At the end of May our Russian-American-French team (the members of the English club and the expats in Yekaterinburg) went to the Falconry Center “Kholzan”. Kholzan is a rehabilitation center for birds of prey.
Golden eagles, sea-eagles, falcons and other birds are usually brought to the center in a very poor condition: some of them got hit by cars on highways but mostly the birds were the victims of hunters. As the guides of the center said, every August when villagers go to pick up mushrooms and berries in the woods, the center receives dozens of wounded owls picked up by the villagers. For hunters it’s just sport – to shoot a big bird. For the workers of Kholzan it’s an every-day work to cure the birds of prey.
Some birds will never be able to fly. They stay in the center forever. In such cases the center tries to find or to buy mates for them.
After the excursion we sat in the wooden house where we received herbal tea and watched a documentary on the life of birds of prey. Normally, the tour includes watching the falcons hunting up in the sky but that week the young falcons were injured so we just took pictures with them.
Instead of a hunt the falconers showed us a flight of an eagle-owl in the woods.
A three hour stay in Kholzan ends up with a barbeque. You can bring sausages and other food to have a picnic in the fresh air.
The falconry center Kholzan is located 30km of Yekaterinburg near the town of Sysert in the territory of the Sova recreation center.
Dog sledging is something that you expect to have in Alaska or in Yakutia but Ural winters are snowy enough to offer this type of entertainment for travelers.
This winter I discovered two places where you can meet Huskies and feel yourself like Nenets (indigenous people of Northern Arctic Russia)
Ethnic center Akvilon is located in Chelyabinsk Region (Southern Urals). The center is aimed to show the life of northern people: a guide who is dressed like a snow maid will show you a chum (igloo), you will have a cup of tea with a local shaman and talk to a Yakutian Father Frost. However, those people are far from being indigenous – most of them work and teach history at the University of Chelyabinsk.
Having met all those characters we finally got to the field for dog sledging. But because there were about 40 people in our group we could only sledge one time which lasted about 2 minutes.
One big advantage of Akvilon – they have a lot of dogs and apart from huskies that are for sledging, you will spend some time playing with the cutiest creatures –Samoyed Laikas.
Samoyeds are very friendly and playful dogs. They are named so after the Nenets people who were also called Samoyeds by the Russians. The word means ‘selfeaters’ in Russian but there is the second meaning: ‘self riders’. When the Russians saw the sledging Nenets at a distance, they couldn’t see their white dogs in the snow so they thought that the Nenets were moving on their own.
Akvilon is 30 km of Chelyabinsk which makes about 230 km of Yekaterinburg. So it’s certainly not worth going just for two minutes of dog sledging unless you have some other things to do in the region. Chelyabinsk is not the most interesting Russian city to explore either. Although, thanks to the meteorite that dropped near the city in February 2012 it may attract some curious individuals. The citizens of Chelyabinsk are planning to erect a monument to the meteorite in the near future.
Price: 540rub per person for dog sledging; 890rub for the whole program at the center.
Dog sledging in the village of Chernoistochinsk (near Nizhni Tagil)
Irina, the owner of five huskies had been waiting for two years until her dogs grew up and got trained well enough to sled. In the winter of 2012-13 she started organizing dog sledging in her native village. Next winter (2013-14) one more puppy should be big enough to pull sleds.
You can sled this husky family for one hour and pay more to prolong it if there are no tourists coming after you. As we came in a group of 30 people, we booked two hours and paid the same price as those who book one hour: 100 rub per person. If you book and individual tour, you can sled in the forest which makes it more fun compared to the small circle in the center of the village that we were offered.
Chernoistocbinsk is 160 km north of Yekaterinburg. Apart from dog sledging you can also visit a nearby deer farm: to feed Kaspian deer, Yakutian horses and African ostriches that live in one place. It is also on the way to Belaya Mount (711m) – a mountain ski resort with a beautiful view of Northern Urals.
There is no infrastructure in Chernoistochinsk. The nearest place to eat and have a cup of tea is in Nizhni Tagil (20km) or at Belaya Mount (10km) Otherwise, take your own flask and snacks.
Price: 1 hour - 1500rub for individuals; 100rub per person for large groups
Yekaterinburg Zoo is not the main sightseeing of the city but it can be interesting for a change (after all the Romanovs’ sites one may want to see something more uplifting).
