Come to Agul to Make Life-Long Friends

Culture

Written by Isak B.

December 9, 2021

Stories about Dagestani hospitality can sometimes seem too pretentious. The picture is sometimes painted of locals always ready to receive unknown travelers seems too good to be true. But, in the mountains especially, this is in fact the case. In Dagestan, locals will help you on the road if you have car problems. They will invite you to come in for tea or lunch if they meet you along the road. And if necessary, they will be happy to prepare a bed for you. People here really know how to receive guests and they do it from the heart, not just from a sense of duty.

My whole life, I’ve breathed and lived the good of Dagestani hospitality, and yet it never ceases to surprise me how sincere people are in their desire to give warmth and comfort. Recently, some friends and I had a chance to experience the cordiality and hospitality of Dagestanis this summer, when we went hiking in the mountainous part of Southern Dagestan. The local people, Aguls, simply amazed us with how they received guests to their mountains.

Gadji from Duldug

There were five of us, and it was the second day of our hike. Everything was going according to plan as we made our way through the beautiful mountain scenery. After a long and difficult journey, we began to descend to the village of Duldug.  It was already quite dark, so we walked with flashlights on our phones as we entered the village. Suddenly I saw a local man (we would later learn his name–Gadji) walking from his home to some outbuildings. I got his attention, and asked if he could tell us where in this village we could spend the night.

The village of Duldug late in the evening

Looking at me with a smile, he replied: “With me!” Being tired from the road, his quick consent was most welcome, and so we went with him.

Following him, we entered his house. It turned out that his wife was not at home. She was on business in Derbent, so Gadji called his brother’s wife to cook dinner for us and prepare the beds. Before long we had delicious soup, tea, a variety of snacks and sweets in front of us. Once we were full, we took showers, used Gadji’s wi-fi and went to bed in comfort.

Taking cake by KAMAZ

The morning proved to be another exercise in local hospitality. This time in the form of giving our group a lift. The night before Gadji had helped us to order a cake from a neighboring village. It was the birthday of one girl in our group, and we wanted to surprise her. After breakfast three of us went to the neighboring village of Tpig to pick up the cake. We were driven there by a car we hailed as we walked along the road. As fate would have it, the driver turned out to be the cousin of the woman from whom we ordered the cake, and this greatly simplified our task. He called her and she had her son deliver the cake to us. After paying for the cake, a local grandfather offered to take us by to Gadji, but we ran out of gas part way there. Thankfully, it didn’t take long to again find a mountaineer ready to help. This time it was a local KAMAZ driver. KAMAZ is a former Soviet company known for building strong but lumbering transport and construction trucks. It was quite the sight—using a KAMAZ to transport a birthday cake. Eventually we got back to the village of Duldug, where we surprised our friend with the cake.

View of the Agul village of Goa

Afterwards, we said goodbye to our kind hosts, having previously left a 5000 rubles (about $75)in his closet, since most likely he would refuse this money if we gave it to him directly. With a feeling of deep gratitude to Gadzhi and his family, we continued down the road to a village with the unusual name of Goa.

Our group says goodbye to the Gadzhi family (third from the right)

Aslan from Fite

At the village of Goa, our group split up. Three in the group went back down the mountain by car. Paul and I trekked on by foot in the direction of the Tabasaran village of of Khursatil. Between Goa and Khursatil lies the Agul village Fite, about 7 kilometers from Goa.

The gorge along which the road to the village of Fite goes

As Paul and I started the journey the sky was already overcast. Raindrops had begun to fall. We had walked two kilometers when a car approached us from behind. The driver, a young local guy named Aslan, asked who we were and where we were going. We replied that we were hikers on our way to Khursatil. He offered to give us a ride to Fite, his native village, and to feed us lunch there. Thanking him for the offer, we politely refused him as we planned and wanted to take our entire way by foot.

Aslan disagreed with our plan. “I can’t leave you here,” he said, adding that the clouds had already thickened and heavy rain was coming soon. “You can leave us,” I said to him. “Just drive on and that’s it, the problem is solved.” But Aslan would not settle for leaving two travelers alone in the elements. After a little reflection, he came up with a solution. “Let me drive three hundred meters ahead of you and wait until you catch up. Then I’ll drive another three hundred meters ahead again. In this manner we will reach my village.” This option was good because it respected the interests of everyone – on the one hand, Aslan did not leave the travelers alone on the road. And on the other hand, we completed the route completely by foot.

Aslan has once again driven three hundred meters away and is waiting for us

That’s how it went. Aslan drove three hundred meters ahead and waited for us. As soon as Paul and I caught up with him, he would move up and wait for us again. Soon it began to rain. We were at an altitude of about 1900 meters, so it was a cold rain. As the gorge narrowed there was incredible beauty all around us. We were already soaked, but there was no thought of getting into the car. Eventually we reached the village of Fite. For the entire trek there, Aslan accompanied us, eventually leading us to his home.

Finally, we got to Fite

By this time, I was already internally resolved to the fact that we would not be able to continue our hike to Khursatil that same day. The weather was cloudy, and humid. Walking in such conditions in the mountains is not the most pleasant activity. Once at Aslan’s home, he gave Paul and me a separate room.

Agul bread

We changed out of our soaking wet clothes. Having dried out, we went to the kitchen and were invited to have lunch. On the table were traditional Dagestani dishes: flour halva, a delicious miracle, and hinkal which is boiled meat and dough. Aslan also treated us to a traditional Agul bread. After lunch, the weather had cleared up, and we decided to go for a walk around Fite.  After the rain shower, the landscape around the village was picturesque with various shades of green all around. The village itself also turned out to be very interesting and original. To find such a large village at an altitude of 2200 meters is a rarity.

After dinner, we talked a little and went to bed. We woke up at 5 in the morning and had set out by 7. We had a long hike to Khuchni.

This is the reception we were given in the village of Fite. It has become a special place for Paul and me. We have very vivid emotions and pleasant impressions associated with it.

You could even say that now we are Kunaks with Aslan. Kunak is a word particular to the Caucasus, meant to communicate deep friendship with all of the accompanying obligations of such. As a Dagestani myself, I am always ready to meet Aslan at my home village of Akhty. And I am ready to visit him again in Fite.

So, friends, come to Agul.  You may in fact gain a Kunak for yourself.

Paul and I say goodbye to Aslan.

Related Articles

Related

Exploring Ancient Fossil Records in Dagestan

Streams and rivers without number cut through the ravines of Dagestan’s sharp mountain peaks. Crouching down next to any one of them, Omar Hapisov can lift a rock from the riverbed and identify the geological layers of rock in the steep ridges above him. He’s been...

read more

Village Above the Clouds

Kurush, located in southern Dagestan, Russia, is the highest inhabited point in Europe. Its elevation is 2560 meters above sea level. Water boils here at 90 degrees Celsius. The air, however, is still comfortable for breathing.Kurush is surrounded by four peaks higher...

read more

Preserving Culture Far from Home

Some eight-plus years ago when I couldn’t speak Russian, Illias and I became friends on the strength of his English language skills and our shared curiosity of each other’s cultures. It was at his invitation that I first traveled to Dagestan and experienced North...

read more