturesque waterfalls, including the 70-metre high waterfall at the Tobot River that falls from the plateau near the Arani village. Beautiful views spread out from the edge of the plateau in the direction of Teletl, Golotl and Gotsatl villages. You can also see the Diklosmta peak at the border with Georgia, weather permitting. Prior to the Russian conquest, Khunzakh was the capital of the Avar Khanate, one of Dagestan’s most powerful states. The village could boast the khans’ palace and many ancient mosques, but was later destroyed by Imam Shamil, as the village inhabitants refused to surrender to his authority. Khunzakh was rebuilt by Russians after they had conquered Dagestan. In the Arani village you can visit a well preserved fortress erected in the second half of the 19th century, and a mosque wherein – according to legends – Abu-Muslim’s sword is being kept (Abu-Muslim was an Arab warrior who converted Dagestanis to Islam in the 7th century). Khunzakh is the heart of mountainous Dagestan and an informal capital of Avars. In fact, the Avar literary language is based on the Khunzakh dialect, and many Avar intellectuals and poets originated from Khunzakh. You can get to Khunzakh with a marshrutka from the north bus station in Makhachkala. An exact map of Khunzakh and its environs can be found here.
Kubachi is a mountain aul located in Dakhadayevsky district, famous for its silverware. The aul is inhabited by Kubachins, who are classified as Dargins. However, they speak their own language and consider themselves to be a separate nation – they call themselves Urbugan. Formerly they were called Zirikhgeran (which meant ‘the manufacturers of chain armour’ in Arabic), later a Turkish name ‘Kubachi’ caught on (with the same meaning as the Arabic one). The aul is situated among wooded mountains, on the slope of a mountain. For centuries, Kubachi-Zirikhgeran was an independent state who managed its own affairs. Its inhabitants converted to Islam relatively late (in the 15th century). For quite a while, their beliefs and rites retained elements of Zoroastrianism. Kubachins traditionally produced weaponry and silverware, which made them famous far beyond Dagestan’s borders. Nowadays, many Kubachins also do arts and crafts. In the village you can visit many jewellery shops and workshops that produce kinjals and swords (as souvenirs, of course) as well as washbowls and pitchers. Some of the houses look like genuine museums. On their walls you can find petroglyphs dating from the 13-14th centuries and picturing animals. Thursday is a market day in Kubachi; a silverware factory is closed on that day. While in the village, you can acquire all kinds of silverware – tableware, glasses, trays, bracelets, earrings, etc. – at much lower prices than in Makhachkala. In Kubachi you can find many old stone houses, and in the upper part of the village – two fortification towers, currently used as residential buildings. There is also a ‘women only’ mosque called Khunala, the only one in entire Dagestan.
Kumukh is the centre of Laksky district, former residence of Kazikumukh khans and the main centre of the Laks nation, formerly called Kazikumukhs. In the centre of the village, there is a juma mosque (Friday mosque) erected in the 8th century, with walls decorated with flower patterns. Near the mosque, there is a minaret erected in 1865, when the last Kumukh khans reigned here; the minaret can be seen from many places in Kumukh. The cemetery of the khans is nearby. Kumukh was once famous for its copperware (pitchers, pots, etc.), sold all over Dagestan. Many jewellers who lived in Kumukh, later emigrated to Tiflis (currently Tbilisi), Baku, Kutaisi, Vladikavkaz, Istanbul, Baghdad, and even to Addis Abeba in Ethiopia. Thursday is a market day in Kumukh; in a bazaar you can get almost everything, from a watermelon to a donkey, and if you’re lucky – you can trade your girlfriend for a flock of sheep ;-) You can get to Kumukh with a marshrutka from the north bus station in Makhachkala, the journey takes around 3 ½ hours and includes a traditional stopover at the bazaar in Khajalmakhi. Marshrutka passengers shop there before setting off to the mountains, where groceries are less accessible and more expensive.
Kurush is the highest located village in Dagestan (2,800 m above sea level). It is situated in Dokuzparinsky district, among the three highest peaks in this part of the Caucasus: Bazarduzu, Shakhdag and Shalbuzdag (each of them more than 4,000 m above sea level). The village is inhabited by Lezgins, whose main activity is sheep pasturing. The aul lies above the wood line, therefore it is entirely built of stone, and houses are heated with kizyak (dried cow dung). Before Russian-Azerbaijani border appeared, one could walk from Kurush to Azerbaijan – shepherds used to pasture their herds in Azeri plains in the winter. You can get to Kurush from a town called Usukhchai (marshrutkas from Derbent go there). At the crossroads, where a road to Kurush starts, you can find all-terrain vehicles that circulate to the village. The journey itself can provide plenty of impressions, especially when the car drives right over bottomless chasms and among the clouds. Unfortunately, Kurush lies in the border zone, so you should be prepared for document checks and being asked questions.
