Ingushetia. Land of Towers and Mountains
The coronavirus craze seems to be ending its two-year campaign on our planet, but a new plague has arrived, and now most foreign countries are still inaccessible to ordinary Russians. Unfortunately, the May holidays are inevitably approaching, which, as we all know, must be spent somehow. What is to be done?
Fortunately, there is a solution, and it is literally right next door to us. I have in mind our North Caucasus, which – excuse my cliché – is the real tourist gem of our country. If I were asked about my favorite region of Russia, where I would like to go without hesitation, I would name it.
May is the best time to visit this region. It’s already warm, not very hot, everything is blooming and smelling, very beautiful and green. In addition, it is always very tasty, and the population in the vast majority is very hospitable. What more does a normal tourist need?
A couple of years ago I already told you about the Chechen Republic, now I want to share my impressions of a trip to Ingushetia, which struck me just as much as Chechnya.
The advantages of Ingushetia
The combination of beautiful nature and unique architectural monuments. Unlike neighboring Chechnya, whose history, unfortunately, was too turbulent in the XX century, Ingushetia was not destroyed by wars, so it has much more of the same watchtowers.
Convenient transport accessibility: the republic is easy to reach from key places in the region and Russia’s largest cities. For example, Ingushetia’s main attraction, the Jeyrakh castle complex, is accessible by car from Vladikavkaz in 40 minutes or from Grozny (but this takes 2.5 hours). From Moscow, there are direct flights to Nazran.
Ingushetia is convenient to visit as part of a larger tour of the North Caucasus, for example, with a stop in the Chechen Republic and Dagestan. There are also many beautiful places there (I have already mentioned Chechnya, but I will definitely write about Dagestan).
The lack of mass traffic. Yes, yes, this is a plus, because you have the opportunity to see the unique architectural sites in their original form, without restorations, tourist Disneyland and grannies on museum stools. As you understand, there are no cash registers or guards at the entrances either.
By the way, it is rather funny that it was in Ingushetia, in the Egikale castle complex, that we met with the well-known travel-blogger Sergey Doley, who was just gathering material for his next program.
The disadvantages of Ingushetia
The main and perhaps the only disadvantage of Ingushetia is the extreme underdevelopment of its tourism infrastructure. Be prepared for the fact that there are almost no decent hotels (especially in the mountains) and roadside cafes. On the other hand, for me personally, this is more than compensated by the opportunity to wander through the mountains, admiring the castle complexes without the crowds of tourists.
We spent the night in a cozy mini-hotel “Legends of the Mountains,” located in the Jeirakh region at the foot of Tsei-Loam Mountain. The rooms are cozy, but there is only one bathroom and toilet for the whole complex, so this option will not suit many people, although by local standards it is very good. The hosts are very hospitable, food is also very good. The views of the mountains from the windows of the hotel are very beautiful (unfortunately, it rained the day we spent the night in the house, and the mountains were revealed only briefly in the morning, like this:
Interesting facts about Ingushetia
The self-name of the Chechens is widely known as “Nokhchi” (“descendants of Noah”) or “Vainakhs”. The self-name of the Ingush is much less popular outside this republic and sounds like “Khalkhai”. Variants of the translation are “tower dwellers” and “people of God”.
Ingushetia is rightly called the land of towers. The Ingush used to believe that a family should build a tower for itself in no more than a year, otherwise it would be a disgrace and could not use it. The highest surviving Ingush tower is 31 metres high – 12 storeys high.
The Ingush were the last nation in the world to embrace Islam. It happened only in the beginning of the 19th century (approximately in 1809) because of a whole complex of socio-economic and political circumstances – influence of neighbors and major partners in cultural and economic exchange, unwillingness to obey violent pro-Russian “Christianization”, and, finally, good knowledge of Islamic traditions in Ingush society. Until this time the Ingush had been practicing Christianity with elements of paganism for over 1000 years – for example, one of the oldest Christian churches in our country, Tkhaba-Yerdy, is located here (see below).
The Ingush and the Chechens (Vainakhs) are the only peoples of the Caucasus who had no princes. At the same time the word ‘prince’ existed in the language (ajl), but simply meant a noble person. In general, the state system of medieval Chechnya is extremely interesting, but this is a subject for a separate long story.
Until recently, Ingushetia was home to the largest rural settlement in the world, the village of Ordzhonikidze with a population of over 60,000. Unfortunately, in a 2015 referendum, local residents voted to give the village the status of a city.
Like the Chechen Republic, Ingushetia has no nursing homes or orphanages.
