Hi everyone - I'm seriously thinking of cycling solo from Moscow to Teheran next spring (as a Russian speaker), via Volgograd, the North Caucasus (I last visited Grozny as a student in 1972) and Tbilisi.
Does anyone have experience or suggestions re safety and general advisability? Iran won't be an issue, I know, nor the northern part in Russia and then Georgia will be fine, if hilly.
But Chechnya and Dagestan?? And how about the connection out over the Georgian Military Highway? I've found other threads here suggesting that things aren't too bad now, but would appreciate any thoughts from WS colleagues who've recently been there or nearby.
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from Volgograd, you have a choice between 2 routes :
* Georgian miliary highway : Vladikavkaz - Tbilissi - Erevan - Megri - Iran
* Caspian shore : Makhachkala - Derbent - Bakou - Astara - Iran
Both routes are safe. I spent 1 month around Vladikavkaz in summer 2017, and 1 month in Dagestan in summer 2018 with transit through Chechnya, without any problem. People were friendly (I am also russian speaker) and police did not bother me. You will not need any border zone permit if you dont go off the main road in the border zone.
If you go along Caspian Sea, you must get your visa for Azerbaidjan before leaving Russia. The main road along Caspian shore is not very pleasant (heavy traffic, cars going fast), but you can swim. The road between Vladikavkaz, Groznyi and Makhachkala is also very busy, maybe even more.
From Vladikavkaz to Kazbegi and further, the road is usually nicer in the morning, but traffic may also be unpleasant in the afternoon. I advice that you consider hitch-hiking from Verkhnyi Lars (russian borderguards) to Kazbegi = Stepantsminda, 14 km from there, because the 3 tunnels are a real hell if there are many trucks : narrow, dark, going uphill, and full of exhaust gas. From Kazbegi to Ananauri, the road is rather nice ; try tio ride early in the morning, you will have less traffic. Near Tbilissi, heavy traffic again, but you can skip this section (other roads, or train)
I've been to Chechnya and Dagestan in 2015 (spent a few weeks), and as far as i know not much has changed since then. If only, then for better.
Despite being infamous for crime and having rough recent history, the region is safe and accessible, except maybe for few regions by the border for which you'll need permit from FSB (might be hard to get). If there is any local problem with security, the police will tell you. Occasional local conflicts are clans infighting or struggle of crime groups against government units and they do not concern outsiders. Additionally, traditional hospitality rules require to provide safety to the travellers.
Both republics are under tight police control; police might be checking on you, ask about route, purpose etc. but they are nice and I didn't excpect any harrassment. Locals are very friendly but conservative minded, do not take your shirt off and do not ride in shorts.
In Dagestan, roads in the mountains are rough (a lot of climbing and gravel, although they've started to put some asphalt in there), but it's fascinating region due to its cultural diversity and spectacular landscapes.
You might also think of Osetia, although the most interesting part is within border zone requiring permit (should be easy to order in advance from FSB in Vladikaukaz, I didn't have it and got fined for 3000 RUB).
When you will go, you might also want to check on situation in Ingushetia, recently there has been a huge protest and road block due to the administrative changes of region boundary (there wasn't any violence involved). I think it is over now, but it's better to check.
Thanks so much Iwo, and very reassuring. However, I'm no longer going to be doing this trip, for various reasons, having got visas and itinerary and flights all lined up. Some disappointment, but we're going to do other exciting things instead.
Greatly appreciate your taking the time to reply, and best wishes from London.