‘Grandad! Ata! How did you even stay alive? How did you live to be a hundred in such good health and sound mind?’ my loved ones asked.
‘I’m surprised myself,’ I answered. ‘Probably the Almighty wanted you all to be born, and he had to keep me alive to drag me through the fire and ice of the godless people.’
– Bayangali Alimzhanov – A Hundred Years on the Steppe … More A Hundred Years on the Steppe – my translation of a novel by the Kazakh author Bayangali Alimzhanov
About half an hour outside Ulan-Ude is a vast forest park, dotted with model villages, representing the traditional cultures of the peoples who live in this part of Siberia – the Buryats, Evenks and Old Believers. The park is called the Ethnographic Museum of the Peoples of Transbaikalia, but it is more than a museum. … More The prize-winning camel of Ulan-Ude
The next day he drove me south, to Tatev monastery: on the way he gave me time on my own, to explore and contemplate at Khor Virap, climb up the wall of Noravank monastery, and wander through the Zorats Karer stones. These places fascinated me – but more than that, the journey was breathtaking. I am still mesmerised by how the towns of Yeghegnadzor and Vayk felt, and the landscapes we passed between Areni and Tatev. … More Saying goodbye to Armenia
The two provinces in the south of Armenia, Vayots Dzor and Syunik, are a spectacular strip of land at the very bottom of the Caucasus. The highway that runs through them, between the towns of Yeraskh and Meghri, passes over the mountains that separate the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in the east from the Azeri enclave of Nakhchivan to the west.
The journey is breathtaking, and takes in some of Armenia’s cultural treasures: the monasteries of Noravank and Tatev and the wine-making town of Areni are all on the road to Meghri.
The most unusual place in Syunik province is the Zorats Karer stone formation, near the settlement of Sisian – 223 giant boulders that are described, inevitably, as the ‘Armenian Stonehenge’. But unlike the stones in Wiltshire, Zorats Karer still stands in the middle of wild nature: you can wander between the rocks, touch and photograph them. … More Armenia’s Ancient Zorats Karer Stones – for OCA Magazine
I was recently invited to be a guest on the YouTube channel of the media project Russia Beyond.
In an interview with the host, the Moscow-based journalist and radio presenter Tim Kirby, I talked about my experiences in Russia over the last 16 years. … More Studying, working and travelling in Russia, and unravelling the Russian soul: A chat with Russia Beyond
It’s long past midnight in a rugged little town high up in the Caucasus Mountains, and I’m lying on my back in the middle of an icy street, gazing up at the stars. There is freezing air in my lungs, a mountain climb in my legs, and half a bottle of chacha in my veins. I am so happy I can’t move.
I arrived in northern Georgia from Tbilisi the night before, and booked a room in a guesthouse in Stepantsminda (also called Kazbegi), to make the trek up to Gergeti Trinity Church – one of the most beautiful places in the Caucasus. … More Getting drunk on my own in the former Soviet republics: Confessions of an alcohol analyst