According to an ancient pagan tradition, the son-in-law never sees his mother-in-law. The wife cannot call her husband by his name (hence the use of all sorts of epithets like “flying through the sky”), and the father cannot pick up his children. Now, however, these ancient customs are gradually being diluted under the pressure of modern life.
Ingushetia has its own official men’s festival, which is celebrated on March 1, and is called Dzhigit Day. February 23 is an extremely tragic date for the Vainakh and the Ingush, since it was on 23 February 1944 that the Chechen-Ingush people were subjected to forced deportation (in essence, genocide), and so it is not worth congratulating Ingush and Chechen men on this day.
The flag of Ingushetia bears a swastika – only not the one we all know, but another, circular one. Nevertheless, it goes back to antiquity and is a solar symbol (i.e. the symbol of the Sun).
The Ingush language uses the decimal system of counting. For example, the number 30 is denoted as twenty. Curiously enough, the same numbering system is used in the ancient Mayan and Aztec languages. Here we could go into a deep excursion on how it could have happened, to recall the legendary Urartu, but again, that is a subject for a long story.
What to see in Ingushetia
Ingushetia is a small republic with an area of only 3.1 thousand km2 . That is almost as much as Moscow occupies now, but there are really unique places on its territory which are unequalled in the whole North Caucasus.
Ingushetia is called the “Land of Towers” and it is not accidental – on its territory there remained more than 120 watchtowers which came to us almost in a primordial form. And for me personally, the most beautiful places in Ingushetia are connected with the main tower complexes.
Guidebooks will tell you that there are more than 20 different attractions in the Republic, but in my opinion, three of them are really unique and must be seen:
- Egikale castle complex
- Vovnushki tower complex
- The ancient Christian temple of Tkhaba Yerdy.
All of them are located within 15 minutes drive from each other, so it is easy to examine them in half a day.
Egikale Castle Complex
This is probably the coolest tourist attraction in Ingushetia. I could have walked there all day, such a beautiful picture around and such a peaceful mood arises from the combination of majestic buildings and absolutely delightful nature.
Yes, unfortunately I was unlucky with the weather, so all the photos are overcast, but at least it wasn’t raining, and that’s good.
Egikale is one of the largest settlements of medieval Ingushetia. The valley of the nearby Assa River has been inhabited since ancient times. The city itself, according to legend, was founded in the 11th century by the warrior Egi, one of the three sons of the warrior Elbert. Nearby are two settlements, Targim and Hamhi, which form the so-called Three Towns. The place was not chosen by chance – at the crossroads of trade routes from the Daryal Gorge to Chechnya and from the plains to Georgia.
Egikale is situated on Mount Tsey-Loam, sacred to the Ingush, which can be compared in importance with the ancient Greek Olympus. It was one of the largest medieval towns of the region in terms of population.
The buildings that we see now in Egikala date back to the XII-XVIII centuries and are very unevenly preserved. The shape and height of the towers is varied, as their purpose was quite different. Military, civilian (dwelling) and mixed towers are differentiated.
Ingush were meticulous in building towers to blend them into their surroundings. Stones were gathered from nearby meadows for the purpose of dual purpose of building and clearing pastures. The Ingush started each spring by gathering stones from surrounding meadows.
Thick walls 70-90 cm thick kept the tower cool in the hottest heat. By contrast, the towers retained heat well in winter.
Livestock was kept in the first floor. The hearth for cooking food also burned in the towers. The fire was kept alive all the time, and its dying out was a bad omen.
Vaults in which the Ingush left their dead are also well preserved in Egikala. According to pagan traditions, it was not customary to bury the dead in the ground, and they were buried in such mausoleums, where the bodies decayed naturally:
The Ingush lived in Egikala until their deportation in 1944. At the moment the castle complex is abandoned, but on the whole it is in fairly good condition. If it were located anywhere in Europe, the trail of tourists would not overgrow here, and the area itself would earn billions from this flow. Ingushetia, on the other hand, does not currently receive a single ruble from those who visit Egikale.
It is important to understand that towers, like any structure, require maintenance and care, including by tourists. Often the stones at the top of the towers are not mortar-bonded because they were supposed to be dropped on the head of the enemy. So far the tourist flow is not so great, but the media is actively promoting Ingushetia as a place where you can “touch antiquity with your hands. It is clear that each year the rate of destruction of the towers will increase…
Vovnushki tower complex
The Vovnushki tower complex is situated near Egikal in the Ozdi-chozh Gorge and is an ancestral complex of the Ozdoyevs, as evidenced by a sign at the entrance.