Makhachkala is the capital of Dagestan, numbering 600 thousand inhabitants, and the republic’s main communication junction. The city centre includes ‘Russian standard’ sites, such as the Lenin square. The high street with a pedestrian precinct is called Gamzatov Street, although the locals keep calling it Lenin Street, like in the past. Marshrutka drivers also use the old names of the streets to indicate their routes. In Lenin-Gamzatov Street you will find the largest hotel in the city called Leningrad, and several souvenir shops. The second largest street is Kalinin Street (currently Shamil Street), with the largest mosque in the North Caucasus (it can house up to 10 thousand people), built by the Turks in the 1990s. The mosque is surrounded by numerous Muslim shops. When crossing Shamil Street, stick to the traffic lights, and be careful even if you cross on green light, as Dagestani drivers do not treat traffic regulations too seriously. When walking around Makhachkala, you can pop in the ethnographic museum on the east side of the Lenin Street (near the sea), on the extension of Gorky Street. The exhibition is truly remarkable; visitors are a rarity, so the staff will be glad to take you around and perhaps will offer you some tea. Another interesting museum can be found on the northern side of the Lenin square. A distinctive Tarki-tau mountain – a popular weekend picnic destination for the locals – towers over the city. Makhachkala is located at the seaside, if you need some cool, you can go to the city beach (you’ll be pleased to see that they have been cleaning it recently). Once in a while an ‘environmental hazard’ is announced and swimming in the sea is forbidden, which everyone ignores. Still, to have a swim, it would be advisable to go about 20 kilometres north of Makhachkala to find empty beaches and much cleaner sea (there is no harbour). You should keep in mind that the Caspian Sea is quite rough; storms can break suddenly, so you’d better not swim too far. Unless you get invited for a dinner, you can dine out in the ever more frequent restaurants and bars, such as Gunib café and Dag Burger (both in Lenin street), Volna café at the beach and several other cafes in the 26 Bakinskikh Komissarov street (currently called Yaragsky street). Women should rather refrain from drinking beer, although things have been changing lately in this respect. There are several bazaars in Makhachkala, where you can get almost anything and equip yourself with necessary stuff before setting off to the mountains. On the outskirts of Makhachkala, south of the road from Makhachkala to Khasavyurt, there is a National Park Sarykumskiye Barkhany (Sarykum Dunes) – huge sand dunes spreading over several dozen square kilometres.
Richa is the most interesting village in Agulsky district, located in a difficultly accessible area on the Chiragchai River. The aul is one of the oldest in Dagestan; the houses are built on one another, and the streets are narrow. Richa was one of the first auls in Dagestan to adopt Islam. The first mosque in the village was erected in the 11th century, but in 1239 it was demolished by Mongols who besieged the aul for more than 10 months. Later the mosque was re-erected and at the moment it is one of the most interesting temples in Dagestan. Inside the mosque you will see two rows of finely carved pillars, one of which pivots around its axis. There is also a dozen of ziyarats in Richa where shahids (fighters for faith) and respected Muslim muftis have been buried. Underground, under the village, there is a labyrinth of secret corridors and passages, used by the locals during wars. Richa has also become famous as a filming location of the ‘Prisoner of the Mountains’ (‘Kavkazskiy plennik’), starring the late Sergey Bodrov jr., a cult Russian actor. Bodrov played a Russian soldier, captured by Chechen guerrillas. To get to Richa, take a marshrutka from Derbent to Tpig and then walk or hitch-hike to Richa. While in the village, you can take a trip to nearby Chirag, visiting a picturesque mountain lake on the way (on the left).
Rutul and Rutulsky district are situated in southern Dagestan, in the upper course of the Samur River, among splendid mountains of the Great Caucasus Ridge. The district is inhabited by many nations – Rutuls, Lezgins, Tsakhurs, Laks, Azeris, Avars and others. The upper part of the Samur River gorge is inhabited by Tsakhurs. Tsakhur is currently one of the most isolated and godforsaken places in Dagestan, although once it used to be a flourishing region and part of the so-called Elisuy Sultanate with a capital in northern Azerbaijan. Tsakhur was an important centre of the Muslim religion in the Caucasus, with numerous mosques and a well-known madrasah. Many old mosques have survived till the present day, like the one erected in the 10th century in Tsakhur village. In the neighbouring villages people still live like they used to centuries ago, the only sign of civilisation being the electricity, wired up during Soviet times. The villages can be reached only by a narrow rocky road; some of them (such as Kusur village) can be reached only on foot or on horseback. Worthy of note are also villages inhabited by Rutuls, such as Ikhrek (with a 11th century mosque), Arakul (with a path leading to Kulinsky district through a Chulty mountain pass), Mikhrek, Shinaz and other. The nearby peaks with glaciers and perennial snow reach 4 thousand metres. You can get to Rutulsky district with a bus or a marshrutka from Derbent; there is also a bus that runs from Makhachkala to Ikhrek once a day. The district lies in the border zone; if you want to go there, get a permit (in Makhachkala or Akhty) or simply count on your good luck.
