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10Oct/180

Soviet Datcha Museum in Yekaterinburg

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The word ‘Datcha’ has become international and these days most of the tourists who come to Russia know what a datcha means. Now in Yekaterinburg you can visit a small area with real Soviet datchas in the western suburbs of the city in the direction of the border of Europe and Asia.

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Sasha Tsarikov, a radio DJ and a journalist from Yekaterinburg turned his datcha into a museum of a Soviet lifestyle and welcomes visitors to see this tiny district that will possibly disappear in the near future. To the Soviet people a datcha meant more than just a small piece of land where they could grow some vegetables. It was their private corner as privacy was something hard to get in the USSR of the 1930s-1940s. In the 1950s everything changed with a datcha, though historians still debate about why exactly Stalin allowed the people to own datchas.

Sasha Tsarikov, the creator of the Soviet Datcha Museum

Sasha Tsarikov, the creator of the Soviet Datcha Museum

In the USSR it was very difficult to find materials for building a house that’s why people had to become really creative. They used everything they could find, steal or trade at their work places: railway slippers, frames of the bus windows and doors of the same old buses. For the same reason all the datcha houses used to be painted in green or blue color. The only place to buy a paint or exchange it ifor a bottle of vodka was a military base and the military bases used only green and sometimes blue paint.

Greenhouse made of the train doors and bus window-frames

Greenhouse made of the train doors and bus window-frames

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For his datcha Sasha collected old Soviet furniture and items of decoration. Many of his friends and listeners from the radio liked the idea of the Museum of the Soviet Datcha and donated their personal belongings for the collection. Technically it’s possible to stay overnight at the datcha – it has a bed and an oven but mostly it’s for visiting, for taking photos and for trying the berries and vegetables of the locals. They are really proud of their crop. Plus you will hear interesting stories and facts about the life in the USSR.

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The location of the datcha is really good – it’s a 20min drive from the city center and if you come in winter Sasha promises to keep you warm with a home-made liquor. But hurry up as the developers of Yekaterinburg have a plan to demolish the datchas by 2023!

You can contact the museum of the Soviet Datcha via the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/dachamuseum/

or book a tour here: https://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/soviet-datcha-tour

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31Aug/180

Malyi Turysh village – guesthouse with a taste of honey

I’m glad to announce that there is a new interesting opportunity of a home stay in the countryside of Sverdlovsk Region, Middle Urals. The village of Malyi Turysh is located 220km South-West of Yekaterinburg and 30 km away from the Trans-Siberian trainstation of Krasnoufimsk that lies on the way between Perm and Yekaterinburg.

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In the Soviet Union Malyi Turysh was a large village but now only 16 houses are left with pensioners living there.

Guzel Shanzapova, a young entrepreneur from Moscow and the co-founder of Cocco Bello project is now putting here energy and efforts for the village of her grandparents  to survive and thrive again. Guzel and her parents have a family business in Malyi Turysh:  beekeeping farm and a little candy factory that employs the elderly people of the village. The elderly women collect wild berries and then the factory produces whipped honey with berries, jams and hard candies.

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Guzel and one of her local employees

Guzel and one of her local employees. Photo from Facebbok Guzel Sanzhapova

Guzel also organizes eco-tourism to the village. Travelers can stay at the guest house with 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, living-dining room and a work area with wi-fi. Besides you can have a Russian banya with a little summer swimming pool (in winter Russian dive in snow after banya), a work shop at the factory: to make your own taste of honey with berries or caramel spoons with herbs, excursion to the beekeeping farm and a barbeque in the evening.

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With the help of crowdfounding projects Guzel is now collecting money for a social center with a library in Malyi Turysh and she has more ideas how to change a once dying village into a happy eco-place for the dwellers and international visitors.

Sabine and James stayed in the village in August 2018

Sabine and James stayed in the village in August 2018

Here’s a promo-video about Cocco Bello Honey company with stunning views of the village starring the famous babushkas of Malyi Turysh.

You can also read the feedback in the blog of Cedric, one of the first visitors of the guesthouse. He stayed with his family in Malyi Turysh in the summer of 2017. http://www.giftworldtour.com/2017/07/28/en-route-to-maly-turysh-stay-in-maly-turysh/

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7Jun/180

Life in Tundra. Numto Nature Park. Part III

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Valya, Nents and Lyudmila, Khanty

In the previous posts I wrote about my experience of getting to tundra and living with reindeer herders. After that a Nenets family took me to the village of Numto, in the center of Numto Nature Park. Again I sat on the narty (sledges) with Valya. Traditionally, a man is riding a snowmobile and women travel in a narty behind. There was a blizzard starting and we had to hurry but in the middle of the road the snowmobile got broken. While Kostya, Valya’s husband was fixing it, Valya said philosophically – reindeer are slower than a snowmobile but they don’t break in the middle of the road.

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Valya, a nents woman in her husband's malitsa (winter coat of reindeer skin)

Valya and Kostya don’t have reindeer. They live in the village of Numto and work for the construction company from Yekaterinburg. This company is building wooden houses in Numto for the natives. Most of the natives live in tundra at their pastures but don’t mind getting a house for free from the government. The population of Numto is about 60 people. Officially 120 but that’s including children and adults who study and work in the mainland.

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The village of Numto is a cultural and social center of the nature park: it has a clinic, one shop and a helicopter parking. The helicopter comes twice a week bringing goods, food, salaries and pensions for the locals. The citizens of Numto are Khanty and Nenets. One Mansi man, the husband of the doctor is a new comer. He told me that life is much harder here and more primitive than in other districts of Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Republic. So this man hopes to leave the place soon. Since not long ago one Russian man came to live here permanently. Anton, a worker of the Yekaterinburg construction company married a local girl and stayed in Numto. He’s probably the only one Russian who has ever done it in tundra. Another builder Aleksey married a native woman from Numto but took her and her kids to Yekaterinburg.

Russian workers in Numto. Aleksey (left), Anton (right)

Russian workers in Numto. Aleksey (left), Anton (right)

I stayed in Numto at Granny Tanya, a Khanty woman. Her family lives in tundra and she came to the village for a couple of weeks for medical treatment. In April there’s not much work at the pasture so her husband stayed alone but Tanya always has something to do. First of all we drank tee with sweets and home-baked bread in her kitchen - a usual ritual of the natives when a guest arrives. Then Tanya showed me the malitsas (fur coats) that she was making for her family members. For a malitsa Khanty and Nenets people use various furs: silver fox, swan feathers. The fur is worn inwards. Deer skin malitsas are used only for severe winter days when the temperature drops below -50C because the reindeer fur and skin is very warm. As Tanya said,  you can sleep in it on the snow in winter. Threads are made of reindeer veins, ordinary threads from a shop are not so reliable.

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Tanya, a Khanty woman in a traditional malitsa

Tanya, a Khanty woman in a traditional malitsa

Tanya showed me how she was making kisy (boots). They are made of reindeer kamusy (skin from animals’ legs. For a pair of boots you need about 18 kamusy (legs) but they will wear for 20 years, Tanya promises. Kisy have two layers: with fur inwards and the other one outwards.

Kisy (reindeer skin boots)

Kisy (reindeer skin boots)

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Tanya is often invited to the towns in the mainland to hold workshops for native women. She teaches them various techniques on how to make traditional clothes, boots and other things.

Tanya and an article about her in a local newspaper

Tanya and an article about her in a local newspaper

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Tanya is lucky – two of her sons chose to stay in tundra. The daughters got married and left for bigger towns. The problem is that at the age of 7 native kids are taken to the mainland. They study at boarding schools and visit the parents only during school holidays. Of course, the majority don’t return to tundra later - to work hard getting only reindeer meet in return and some money from selling berries and mushrooms in August-September.

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After having lunch of reindeer meet, Tanya collected all the bones and we went for a walk. At first I didn’t understand why she took a bucket with deer bones with her. But then I realized that it was a part of a shamanistic ritual. She disposed the bones in the river that flows into sacred Lake Numto. Despite the fact that some natives were converted into Orthodoxy and the village even has a small church, most of the people remain shamanists and animists.

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Skulls of reindeer on a tree - is a sign of a shamanic shrine. People are not allowed to toch them

An island in the middle of Numto lake is a place of shamans gatherings in summer time. In the past the natives didn’t even fish in the ‘sky-lake’ (num – sky, to – lake). Now they do fishing and swimming but it’s still forbidden for women to swim there. Tanya said that women go swimming to another lake in summer time far away from the eyes of the people. A life of a woman in Numto is very conservative. Females wear scarves and hide their hair all year long. And they wear dresses all the time. Tanya said that she can’t understand Russians in the city – wearing pants they all look the same men and women.

Fishing boats under snow

Fishing boats under snow

 

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wooden container for fishing

In the evening our neighbors heated a banya (steam-bath) and I enjoyed having a hot wash. At the end of April it was -20 in Numto and about -30 at night time. But the wooden houses are well heated with ovens and it’s very warm indoors. Fortunately, Khanty and Nenets live in forest-tundra here, so wood is not a problem.

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Next morning I had to leave Numto. Again getting to narty, this time 40km to the car road seemed ok, even great. The red sun was rising at 4am above the white solemn frosty tundra. I wrapped my face with a woolen scarf, so that only eyes were seen and was thinking that tonight I’ll be in Yekaterinburg where it’s +15. Unbelievable!

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Before going to Numto I had been told that after visiting the tundra you will want to come back again and again. And it’s true. I know that I should bring beads for Lyudmila’s needlework, ointment for Tanya, as her hands are in constant pain of hard work, bullets for Grigoriy as they are cheaper home than in the North. It means that, next visit is inevitable now and by the way, you are welcome to join!

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29May/180

Life in Tundra. Numto Nature Park. Part II

In the first post I wrote about Lake Numto, Numto Nature Park and how to get there on zimnik – winter road. This is a story about living with the native Uralic people.

My hostess Lyudmila, Khnty woman

My hostess Lyudmila, Khnty woman

I stayed with the family of Grigoriy, a Nenets reindeer herder and a worker at the Numto Nature Park. His wife Lyudmila is a Khanty woman. The languages of Khanty and Nents people are different though they are distantly related. So at home Grigoriy and his wife speak mostly Russian but with the time Lyudmila learned the Nenets language to be able to speak to her huband’s relatives. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the natives managed to preserve their culture and traditions there despite speaking Russian, using mobile phones and driving snowmobiles instead of riding reindeer.

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The women make a lot of clothes themselves in a traditional way. They decorate everything with traditional ornaments. Men wear belts with plates made of reindeer bones with carvings of sacred northern animals: elk, bear, rein deer, duck etc.

Lyudmila posing in her hand made dresses

Lyudmila posing in her hand made dresses

Lyudmila posing in her hand made dresses and kisy (deer skin boots)

Lyudmila posing in her hand made dresses and kisy (deer skin boots)

The indigenous people are very hospitable. They don’t ask many questions - who you are or why you are here. If you are here they will share their food, will boil tea quickly and offer you a place to sleep with many warm blankets for as long as you need. When I arrived Lyudmila offered me hot tea with lots of sweets and grouse meat that Grigoriy had brought from a hunt. Two things the natives got used to and now can’t live without are wheat bread and sweets, so it’s always a good idea to bring something with. Later we ate reindeer meat in various dishes. Every time it was so delicious.

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reindeer meat

reindeer meat

Eating reindeer tendons

Eating reindeer tendons

A day of a Khanty or Nenets woman begins at 6 in the morning. She gets up, goes to the water well to fill in heavy buckets. To get water she has to break the ice first. Then she hacks wood outside to heat the oven, boils tea and cooks breakfast. At 8am her husband gets up. They have breakfast and he leaves for hunting or checking reindeer or fixing something in the yard. Lyudmila stays at home alone for a whole day now with her companion – Kisa, the cat. She cooks, knits, hacks wood again and brings more water. In the evening as her husband comes home he switches on the generator. Then the family can have electric light in house, charge their mobiles and watch TV.

Lyudmila and her cat are going to bring water from the well

Lyudmila and her cat are going to bring water from the well

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She has to break a layer of ice first

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On the second day Grigoriy took me to the pasture. In winter time reindeer graze far from home because they can’t walk in the deep snow in the forest. Again I sat on narty (sledge) holding them tight with both hands. This time I wasn’t as stressed as on my first day travelling in narty. I was getting used to this way of transportation

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 Meeting reindeer was one of the greatest moments of my journey. The animals were solemnly walking in the sunlit white tundra. Some of them were grazing, digging out yagel (moss) from snow. Others were lying, resting in peace. Tundra was completely silent. Grigoriy brought a sack of frozen fish – a special treat for the reindeer. Obviously, the animals knew that trick and came closer. No matter how hard I tried to lure them with a frozen fish, they wouldn’t come to close to me. Reindeer are wild animals, to use them for riding a man has to catch them first with a lasso. Then it takes time and special knowledge how to tame them.

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In winter (which in Tundra is a season from October till early May) reindeer are quite self-sufficient. May is a difficult month for a reindeer herder – this is when bears wake up. Still hungry a bear can kill all the calves in one day. A rein herder should watch his animals for 24 hours. By the way, bears are still sacred for the native Uralic people. They kill bears only as a big necessity, never for fun. After killing a bear there were long rituals of asking for mercy from a bear because the brown bear is a fore-father of humans according to Khanty’s and Mansi’s beliefs. As Grigoriy said – it’s useless to search and hunt for bears. If a bear is ready to leave this world he will come to you himself. Besides, you have to be a very skillful shooter to shoot a bear.

Grigoriy, Nenets, a reindeer hereder and a worker of the Numto Nature Park

Grigoriy, Nenets, a reindeer herder and a worker of the Numto Nature Park

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Having spent two days in the forest with the reindeer herders I was taken to the village of Numto on the shore of the sacred sky-lake. To be continued…

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23May/180

Life in Tundra. Numto Nature Park. Part I

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At the end of April 2018 my dream came true – I managed to get to the Tundra and to meet native Uralic people of the North of the Urals Khantys and Nenets living in their natural environment.

I visited the territory of Numto Nature Park on the border of Kanty-Mansi and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous areas. Numto means a sky lake. Large Numto lake is a sacred place for the natives. It has an island in a shape of a heart that attracts shamans. In the past people didn’t fish there. These days they do fishing but it’s still forbidden for women to swim in the lake.

Numto Nature park is located 450 km north of Surgut city. Surgut is easy to reach by train or plane. Then a 4-hour drive through a vast sandy terrain of tundra. After that the road ends and the last 40km to the village of Numto and the lake are only accessible on zimnik.

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Narty - wooden sledge that native people use

Zimnik - winter road for trucks and off-road geeps

Zimnik - winter road for trucks and off-road geeps

Zimnik  - means a winter road. It’s a snowy road made by tractors when the soil is frozen. Without that road Numto is only reachable by a helicopter that comes to the village 1-2 times a week bringing pensions and salaries to the villagers, food and other products that the natives have ordered from the main land. Fortunately, winters are long in tundra. At the end of April it was still -20 and the snow was solid. However, the natives also use snowmobiles a lot - even in summer time a light snowmobile can easily go through sands and swamps.

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The journey starts from the territory of the oil and gas company. In fact, the nature park is surrounded by drilling rigs that made Green Peace take some actions at Lake Numto. At the same time the workers of the oil and gas company are the source of income for the natives as they can trade with the Russian workers selling them reindeer meat, wild berries and mushrooms in autumn. Otherwise nobody buys those things as generally speaking there are no humans for many kilometers away. The only thing that is strictly forbidden to bring through the check points of the oil company is alcohol. Then again, they are not allowed to check the natives so tundra is not quite a sober land.

My friends arranged my accommodation at the family of Grigoriy, a Nenets reindeer herder who lives with his Khanty wife Lyudmila at the winter pasture. To get there I had to sit on narty – wooden sledges covered with warm reindeer skins, and off we go through the forest and tundra.

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My guest family lives in a small wooden cabin and they have many other wooden shelters around to store goods and snowmobiles. These days native people in that area are not nomads and they don’t live in a chum(yurt made of deer skins). The families migrate several times a year changing their winter home for the summer wooden residence. Some families move around 4 times a year changing pastures every season. As Numto located in the forest-tundra, the natives prefer living in the woods while their reindeer graze in an open space in tundra. There the snow is not so deep and the animals can easily find yagel (moss).

 

Lyudmila in her winter house

Lyudmila in her winter house

Lobaz - Khanty storage of food on tall legs - to prevent from animals, especially bears

Lobaz - Khanty storage of food on tall legs - to prevent from animals, especially bears

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Reindeer are everything for the natives – food, clothes, necessary equipment (they make threads and ropes of skin and veins) and transportation. When our snowmobile got broken in the middle of tundra and in the middle of a blizzard, Valya, a Nenets woman said that reindeer are slower of course but they don’t break and don’t need expensive fuel. Yet, these days even natives prefer to go faster. To be continued…

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6Apr/180

Were to buy gems in Yekaterinburg. Ural bijou designer

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You often send me questions about the Ural gems and where to buy them. Fortunately, the traditions of stone cutting and jewelry art has remained in the Urals. In Yekaterinburg you can meet people who have dedicated their lives and careers to the Ural gems.

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One of them is Irina Zakhozhay, a designer of bijouterie. She has just been awarded as the Jewelry Designer of 2017 in Sverdlovsk Region. Irina is a frequent partner of the Ural Fashion Week and Miss Yekaterinburg Beauty Pageant. She is not a professional designer though. Irina graduated the Ural Polytechnical University and she is an engineer and a lawyer by profession. Her love to stones had begun in the childhood with her grandmother’s collection and it finally won.

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Despite all her titles and popularity in Yekaterinburg, Irina is a very humble easy-going person. We met not long ago in her salon. She makes everything herself with the help of only one assistant . The workshop is located in the same place. So you can come to the shop, meet the owner, see how she works and have a cup of coffee with her. Customers often bring their dresses to choose a necklace or a bracelet to match the outfit

Irina in her salon

Irina in her salon

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Irina is a stone designer with a typically Ural approach: while jewelry designers all over the world draw a sketch of an item and then search for necessary stones, Ural designers start with a stone. You take a raw mineral, study it and try to understand what story the stone is telling you. That’s why traditionally Ural jewelry is quite massive. It’s a crime for the locals to change the shape of natural minerals. Stones are beautiful as they are.

Ural jewelry is quite massive

Ural jewelry is quite massive

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You can even bring your own stone to the salon and the designer will think how to make a jewelry piece out of it. If you need something simple and the stones are available in the workshop it may sometimes take 1 hour for Irina to create a bracelet or earrings for you.

This quartz is as beautiful as it is

This quartz is as beautiful as it is

Irina states that she works with bijou only, i.e. uses gems, not precious stones. That’s why the prices in her salon are very fair. You can find items on sale from the old collections for 500rub and massive necklaces from the Ural Fashion Week for 7000rub (100euro).

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The bijou salon of Irina Zakhozhay is located in the center of Yekaterinburg. Business Center Manhattan on Mamina Sibiryaka st., 101. 2nd Floor, Office 222. The online shop is not available yet but you can always contact the designer on her Facebook business page:  https://www.facebook.com/irina.zahohzay?fref=pb&hc_location=friends_tab

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p.s. This post is not commercial just like the other ones. The idea of the blog is to bring the Urals closer to you and to make it more open for the outside world. I only write about places and people who in my opinion try to make the Urals a better place for living and traveling and whom I like myself. So, obviously, this whole blog is very subjective.

Filed under: Shopping No Comments
20Mar/180

Kachkanar Mt. and Shad Tchup Ling Buddhist Center

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This winter I finally managed to return to the only one in the Urals Buddhist Center Shad Tchup Ling on Mt. Kachkanar.

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In the recent years the local Media has been writing about the inevitable shutdown of the monastery because it was built illegally and because the nearby area is going to be used by Kachkanar Iron Mining Plant. But despite all the articles in the newspapers, the dwellers of Mt. Kachkanar stay calm and happy and continue building.

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The construction of the monastery takes a lot of time and incredible efforts – to lift the materials up the mountains is quite a challenge. Now the Buddhists have a crane device but mostly they deliver everything manually or with the help of the dogs. They say it will take another hundred years to build everything as planned but even now the territory looks impressive.

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As usual at weekends the monastery is full of visitors. Tourists, hikers, curious people come for a day or two. It’s always a good idea to leave donations (to bring something useful or share food). Some people stay longer – for a week or for several months. That’s why it’s hard to tell how many people currently live on top of Kachkanar.

WC on the edge of the cliff

WC on the edge of the cliff

And the view from WC

And the view from WC

Technically Shad Tchup Ling can’t be called a monastery. The first educated monks will arrive in a year (right now two people study at Buddhist school abroad). The others are those who chose a rather solitary way of life of tough labour and mantra reading.

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Open pit of Kachkanar Iron Ore Mining Plant 7km away from the monastery

Open pit of Kachkanar Iron Ore Mining Plant 7km away from the monastery

For hikers Shad Tchup Ling is a good place to stay for lunch and to store personal belongings before going out to explore the nearby rocks. And the rocks are amazing there.

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It’s possible to see Mt Kachkanar in one day from Yekaterinburg if you start very early: distance Yekaterinburg – Kachkanar 250km. There’s a parking place outside the plant. Then walk 8km up the mountain to the Buddhist Monastery.

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8Jan/180

How to make an ice sculpture

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Every winter we post photos of the beautiful ice sculptures from the Square of 1905 in Yekaterinburg and from the Ice contest in front of the Church on the Blood.

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While it's hard to see how the ice town in the main scare is built because they put a wall around the square during the construction, you can watch ice sculptors working in front of the Church on the Blood.

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The annual contest for the best sculpture is held in front of the church. In 2018 the theme of the ice exhibition was the Romanovs. In July 2018 we have the memorial days dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Tsar's execution.

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The sculptors start working two days before Orthodox Christmas and work very fast. I happened to pass the church twice on January 5th. It was amazing to watch how quickly ice cubes are shaping up into pieces of art.

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The sculptures will stay here until they melt naturally. Usually it happens in mid February. Untill then you can enjoy the magic of ice!

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21Nov/170

German documentary about the Ural village Irgisli

Our askural-blog-reader Pio Luis sent me the link on the German documentary asking where the village of Irgisli is located.
Irgisli is located in the Southern Urals, Republic of Bashkortostan, 400km South-East of Ufa, the capital of Bashkir Republic.


The documentary is worth watching if you want to know about Real Russia and about rural life in the Ural villages.
Even though it was made in 2004, I believe not much has changed in Irgisli since then. And it's in English!

Filed under: Ural Region, Video No Comments
26Oct/170

Fairy Tale Park and Bazhov’s Malachite Box

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Park Skazov (Fairy Tale Park) is a themed park mainly for children based on the fairy tales by the Ural author Pavel Bazhov and other Russian folk stories.

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Pavel Bazhov (1879 - 1950) was born in the town of Sysert 30km South of Yekaterinburg. Then he moved to Yekaterinburg. When working as a journalist he traveled a lot in the Urals collecting the local folklore. His most famous book The Malachite Box is a collection of the fairy tale from the Urals. All the places in the tales are non-fiction but the real proper names of lakes, mountains and villages of the Ural Mountains.

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One of the main characters Danila, the craftsman is a prototype of Danila Zverev, a well known jeweler in Sverdlovsk Region whom Bazhov knew personally. The central character of the Malachite Box is the Mistress of the Copper Mountains. She is believed to be the owner of the Ural gems who lives in the cave and looks like a lizard but occasionally turns into an attractive woman wearing a green (malachite colored) dress.

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The Mistress of the Copper Mount meets tourists in the park's cave and asks them tricky questions. If you answer correctly she agrees to open her treasure box and shows the Ural gems.

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In Granny Nina's house children can play with puppets of Danila the craftsman, the deer called the Silver Shoe and other characters of well knonn Bazhov's fairy tales.

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You can also rest on the oven (a traditional place for sleeping in the wooden izba) and feed the animals outside.

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Baba Yaga is a witch from Russian fairy tales also appears as a character and an animator in the park. According to the fairy tales she lives in a house with chicken legs. Even though she looks like a scary witch in the end she is a friendly Russian babushka who lets you in her weird house.

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Finally the Park has the residence of the Moroz Ural (Frost Ural). Although he points out that he is not the Father Frost who comes to Russian kids with gifts on New Year eve, the concept is very similar.

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Generally the Park of the Fairy Tales is of course designed for Russian children, ut the adults and foreign guests may find it amusing too especially if you speak Russian and if you do the homework - read the Malachite Box by Pavel Bazhov. By the way, it was translated into English so you can find it on Amazon.

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Fairy Tale Park is located in Aramil (20km South of Yekaterinburg) Park Skazov st, 1. http://parkskazov.ru/

Opened for individual visitors: Fri-Sun 10.00 - 18.00. For organized groups the park works during a working week as well.