The collection of the zoo numbers 380 species and 1200 animals. At the same time the area of our zoo is only 2 000 sq.m. No wonder, as it is squeezed in the center of the most compact Russian city.
The zoo was founded in 1930. By that time the Bolsheviks had destroyed the old cemetery near the Novotikhvinsky Convent (now it is the park Zelyonaya Roscha). The place was meant to become the zoo area. Meanwhile, the first collection of the animals was located on Mamina Sibyarika, 189. The temporary place became a permanent one. Nowadays nobody wants to change the central location of the zoo.
The first director of the zoo Valery Schlezeger was executed by the KGB in 1938. He was accused of plotting the murder of the Communist leaders by freeing the tiger…
Umka, the Polar bear is a true celebrity in Yekaterinburg. He was 9 months old when he was picked up by the Russian Polar expedition in 1996. Umka’s mother died and because baby bears can’t get food themselves, Umka lived with the people and then was delivered to the Urals. His girlfriend Aina arrived from the Perm Zoo. They don’t have babies yet.
Kesha, the Cuban crocodile arrived in Yekaterinburg from Kaliningrad where he had lived in an apartment but very soon had become too big and too dangerous for the family of a private collector. Kesha is fed once a week. He eats up to 3kg of fish at a time.
Zoo TV at www.ekazoo.ru shows some animals on line, for example the otter named Innokentiy and Dasha, the elephant. Dasha used to work at the famous Moscow Circus. In 2007 she arrived in Yekaterinburg. To get to the zoo, the elephant had to be lifted over the fence by a crane.
Yekaterinburg Zoo is open daily Mon-Fri 10.00-19.00, Sat-Sun 10.00-20.00
Admission: adults – 200rub, children 7-14 and students – 100rub, free admission for children to 7.
Nature park Bazhovskie Mesta is one of the largest in Middle Urals. It is also the nearest to Yekaterinburg (60km) that makes it attractive for tourists. At the end of February the managers of the park invited Yekaterinburg guides including me to check out their new route: a hiking tour with a local shaman down to the woods and to the believes of the ancient Ural tribes.
As we got to the park in an authentic Russian UAZ jeep, we were greeted by a shaman by the fireplace. We expected to share a peace pipe but he offered us herbal tea which was a good idea, considering it’s still winter here. Having put on something like Mansi overcoats we followed the shaman to learn what our ancestors believed in.
The tour lasts about three hours. It can be longer if you wish to go swimming in the lake in summer time. We learnt about bad and good spirits that inhabit forests, thanked the god of the winds for guiding us and found out that Mansi newly-weds had a honeymoon too..in a very transparent shelter.
The tour with a shaman is 6000rubles (200$) for a group of 6-10 people. You can also have it at night! In this case you walk with flaming torches which makes a whole experience very exciting.
I’ll definitely go there in summer to try out a night tour. If you are interested too, just let me know
For more summer activities in the park click here: http://askural.com/2011/06/sysert-eco-tour-on-horseback/
It says that the Queen of the Copper Mountain is a beautiful young lady who owns all the treasures hidden in the Ural Mountains. Very few people met her because she turns into a lizard every time a man comes up. There was one lucky man though: Danila, a local miner. The Queen of the Copper Mountain fell in love with him. She showed him where her gold was, in return Danila had to stay with her deep underground. The man refused for he had a fiancée at home. The Queen was kind enough to let Danila go. She even gave him a present for his fiancée. As Danila got back home he gave the present, a malachite box full of treasures, to his future bride.
However, he never married the girl, for he went insane and for the rest of his days he was dreaming of the Queen of the Copper Mountain…
This winter I was guiding a group of the 2020 Expo Committee. Yes, I should add here that Yekaterinburg is bidding to host Expo 2020 along with Dubai, San Paulo and Izmir (Turkey). We went to the border of Europe and Asia and there she was…the Queen of the Copper Mountain greeting us with karavai (a loaf of bread with salt in the middle, that you bake specially for greeting important guests)
It was a bright sunny day with -20 Celcius so the members of the Committee from Moscow, the USA and Australia felt very uncomfortable, to say the least. The Queen didn’t show us any gold loads but she had something more valuable in store: 40% proof Russian vodka! My guests couldn’t be happier. This is how you begin treasuring simple pleasures…
If you are coming to Yekaterinburg you can book a meeting with the Queen of the Copper Mountain on the Euro-Asia border but it’s better to do for large groups. It’s quite pricey for a group of two or three tourists.