Samur forest is the subtropical, relict forest that grows in the Samur River delta in southern Dagestan. Many endemic plants such as lianas can be found there. Samur Forest is under state protection; Samur Natural Park has been established on its territory. You can get there from Derbent to the Samur train station or to the village called Bilbal-Kazmaliar. Beware of mosquitoes!
Shalbuzdag is a sacred mountain, visited by numerous pilgrims from the entire Dagestan. A sacred spring runs on the peak of the mountain, and at its foot (or rather at the place that can be reached with a jeep) there is a mosque and a pilgrim house where you can stay for the night (if it’s possible, take a tent, the house can be overcrowded at times). To get to Shalbuzdag, you’d better come along with the locals or try to find a driver that can take you there. July and August are the season time here. Shalbuzdag lies in the border zone, so foreigners might experience some difficulties.
Sogratl is a village in Gunibsky district, with traditional buildings, old houses, several mosques with minarets and an old cemetery in the middle of the village. In the cemetery you will find a mausoleum of Muhammad al-Yaragi, a Sufi sheik, ideologist of Dagestan’s Myuridism, teacher of Imam Shamil and a spiritual leader of Dagestani highlanders who rose up against the tsar regime in the 19th century. On the other bank of the river, below Sogratl, there is Vatan (“Homeland”) memorial that commemorates the victory over Persians who invaded Dagestan in 1741 under Shah Nadir’s command. The memorial was erected in the 1990s and consists of a monument, a tower, a mosque and a museum. While in Sogratl, you can get to a nearby Laksky district with mountain roads or follow a small path to Gamsutl.
Tabasaran is a historic and geographic region in southern Dagestan inhabited by Tabasarans. It consists of two districts – Tabasaransky district with its capital Khuchni, and Khivsky district with its capital Khiv. Mountains in the region are not very high (max. 2,000 m above sea level) and beautifully wooded. Tabasaran by itself is exceptionally picturesque and has a mild climate. Wooden (or partly wooden) houses are characteristic for the local architecture. A traditional occupation of the region’s inhabitants is the manufacture of hand weaved Tabasaran carpets with original patterns, famous all over the Caucasus. While in the region you can visit the Khuchni waterfalls (the best known in entire Dagestan), the Seven Brothers Fortress, natural stone bridge near Khuchni and a sacred cave Dyurk near the Khustil village. Last but not least – Tabasarans are one of the most hospitable nations in entire Dagestan!
Tsumada (Tsumadinsky district) is situated in Dagestan’s very corner, in the upper course of the Andi Koysu River. The district borders Chechnya and Georgia. Its capital is the Agvali village. For geographical, natural, historic and ethnographic reasons, it is one of the most exotic regions of Dagestan. The district’s population is quite small (merely several thousand people), but made of many different nations, each of whom speaks their own language – Tindals, Chamalals, Khvarshins, Bagulals and other. Each of these ethnic groups lives in a different gorge. Villages in Tsumadinsky district are located in difficultly accessible areas – on mountain ridges, in narrow, furrowed rocks, in dark gorges. In some cases there are no roads leading to a village. Almost all auls are typical Dagestani mountain villages. The most interesting ones are Tindi, Kvanada, Tlondoda, Khushtada, Echeda, Khvarshi. In the mentioned places you can find a lot of old mosques, ziyarats, stone houses with hundreds of pre-Muslim petroglyphs (such as swastikas symbolising the sun) and plates with inscriptions in Arabic. Main occupations of the region’s inhabitants are sheep-breeding and terraced agriculture (they usually use bulls for ploughing). People who live here are very traditionalist; they live like their ancestors did centuries ago. Another thing you should know about the region is that in most of these villages people informally obey the sharia law. Alcohol is not drunk here, rollicking weddings are not organised, women must wear headscarves, etc. When you plan your trip to Tsumada, you should expect a lot of document checks, as the district is situated in the border zone. It would be advisable to go to the villages that are further from the border, on the right bank of Andi Koysu River. There are paths leading from Tsumada to Shamilsky and Tsuntinsky districts. When you want to get to Tsumada, go to the north bus station in Makhachkala and take a marshrutka that goes to Agvali, and then walk or hitchhike to individual villages. We recommend a very informative site concerning the district, where you can also find a lot of pictures.
Untsukul is the capital of Untsukulsky district in central Dagestan. Its inhabitants are famous for artistic woodcarving, a proof of which is the local wooden sculpture museum. According to one of the legends, they have learned this craft from prisoners who were captured by Imam Shamil during the 19th century Caucasus war. In Untsukulsky district you can find many interesting historic sites associated with the Caucasus war, ziyarats and auls, such as Ashilta (with a nearby 100 metre high waterfall), Balakhany, Gimry, Kakhabroso and other interesting places.