The uniqueness of these towers is that they are located on the cliffs at a height of 1,250 meters above sea level, which is difficult to reach even on foot, without any load, and one can only guess what difficulties their builders endured.
As in the case of Egikale, the place for construction was not chosen by chance – in ancient times, one of the sections of the Great Silk Road from China to Europe passed through the gorge. The towers of the complex were built in the XIV-XV centuries. Vovnushki includes 6 towers (3 residential, 3 combat).
By 1800, the Ozdoyev family owned 26 towers in Ingushetia.
In my presence, a young lad climbed out of the upper window of the tower rather deftly, and then we got to talking. He told me that his family lived nearby and often came here. We climbed the stairs of the neighboring tower, where I almost fell off (the wooden step broke – just the one the boy was standing on).
So crawling here, you need to be very careful and remember not only about the need to preserve the monuments, but also about your health.
Vovnushek’s unparalleled appearance allowed them to reach the finals of the All-Russian competition “Seven Wonders of Russia” in 2008.
The Temple of Thaba Yerdy
The temple of Tkhaba-Yerdy is considered one of the oldest Christian temples on the territory of modern Russia. The first building on the site dates back to the VIII century. Then it was destroyed, but in the XII century the church was built on its foundations. It acquired its present appearance in the XIV-XVI centuries.
The name of the temple does not have a clear translation – variants “the Temple of St. Thomas” or “Two thousand saints” meet.
The church was actively used by the Ingush until the deportation in 1944. It is now impossible to get inside, except through a barred doorway.
I am sure that Ingushetia will leave the most favorable impression on you. I can sincerely recommend this wonderful republic and I will definitely go there again.
P. S. If you need a guide to the North Caucasus republics, I sincerely recommend Magomed Yalkharo. He is one of the best guides I have ever met, and just a very good and wise man, always interesting to talk to.
P. S. S. If you are interested in traveling in the North Caucasus, I recommend my series of articles “Routes to Elbrus,” where I talk in detail about the three options for travel around Elbrus – Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia.
Ingushetia – journey to the land of towers
Learn how to plan an independent trip to mountainous Ingushetia. We tell you about safety, roads, local cuisine, hotels, and sights of the republic.
In the popular mind, Ingushetia is a kind of neighbor-granny of rich Chechnya, lost in the mountains of the North Caucasus. Almost no one knows anything about it, except that it exists. While Chechnya is actively developing its tourist infrastructure and image, it is difficult to even find a hotel in Ingushetia.
Because of the underdeveloped infrastructure, there are almost no tourists there. We drove through the republic in 1 day, because there was nowhere to sleep in the mountains. We saw almost all the main attractions of Ingushetia, though we didn’t spend much time at each place. We decided that we will go back again in the future.
Want to see Ingushetia with a guide, not by yourself? Check out the interesting tour “Mountain Ingushetia”: it is by car for 1-4 people, and it has many excellent reviews.
The whole spirit of Ingushetia is embodied in this photo: desolate, lonely, melancholy.
Don’t worry – it’s safe in Ingushetia now! There are more law enforcers than locals in the republic – at least according to the statistics of our encounters. Checkpoints on the roads are frequent: they check documents, record them in a logbook and inquire about the route. In Magas, the military patrol the center of the city, and columns of equipment on the side of the road are commonplace. The soldiers are sociable and friendly, and love to joke.
It is an ordinary day in Ingushetia:
Concord Tower and a soldier in Magas.
Where to live.
This is the main problem for the tourist. On Booking.com there are only 7 options for all of Ingushetia: 2 in Magas and 5 in Nazran. Plus, there is the resort “Armkhi”, which does not cooperate with Booking – they have double rooms cost from 2200 rubles.
A hostel costs 350 rubles per person, the cheapest hotel – 1200 rubles, a good hotel – from 3600 to 6000 rubles, a villa – 12500 rubles.
An unpleasant surprise awaited us when we checked into the “Safar” hostel: it turned out that Ingushetia has no mixed rooms – separately for men and women. We had booked a mixed room on Bookings. In answer to our complaint the administrator rudely replied: “I do not know what it is on Bookings. We had to share a room with strangers.
Mosque in Ingushetia.
The dishes are simple and unassuming, mostly meat:
- Khyaltam dulkh – meat with galushkas. There is a similar one in Chechnya and Dagestan: they bring boiled meat with flour dumplings, garlic or potato sauce, and strong hot broth in a glass. The meat and galushki must be dipped into the sauce and drunk on the broth.
