Exploring Southern Russia's Remote Nature Reserves
In the shadow of Europe’s highest peak exists a stunning area of unspoiled alpine terrain
The Mahar Gorge, or as the locals call it, simply “Mahar" (translated from the Turkish word for "warrior”), is formed by and follows the path of the Uchkulan River in Karachay-Cherkessia, a federal subject within the North Caucasus region of Southern Russia. It is part of the Dautsky State Nature Reserve, one of the seven nature reserves in the North Caucasus, and sits in the shadow of Mount Elbrus, Europe and Russia’s highest peak (18,510 feet).
To find this stunning area, you’ll have to work for it. The road starts from the village of Uchkulan, the last place where cell service exists. From there on out the terrain becomes more and more wild and runs through several very authentic Karachai villages, where there is not a single modern structure. Though rugged, the remoteness means it’s almost untouched by humans and environmental pollution, and obviously isn’t very popular with tourists.
The expansive landscape features two gorges, several waterfalls, endless rivers, the famous mineral-rich narzan hot springs, a cranberry glade or two, and (most importantly) a serious lack of people.
There are several lodges left over from Soviet times, but some of them are abandoned, and in those that do work there is either no electricity or water or heating, so it's better to sleep in a tent. Just the way we like it.