Coming from: Sölzh-Ghala/Grozny, Republic of Chechnya, Russian Federation
Passing through: Kizlyar, Republic of Dagestan, Russian Federation
Going to: Artesian, Republic of Kalmykia, Russian Federation
Documents required: Passport
Waiting time: none
Distance from Bern: 5.890 km (to Kizlyar)
Crossed on 14/06/2017, 11:53 a.m. (into Dagestan) and 3:00 p.m. (into Kalmykia)
Leaving Chechnya was a much more relaxed experience than entering it. I chose to take the train, which runs every other day from Grozny to Astrakhan and further on to Volgograd. Besides Chechnya, the train crossed two more autonomous republics: Dagestan and Kalmykia.
Dagestan is the most conflict-prone area of the Caucasus, so I did again a brief security assessment. The result was clear: the train was safe. Having experienced the train ride, I can confirm this finding. There are at least three reasons for that: 1. The train is heavily guarded, there is a couple of policemen belonging to the Ministry of Interior in each car. 2. The train just crosses the sparsely populated Northern (Nogay) plains of Dagestan, not the hot areas in the mountains. 3. As opposed to cars and busses, the train does not get stopped at roadblocks. I believe same applies for all Baku-bound trains, which pass through Dagestani urban centres such as Makhachala or Derbent.
That safety in turn meant that the passport party was not spectacular at all. To enter Grozny railway station, I had to pass a security check. Policemen looked at my luggage and my documents. Inside the train, there was another similar check by a policeman, who entered my personal data into a handheld device, probably the passenger manifest. That was it – no more checks until Astrakhan!
Nevertheless, Dagestan seemed a bit tenser then Chechnya. In Kizlyar, the first and only sizeable town of the Dagestani part of the ride, we stopped for 27 minutes. I left the train and walked a bit around the station. There was an anti-tank barrier outside of the main building. And to re-enter the train, I had to pass through an airport-like security check inside the station building – much more serious than in Grozny. The platform area was fenced off and could only be entered through that check. The situation, however, did not reflect on the people: Everybody seemed relaxed; the train conductors spent the waiting time shopping clothes at a stall next to the platform.
The rest of the train ride through Dagestan led through the Nogay step: An empty plain, sparsely populated by some Turkic-speaking nomads. Early in the afternoon, it gave way to the Kalmyk step, which looked identical. But it was already outside of the North Caucasus conflict zone. The first stop after Dagestan was in a place called Artesian. It belonged to the Republic of Kalmykia, the westernmost Buddhist state in the world. Not many Kalmyks were around, though. Not many humans at all – it was an empty small town in the emptiness of the step.
There were no security measures around the railways station. A Dagestani passenger laughed about my fear to visit their capital, Makhachkala. I walked around a bit and when I came back to my train coach, a man offered me to drink vodka with him. Caucasus was over, I was back to Russia proper.
Leaving Chechnya: Abadoned mill close to the last Chechen railway station, Kargalinskaya.
Entering Dagestan: 27 minutes at Kizlyar railway station.
The Nogay step: A remote railway station in Northern Dagestan.
Back to Russia: Lenin welcoming me at Astrakhan railway station.