Tsovkra-1 – Amazing Russian Village With Talented Tightrope Walkers

Russia is one of the most famous destinations for discovering new cultures and unusual, amazing things that you have never experienced before, including a small village where people walk on tightropes.
December 03, 2021 | 07:50

Tsovkra-1 is a rural locality in Kulinsky District, Republic of Dagestan, Russia. The population was 410 as of 2010. There are 7 streets. Tsovkra-1 is located 8 km southeast of Vachi (the district's administrative centre) by road. Vachi and Kaya are the nearest rural localities.

The tiny village with a strange tradition

Photo: Sean Benesh/Unsplash
Photo: Sean Benesh/Unsplash

In Tsovkra-1 tightrope walking has been the tradition for over 100 years. The tiny hamlet (which was given the numeral to help differentiate it from a nearby place with the same name) produced at least 17 men and women who became famous throughout the former Soviet Union for walking tightropes in circuses. The village is now home to fewer than 400 people, but even now all of the village’s schoolchildren reportedly study tightrope walking, and old and young alike regularly practice in all kinds of weather.

Legend had it that the tightrope tradition evolved in Tsovkra-1 as a way to expedite romantic encounters. As Reuters explains it, “the young men of the village grew bored with trekking for days to court women in a village on a neighboring mountainside, and instead came up with a shortcut.”, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

Photo: Smithsonian Magazine
Photo: Smithsonian Magazine

Some modern inhabitants doubt this romantic legend, however. One man suggested that it emerged from the harsh winters and difficult weather of the region. When bridges regularly got wiped out, locals could have adapted by walking on the rope while awaiting repairs.

However the tradition got its start, by the early 19th century villagers began to market their skills by touring neighboring villages, according to the Independent. Tsovkra-1’s glory days arrived in the decades following World War II, when Soviet circuses rose in popularity and recruited the village’s best performers, who made the region famous for its people's unusual skills.

Unfortunately, the glory days of tightrope walking are long gone, and that has impacted Tsovkra-1 immensely. There is no future in pursuing a tightrope-walking career, so most youths just get regular jobs in larger Russian towns and cities, with only some practicing their village’s tradition as a hobby. That said, everyone in Tsovkra-1 is said to still be able to walk a tightrope.

Photo: The Week
Photo: The Week

“Not everyone can do tricks on the rope, and some of the older people don’t do it anymore because it’s too hard for them. But every single able-bodied person here can walk the tightrope,” Ramazan Gadzhiyev, a teacher at the Tsovkra-1 rope-walking school, told The Independent.

Unfortunately, with little to no funding for Tsovkra-1’s rope-walking school and the mass exodus of its youths, the village’s unique tradition is about to become a memory…

“A manhood test”

The Gadzhikubanov family team -- a father and his seven daughters -- used to balance on a tightrope on each others’ shoulders in two columns of four people.

The villagers’ most popular explanation for centuries of tightrope walking is that the young men of the village grew bored with trekking for days to court women in a village on a neighboring mountainside, and instead came up with a shortcut.

Photo: Russian Beyond
Photo: Russian Beyond

They strung a rope from one side of the valley to the other and hauled themselves across. To show off, the most daring began to walk the rope and the skill became a prized test of manhood, according to Reuters.

With the rising popularity of the Soviet circus after World War Two, dozens of the best left to entertain crowds with their stunts and acrobatics in cities across the world. “We had to work hard then and tightrope walking was a way of escaping,” Isayev said, a smile creasing his wrinkled face.

“But now most want to leave the village and, you see, life now is too good, you can eat and live well easily.” As Isayev talked, a hunched old woman passed herding a donkey weighed down by bundles of hay, two girls ran in and out of wooden doorways, and a swarthy, sun-beaten man lugged a pitchfork from the fields.

REUTERS/Thomas Peter
REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The population of Tsovkra has fallen to 400 from around 3,000 since the 1980s, villagers said. But 45-year-old Ramazan Gadzhiyev, Magomed’s father, plans to change that and resurrect Tsovkra’s reputation. Eight years ago he reopened the tightrope walking school.

“The world’s best tightrope walkers used to come from Tsovkra but now they are from China and Japan,” he said as he stood watching a boy on the rope.

The boy bounced up and down in the middle of the tightrope. He crouched down, lay on his back, and then gracefully stood up again and walked to the end of the rope.

Men pause for a glass of vodka. | (REUTERS/Thomas Peter)
Men pause for a glass of vodka. | (REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

“I hope that one day they will be great again,” Gadzhiyev said. “That Tsovkra’s tightrope walkers will once again perform in America, Britain, and Japan.”

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