While staying near Elista in Kalmykia for three weeks this April (more on Kalmykia, check out this blog post), I visited the capital of Chechnya, Grozny, a city of roughly 300,000 residents, together with a Russian friend of mine. The 520km ride takes six hours. The bus left at 2am in the morning and arrived at 8am with 30 hungry people, mostly heading directly for the national shashlik competition; Chechens and Ingush are known far beyond their borders for their expertise with lamb skewers.
The Kadyrovs, some history and a museum that will blow your mind
I’ll come to this later because first we visited the Akhmad Kadyrov Museum. Opened in 2010, with no expense spared, the building is an eclectic mix of Soviet, Renaissance, and other styles with a bit of Graceland thrown in on top for good measure. It is dedicated to the first post-war president of Chechnya, who served for nine months before being blown to smithereens by a landmine planted under his seat in the local stadium in 2004. It emphasizes the good relationship between the Russian president Vladimir Putin and the former president as well as the current president Ramzan Kadyrov who is the first president’s son.
View from the top
The next stop was to get a bird’s eye view of Grozny from the local business centre, made up of a small group of state of the art skyscrapers and high-rises. It was a great view.
Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque
When you walk through Grozny you will cross the Vladimir Putin Boulevard which leads directly to the Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque, a beautiful new building. It has space for 10,000 worshippers, rich interior ornaments and beautiful coloured windows.
Shashlik for sustenance and zing
Finally we made it to the shashlik festival on Grozny’s main square. From there you have a picture postcard view of the mosque and modern skyscrapers in the background. About 50 food stalls competed for the best shashlik. We started our food expedition with some traditional lamb skewers. Very tender and tasty meat. The marinade was not too overwhelming and harmonized perfectly well with the meat’s own taste – delicious. Next on the agenda was chicken shashlik at a stall run by the nearby 5-star hotel “Grozny City”. Their basil-infused, light marinade, grilled to the point, made a perfect combination.
The sweet-tooth section
And then we dived into sweets! I knew from my wife, who had assisted me with my internet research, that halva made of corn is a local delicacy. My mate and I took a taxi (at less than £0.50 rather inexpensive) to the major market. Beyond halva made of corn we found halva made of wheat. Unfortunately I have forgotten the names of the tasty things on the photo. One is a cake of fried or baked noodles, another nuts on a thread with a fruity cover, a thing that looks like a thin pancake like French crepes but is made of dried juice. And of course we bought homemade cheese. If any of you should know the correct names, could you please leave me a comment below, thanks.
Back to Elista – Grozny as a travel destination
In the evening we took the bus back to Elista. In the dark you can see that many buildings have a lot of LED lighting.
While in Grozny, it was comforting to see plenty of security guards and one or more metal detectors at the entrance of every public building. The mosque had a sign that asked people not to take fire arms inside. We felt safe at all times. I also felt fortunate that my Russian mate had been able to join me.