Dombay, Caucasus Mountains (elevation 1500m)
My luck changed the minute I left the Black Sea behind me, as I thought it would. While I was looking forward to seeing Sochi and enjoyed my brief foray into the mountains of Krasnaya Polyana, the main draw of this trip for me was always the central part of the Caucasus, home to mountains higher as high as any I've laid eyes on before and various, mostly Islamic ethnic groups living among Russians in several semi-autonomous "republics". These include notorious names like Chechnya and Dagestan (neither of which I'll be visiting), as well as more obscure republics like Karachay-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria.
Dombay is a small ski town in southern Karachay-Cherkessia, near Russia's border with the breakaway republic of Abkhazia (part of Georgia but allied with Russia). I didn't know much about Dombay before going there; I only knew that it had a small ski resort and that the main peak there, Dombay-Algen, was about 1500 meters shorter than the more famous Mt Elbrus (Europe's highest peak at 5600m) about 100km to the east.
I was not even close to prepared for the intense, rugged beauty of Dombay. The only place I've been to that compares is Telluride, Colorado, where I lived for a year back in 1992. Like Telluride, Dombay lies in a box canyon, surrounded by steep snow-capped mountains and sheer walls of granite. But, with a glacier visible from town and several giant, Matterhorn-like thorns forming a crown around the town proper, Dombay might be - dare I say it - even more beautiful. The mountains, that is, not the town itself, which is dishevelled and dominated by the brash presence of several monstrous concrete Soviet hotels (which nonetheless add character to the place). It is in one of these that I stayed. The first photo in the album was taken from my balcony. With a view like that you can forgive the 1970s deck furniture, by now completely overcome by mildew and rust.
But I've written enough. More beautiful than Telluride? Check out the photos and you be the judge.