THE CAUCASUS, Russia – When planning a vacation, Paris springs to mind, or maybe even Rome, New York or Prague. The Caucasus, however is not a word that often appears on itineraries.
That’s a shame, for it leaves one of the world’s most beautiful natural spots completely under the radar.
Spreading between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus region extends over an area showcasing landscapes that range from valleys to Europe’s highest peak.
Natural beauty is dominant. Thick velvet forests, meadows of bright sunflower seeds and fields of golden wheat that end in magnanimous mountains that lick the clouds at their peaks.
The blue lakes are one site that make the Caucasus famous. These lakes are mysterious, and a bit frighteningly deep and cold year round.
One of the deep blue lakes in the Caucasus region. (Leen Othman/YJI)
Another wonder is the Elbrus, one of Europe’s highest peaks. Traveling there by cable car can take you just above the clouds.
The crowning jewel of the area is however, Sochi, home to the winter Olympics and one of the top tourist destinations in Russia. With a sunny beach in the summer and freezing peeks in winter, Sochi receives tourists with all sorts of interests and hobbies.
That is the tourist part. Now for the good stuff about the Caucasus area.
A panoramic view of the city of Nalchik in the Caucasus region. (Leen Othman/YJI)
It is there and only there, when you are standing at the top of the mountains, that you hear faint whispers. You hear sounds that have traveled through history quietly, only slightly brushing the grains in the meadows and rustling the leaves in the forests.
It is only in the Caucasus that you hear of an ancient people missed in history’s pages. A people of dancing, of industry, of war, and of civilization.
The Circassians have inhabited the Caucasus for thousands of years as one of the oldest people on Earth.
Have you ever heard the term of Caucasian race? Well now you know where it came from.
They are a people famous for their food, their incredible dancing, and Hercules-type war abilities.
The city of Nalchik in the Caucasus region of Russia.
The food? Well, as a member of this group, let me put it this way: it’s very hard to diet. Consisting mainly of hot thick broths, cornbread, delicious pastries, and incredible fried sweets, the Circassian food works perfectly for the area. It’s designed to keep out the cold and keep the energy level high.
As for the dancing part, well, not to brag, but we’ve done our job pretty well on that. Circassian dancing is a mix between an English waltz and Greek dancing that involves a high level of technique.
The Narzan mineral water springs in southern Russia. (Leen Othman/YJI)
Both genders dance together in the Circassian tradition. It allows young men and women to meet only under the watchful eye of the elders and with the carefully planned steps and traditions of dancing that can ensure respectful manners.
When it comes to war, they say that Circassians have managed to form the only type of unbreakable steel. According to myth, they used to feed the iron ore to ducks, the chemical reactions in a duck’s stomach would turn that iron into steel that would be later extracted from its feces.
I know the question revolving around your head, why haven’t we heard of these people before? Well the answer has two parts.
One part is a major 19th century genocide after the Russian conquest of the Caucasus. Despite the number of victims – historian Walter Richmond said 625,000 Circassians were killed by the Russians in the early 1860s – it’s nearly forgotten in history.
The other part is attributed to the Circassian language. Its unusual phonological system – an overabundance of consonants and scarcity of vowels – has made the language extremely hard to master and therefore to write. That, according to my father, is the main reason why the Circassians are so forgotten in history.
Even though the Caucasus is a forgotten land in between the seas, it is a beautiful area worth discovering, both for its nature and its people.
Leen Othman is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.
On the road to Mt. Elbrus. (Leen Othman/YJI)