Photo essay: Armenia’s sorrow (Yerevan to Gyumri by train)

I arrive at Yerevan’s train station just after dawn, and buy coffee and bread from the underpass between platforms – fuel for the four-hour journey to Gyumri, Armenia’s second city.

The train is dusty and dilapidated; it has hard seats and filthy windows. It goes slowly, bumpily, its wheels making soothing clunks on the rusted tracks.

The journey is haunting. The landscape of western Armenia looks abandoned, left for dead. But this isn’t so. This rocky corner of the Caucasus is far from an unwanted wasteland: it is one of the most emotionally charged places on earth. … More Photo essay: Armenia’s sorrow (Yerevan to Gyumri by train)

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Letter from Ulan-Ude (Republic of Buryatia – Siberia, Russia)

The Rinpoche Bagsha temple crackled with the deep murmur of Buddhist prayer. Under the gaze of a golden cross-legged Buddha, eight monks in crimson robes sat at a low table in the centre of the room, ethereal chants bursting from their throats. A bell tinkled. During the final prayer the congregation, squeezed together on benches close to the monks, picked up parcels of food and waved them in front of themselves in clockwise circles. The bell tinkled one last time.  

And with that, a hundred Russians put on their hats and coats, and came outside to where six marshrutka buses were waiting. The driver took their 20 roubles before taking them down the hill to Soviet Square. So begins a Sunday evening in the republic of Buryatia, Eastern Siberia’s Buddhist province. … More Letter from Ulan-Ude (Republic of Buryatia – Siberia, Russia)

Waking up in İçərişəhər – Baku, Azerbaijan

Arriving in Baku, I would always come here first. Each time I would explore the maze of narrow sandstone streets within its walls, and walk past every little pale house – some empty, some with chattering coming from inside. I would drink sahlep on a low sofa at a cafe on Boyük Qala, while watching the street outside wake up; always climb up the Maiden Tower for a first sight of the Caspian Sea; always go into the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, to hear again the stories that Azerbaijan tells about itself. … More Waking up in İçərişəhər – Baku, Azerbaijan

Kandalaksha – Russia’s Arctic North

A thousand miles from Moscow, a thousand kilometres from St. Petersburg, the Arctic town of Kandalaksha, on the frozen shores of the White Sea in Murmansk oblast’, is one of Russia’s most northerly communities. Founded 500 years ago as a fishing village, but with an aluminium smelter and locomotive depot giving the area an industrial purpose under the Soviet Union, Kandalaksha has been forgotten for the last twenty years. It is now only a dot on the vast Kola Peninsula – a 100,000 square kilometre expanse of pine forest between the White and Barents Seas. … More Kandalaksha – Russia’s Arctic North

Letter from Yoshkar-Ola (Republic of Mari El, Russia) – for The Calvert Journal

At 7am the streets of Yoshkar-Ola were dark and empty. As I shuffled over dirty snow and treacherous black ice, the only sound was the bickering of ravens overhead. The shops on ulitsa Kremlyovskaya – Apteka No. 67; Evroset; Moda 21 vek – told me that I had arrived in provincial Russia. Except that ul. Kremlyovskaya is also Kreml urem: street signs and building plaques are written in Russian and Meadow Mari, the most widely spoken of the four Mari dialects.

I made a beeline for the peculiar buildings in the distance. … More Letter from Yoshkar-Ola (Republic of Mari El, Russia) – for The Calvert Journal