Thursday, 31 March 2011

North Caucasus Journal- Day 3- Nalchik to Elbrus

We wended our way up into Kabardino-Balkaria's mountains, aiming for a ski resort near Mount Elbrus (Europe's highest peak). Along the way we passed seven checkpoints with armoured cars, trucks and troops. The mountains towered up on either side of the valley, bright with sunlight, skinny clouds wreathing their peaks. Pylons and gas pipes snaked along beside bright, narrow river lines. The landscape looked somewhere between green Switzerland and brown Pakistan. Only the shells of ruined ore extraction plants reminded us were in ex-soviet territory.

We were stopped at our eighth checkpoint. Our driver had to sit in a police car for 10 minutes shuffling documents. Two checkpoints later we were stopped again and this time no pictures were allowed, I managed to snap one before they stopped us, here.


They were a lot more heavily armed this time. Three soldiers stood around two trucks. Bullets had cracked their thick windows. After a thorough document check we were sent back to a previous checkpoint to gain permission to continue. A policeman explained that a counter-terrorist operation was underway up ahead. They were searching for militants in the mountains. This is the area where on February 18th this year three Russian tourists were gunned down inside their minibus on the way to a skiing holiday. We would have to get a special permit which meant coming back another day. Looking at the sun flooded mountains and the happy village girls giggling by on the footpath, I realised it's sometimes hard to tell there's trouble in such an idyll. We wended our way back to Nalchik.

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