Are you going there on vacation? You must be kidding!
This is the usual reaction I get when I tell people that I am soon going to travel to Chechnya for the umpteenth time and without any specific given reason but to enjoy the arcane beauty of its landscapes and the heartwarming hospitality of its people.
The sheer mention of this mountainous Caucasian republic still evokes a distressing mix of negative feelings and nightmarish memories. Fear, perplexity, anxiety, prejudices and a generous dose of racism fill every sentence of my Muscovite friends while they try to discourage me to board the train to Grozny, an almost mythical city they probably never even flown over once in their life. The truth is that Chechnya is nowadays a relatively safe destination to visit. Under the yoke of Putin’s local vassal and strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov, the republic is benefiting from an apparent state of peace and stability. Critics, skeptics and scholars alike say this seemingly harmonic new Chechen society is nothing but a Potemkin village, an orchestrated polished façade to hide the yet-to-be-healed wounds of a conflict, the psychological and cultural echo of which will resound across many generations to come.
Despite all reasonable doubts however, the reality on the ground seems to match the government propaganda and, at least for the common traveller, Chechnya is shining under a new light. Its rising tourism industry is now one of the strongest in the region: mountain resorts, five-star hotels, gourmet restaurants but also backpacker-hostels, hipster-eateries and art galleries are popping up all around the republic. These brand-new facilities, along with more melancholic Soviet-style sanatoriums, still mostly cater for domestic tourists, flocking to Chechnya from Southern Russia and the neighboring autonomous republics such as Dagestan or Ossetia, but international tourists have also started to venture into Grozny, Gudermes, Argun and up to the gorgeous green pastures of the Chechen highlands.
On the other side of the mountains, in neighboring Georgia, the Chechen villagers inhabiting the once off-limit Pankisi gorge have been developing a successful form of community-based sustainable tourism that attracts an interesting crowd of young European and American hikers and nature lovers.
The Chechens are finally reshaping their image and breaking the stereotypes they have been long ensnared in. If they’ll engage in the tourism sector with the same determination and strong will they are famed for, we are going to see surprisingly good results in the very near future.
Note: If you’re interested in trips to Chechnya and other locations across the former USSR, then please contact Soviet Tours
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