- ChIapilgash are scones with various fillings, such as curd, potato, cheese, or herbs. They resemble khychin.
- Olgash – wheat tortillas without any filling.
- Khyngalysh – pumpkin tortillas.
- Halva – made of corn or wheat flour with or without raisins and walnuts.
- Honey .
Read more about Ingush national cuisine here.
Roads and how to get to the complexes
The road from Vladikavkaz to Ingushetia is excellent asphalt, from Nazran – the first fifteen kilometers is broken, then good. There are roadblocks and some places with reflectors. Be careful – although the serpentine is not steep, but around the corner may unexpectedly stand a cow or a local resident decides to jump out on the oncoming traffic.
Some tower complexes are close to the road, and it is easy to get to them – you just need to pull off and walk a little: Egikhal, Hamhi, Falgan. Others are at a distance, but good dirt roads lead to them, such as Vovnushki and Pui. Well, some of them are better to walk, for example, to Lyalakh and Hani complexes.
Our stop is near Egikkhal.
There was a mishap with Lalakh complex. We had read that there was a road to the village that could be used by an off-road vehicle. In fact it turned out to be not safe: it was washed out, deep ruts formed and in some places the edges fell off. We had to admire from the side only the Hyani.
Tip. Before the trip, find out how to get to the complexes, the state of the roads and what car you can drive.
Also find out:
Hyani, on the road to Lalah. In the Lyalakh area. South Ingushetia.
Map of places of interest in Ingushetia
Map of tower complexes and other historical, cultural and natural places in Ingushetia
What to see in Ingushetia
Ingushetia is divided into plain and mountainous. For the tourist plain is boring, of notable things – old Nazran and newly built Magas. You won’t lose anything if you don’t visit them. All the most beautiful and interesting things are in the mountains. But the sights there are monotonous – there are tower complexes. But what they are! At every kilometer along the road pose either ruins or single surviving towers or the whole small towns. Completely deserted, they look mysterious in the dispersed pre-sunset haze, and take you back in time.
The most famous and accessible settlements: Erzy, Falkhan, Egikkhal, Hamhi, Targim and Vovnushki.
Erzi. Located near the village Olgeti. On the map to the complex leads a road that bypasses the village.
Keli. Keli. Keli.
Falkhan. There is a necropolis and a castle. You can approach it through the village Lyazhgi. A little further is the complexes of Khastmage and Metskhal.
Egikkhal. A huge settlement, the largest in Ingushetia, it is worth to see. Ancient dead town, but there were people living there in 1944! It is situated on the left side of the road, you must drive down Egikkhal. When we passed, the area was closed by a barrier.
Hamhi. You have to go off the paved road onto unpaved road, past border checkpoint, and then go right by the sign.
Targim. You can look at the complex from the left bank of the Assa River, or you can drive up. First take the road to Vovnushki, and at the fork with the road to the temple of Taba Yerdy, take the left, to the military unit. On the MAPS.ME map, the road bypasses the unit along the Assa River.
Vovnushki. Perhaps the most famous tower complex in Ingushetia. It is not just two towers – a little further there is a necropolis. There is a good dirt road leading here past several military units. There are signs. The road is paved, even a passenger car can pass. In one place you need to cross the shallow river (probably, it overflows in the spring). The way to Vovnushki from the main road takes about half an hour.
Tip. Khamkhi, Pui, Vovnushki, Targim and Taba Erdy temple are located in one protected zone. At the entrance is a checkpoint where you have to pay 100 rubles per person. However, they do not always take money – a kind soldier let us through for free.
Granddaughters. Vovnushki. Sunset in the mountains of Ingushetia.
It is a completely modern city – it was founded in 1994, there is not a single old building here. The road from Nazran leads directly to the center, where the main attraction of the city, the Concord Tower, towers opposite the Administration of the Head of the Republic. All the government offices are concentrated there, and at 8 a.m. the officials and white-collar workers begin rushing in and out, hurrying to work.
We arrived early in the morning and found Magas completely deserted: only policemen and soldiers were patrolling the city center because of the rallies and disturbances of the day before, and women were sweeping the sidewalks.
In Nazran we only spent the night – we did not waste time in the city. There you can see a 19th century Russian fortress, a water mill, a museum of local history and a beautiful memorial to victims of repression on the way out of town.
What else to see
Tourists recommend trekking to the Table Mountain of Maat Loam (3000 m) with an ancient temple on top, Lyazhginsky waterfall, the pagan temple of Mago Yerdy and the Christian temple of Tkhaba Yerdy.
Interesting places nearby: