Hiking in Digoria

Alania National Park, Stur Digora, North Ossetia

Digoria is the western part of North Ossetia-Alania, where the archaic Digor dialect of Ossetian is spoken. Many consider it to be the most beautiful region of Ossetia, particularly the mountainous Irafsky district which is home to the spectacular Alania National Park. The area is heavily forested yet boasts seven major glaciers. The remote Urukh Valley was long used as a hideaway for bandits. Road access is still poor, but just beyond the village of Stur Digora there are a number of mountain resorts with modern facilities. This is an excellent place to use as a base camp for treks. 

Within the park there are peaks reaching over 4,600 metres, and Mt. Elbrus, Europe’s highest mountain at 5,642m is just across the border in Kabardino-Balkaria. There are a number of breathtaking waterfalls, perhaps the most remarkable of which are the Tri Sestri (Three Sisters), which plunge side-by-side down the mountain face from the Karaugom Glacier above. Nearby is the Bairadi (“Happiness-bestowing”) waterfall, approached by a treacherous path with the help of a chain nailed into the rock. Bears, wolves, and possibly a leopard roam the thickly-forested mountainsides. There are also chamois goats, lynx, and the rare West Caucasian Tur, a large goat-antelope which is found nowhere else in the world. 

The next major valley to the east, fed by the Dargonkom River, has a more palpable human presence. The villages here have a history stretching back millennia, and there are many interesting stone towers and other archaeological remains. My wife’s paternal ancestors were from the village of Vakats, about halfway up the valley to Galiat where the road ends before reaching the continental divide marking the border with Georgia.

Just off the main road which serves the region from the more heavily populated agricultural plains further north, the village of Zadalesk houses a small museum dedicated to the memory of the medieval heroine known as Zadaleski Nana. The “mother of the Ossetes,” as she is sometimes called, is said to have saved the local Alan/Ossete nation from total annihilation during the ravages of Tamerlane in 1394-95 by hiding orphaned children in a cave. Her name has been forgotten, but her heroism is remembered in a well known folk song which is still sung today. The cave high on the cliffside above the village is difficult to find, but one may hire a guide by asking at the museum.

Zadaleski Nana saving Ossetian orphans

Published by Richard Foltz

Professor in the Department of Religions and Cultures, Concordia University, Montréal, Canada

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