Tom Parfitt walked across the northern flank of the Russian Caucasus, from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, through republics whose names are synonymous with violence, extremism and warfare.
He did it to rid himself of nightmares brought on by the terrible events he witnessed during the 2004 seige of School Number One in Beslan, North Ossetia.
He also wanted to understand how places like Chechnya, Dagestan and Inigushetia became crucibles of personal and national trauma.
History casts long shadows here.
The 19th century Caucasian War brought isolated people face to face with an expansionist Russia, and the 20th century brought forced clearance and relocation under Stalin.
It’s also a region of resourceful shepherds living solitary lives in high mountain passes, and villages where the greatest danger to the visitor is extreme hospitality.
This is a fascinating read that explores a part of the world I knew so little about. I got back from my first visit to Georgia — on the other side of those mountains — the day before we spoke.
Tom Parfitt is the author of High Caucasus, and he spent twenty years as a correspondent for The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Times.
You can follow him on Twitter.
We spoke about the Circassians, mass relocations under Stalin, and high mountain villages where resourceful people have survived for centuries on the stoniest ground.