THE GREAT CAUCASUS
The Caucasian Mountain range extends over 1200km from the Sea of Azov in Russia to the Apcheron Peninsula in Azerbaijan. The highest summit is the Mount Elbrus and is located on the Russian slopes. The chain is an extraordinary ethnographic patchwork. Some of the villages are constructed like eagle’s net and are hung to the cliffs where the centuries-old traditions take you in another space time. The dramatic landscapes and the untouched nature offer wild routes and superb panorama. Abkhazia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and the northern Caucasian provinces (Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino Balkaria …) are different by their history, alliances, climate, languages and resources. However, despite the vague and complex geopolitical situation of the area, they are united by their extraordinary life force, generosity, fiery character and strong traditions and the natives defend their territory with patriotism and love. Having lived and traveled through the Caucasus for more than 15 years from west to east on its southern part (excluding Russia), Audrey takes you on unique expeditions. She organizes the expeditions in partnership with local shepherds who know every corner of their captivating mountains and are delighted to introduce you to their country. Audrey aims to and participates to generate a micro economic activity in these remote places.
Notice: I do not do politics and only wish by passion to discover and make discover the cultural heritage, for certain in perdition, and the inestimable beauties of the whole Caucasian chain. I am not liable for or by any third party.
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Georgia is almost twice big as the size of Switzerland and shares borders with Turkey to the West, the Black Sea coast, Armenia and Azerbaijan to the South and Russia to the North; we are at the transition between Europe and Asia. Georgia’s strategic position gave her the silk road but also made her vulnerable to the greatest invaders. From Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece to the perestroika during the reign of Tamar, from the majestic heights of the Caucasus to the gently tropical Black Sea, from the Florence of the Caucasus (Tbilisi) to the little villages with their defensive towers dominating the Caucasian valleys, Georgia is a country of paradoxes. Georgia is also known for her many cathedrals, monasteries and churches giving witness to one of the most ancient Christian countries in the world, for her magnificent troglodyte sites, her polyphonic chants and folk dancing, for her colorful markets without forgetting the aroma of her products and her excellent cuisine. Georgia is well known for being the cradle of the wine with one of the greatest varieties of grape in the world (around 500). Georgia is opulence and diversity, culture and traditions, wine and gastronomy, altruism and philanthropy, feasts and banquets; this is what the Georgians love! Proud people (perhaps a little too proud!!) who have resisted many invasions, Persian, Turkish, Arab, Turkmen tribes; Mongol led by Gengis Khan, Tamerlan; they have fervently defended their cultural and spiritual inheritance, their traditions and their frontiers. Despite the imprints left by Mr Joseph Visarionovich Djugashvili, in Georgian: – (better known by the name Stalin), the post communist years and the ravages of civil war, the Georgians will amaze you by their humanity, their respect and their generosity. You will be swept along by their love of life and conquered by their simplicity. Certainly you are going to think that this is the most marvelous country in the world and you have good reasons…. One should have warned you….., what one has known one can never forget.
Abkhazia or Apsny (in Abkhaz) is a territory of 80km wide for 200km long. Bordered by the Black Sea to the West, it enjoys a subtropical climate in the foothills and its vegetation thrives there. Abkhazia’s landscape ranges from coastal forests and citrus plantations to permanent snows and glaciers in the north of the region. 75% of its territory is mountainous and a few kilometers from the coast, the pathways crisscross the sharp peaks of the Great Caucasus on the flanks of the deepest canyons in the world. They go through numerous beech and birch forests of a surprising beauty and lead to the lake Ritsa, one of the most famous and visited place in Abkhazia. The surroundings are so beautiful that Staline built his datcha there. From the Soviet Union, Abkhazia was a popular destination for tourists. Between sea and mountains, Abkhazia is well known for its tea, tobacco, fruit and wine production. The population, halved after the 1992-1994 War of Independence with Georgia and is now estimated at 250,000. Concentrated on the coast, it is composed of Abkhazian, Armenian, Turkish, Georgian and Greek communities. Its political status is still controversial but the situation is calm and stable. The United Nations and the majority of the world’s governments consider Abkhazia part of Georgia, whose constitution designates the area the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia. It is a very popular destination for the Russians especially who spend their holidays mostly on the coast. The sweetness of Sukhumi, the rhythm of the indigenous dolce vita and the Soviet influences make the capital a relaxing city. Some very beautiful buildings dating from the Soviet period, although very damaged for the most part, are architectural jewels. The mountainous areas offer incredible playgrounds in unspoiled wilderness, with very little exploration, beautiful forests and alpine areas with stunning panoramas from the Black Sea to Cherkessia.
Azerbaijan is the homeland of Zoroaster converted to Islam in the 7th century. With 90% of Shiite Muslims, the country claims to be secular with a strict separation of state and religion. Like all the other countries of the zone, Azerbaijan was one of the Soviet satellites from 1922 to 1991. 90% of the Azerbaijanis speak Azeri, an Altaic language, whose writing has had 3 alphabets throughout its history: The Arabic-Persian alphabet until 1929, replaced by the Latin alphabet for only ten years. In 1939 the Cyrillic alphabet is imposed marking the difference with the Turkish of Turkey. Since independence, Azerbaijani reuses the Latin alphabet. Of great ethnographic and linguistic richness (Tat, Lezgin, Qetish, Talysh..), Azerbaijan is the only country in the Greater Caucasus to offer a crossing from South to North, while Georgia and Abkhazia share the Caucasus range with Russia located on the northern slope. It is also there that ends the chain of the great Caucasus in the peninsula of Apcheron, the petroleum fief of Azerbaijan. This also the country of contrasts : Baku and its old city where the secular fortress faces the ultra modern buildings architecture; the former oil brownfields a few kilometers away from unspoiled wilderness; the watered slopes of the mounts Shadag and Babagad at the gates of the steppe, the desertification and mud volcanoes along the Caspian sea.. . Azerbaijan offers also some treasure like the village of Xinalig, a beautiful nest eagle village located in the middle of the Great Caucasus where indigenous people are the only ones in the world to speak Qetish, an endemic language.
Kabardino-Balkaria is located in the North Caucasus area in Russia. It is one of the 9 regions with Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Karachai-Cherkessia, Krai Stavropol and Krasdonar and Adygea, all together part of the North Caucus federal district of the Russian Federation. In this area the diversity of ethnic groups is the most important in the world. Although all the people speak Russian, these communities still respect their traditions and communicate between them in their respective language or dialect belonging to the Nakh-Dagestan or Abkhazian-Adyghe languages. Tbilisi and Vladikavkaz respectively the Georgia and North Ossetia Alani main cities are located in the southern and northern slopes of the Caucasus range. They are linked by the military road which goes through the Darial défilé, the only natural passage going through the Great Caucasus chain. This important communication axis had been built by the Russian between 1783 and 1820. Only some hours from Tbilisi, Vladikavkaz is a pure product of the soviet time as well as Nalchik, the capital of the Kabardino Balkaria. At 5642 meters the Elbrus is the highest peak of this district and also of the Great Caucasus chain. While the relief on the southern slopes is abrupt, the northern slopes are gentle, hills rising up progressively till higher plateau at around 3500m. This panorama opens on some huge depressions, tangle of gorges, waterfalls and caves. And everywhere in the background, the beautiful Elbrus is merging with its double and white summits.