But back to the Queen or is she a lizard? A legend of a giant lizard with horns was known in the Urals since the time of the cavemen. Ancient Mansi tribes called the lizard Mammoth. So the name ‘mammoth’ came from the Urals only the Mansis were mistaken about its appearance.
When the first Russian gold was found in the Urals in 1745, a lizard came to focus again. In fact, its importance can be scientifically approved: lizards choose the warmest stone in the woods to rest on and the warmest stones are the ones with gold veins underneath. In other words, follow a lizard and you may find gold as there is still plenty of it in the Urals!
You can find many souvenirs with the image of a lizard with a crown in Yekaterinburg. The same lizard was in the coat of arms of Sverdlovsk (the previous name of Yekaterinburg in the Soviet times)
Visim is a village located in National Park Visimsky, 50 km from Nizhni Tagil and 195 km to the North-West of Yekaterinburg. Why is it worth visiting? First of all, you’ll be able to see the real Ural Mountains. On your way to Visim, right on the border between Europe and Asia you pass Gora Belaya – one of the highest mountains in Middle Urals (705m). It has a well equipped skiing resort (www.gorabelaya.ru) and a chairlift operates all year long. On a sunny day you can see the village of Visim from the top of the mountain.
The landscape around Visim can be compared to Switzerland. No wonder that top local businessmen and the former Governor of Sverdlovskaya Oblast have their dachas in the area. The nearby village Uralets is the place where so-called ‘bad silver’ (first Ural platinum) was found in 1824. By 1917 Middle Urals was supplying 90% of the world’s platinum. They say you can still find platinum in local rivers.
Visim is not only a perfect retreat to breathe in fresh air and enjoy wild nature. It is also a good anthropological destination to learn more about Russian inhabitants. The village was founded in 1741 as a settlement around ironworks. The factory belonged to the Demidoffs – a famous dynasty of successful merchants in the Urals who later moved to Florence and became related to Napoleon. They brought their serfs from Ukraine and Tula (western Russia) to Visim and hired the already settled Old Believers who had fled to the Urals from Novgorod in the 1720s.
“Three Ends”, the novel by the Visim-born writer Mamin-Sibiryak, depicts lifestyles in three areas of the village. Differences can still be seen in wooden architecture – Ukrainian and Tula houses have bright colours and elaborate décor. Old Believers’ houses look dark, solid and have shutters. Over time Ukrainian and Tula villagers assimilated as both liked wine and celebrations. Old Believers, however, managed to preserve their culture and austere customs. They are known as very hard-working, non-drinking strong people. Life expectancy in Visim is very high among Old Believers, some women reach 95. To date, there are several young men in the village who claim they are Old Believers.
The population in Visim is now 1200 although in the Soviet times it was 7000. It is interesting that the villagers do not like to promote Visim. They are afraid that new-comers may spoil their quiet rural life – unlike in many other decaying Russian villages, this one looks very neat. A local businessman helps the village to survive. He is currently building a mini-hotel and a church in Visim. The businessman is of course an Old Believer. Visim has two Museums: Museum of the writer Mamin-Sibiryak and Museum of Local Crafts. Public celebrations and festivals are held during Christmas holidays and Maslenitsa (Pan Cake carnival). There is a decent café Kedr in the centre of the village.
The highlight of Visim is a deer farm. The same local businessman bought herds of Saika Deer and Caspian Red Deer; in Russia they are called Siberian stags or Marals. The deers' velvet antlers are used to produce immune stimulant and anti-cancer medicine which the owner of the farm gives to his employees.
The excursion in the farm is 50 roubles. Make sure you bring some bread to feed deer. They especially like baton (sweet white bread).
A year ago the farmers received an unexpected gift – three abandoned ostriches on the farm doorstep. The birds outlived their first winter on the farm. It turned out that ostriches can endure temperatures down to -20, not that they liked it though.
Since spring 2011 the farm has adopted five Yakut horses. There is no worry about their survival. Yakut horses will probably take Ural winters for a summer holiday.
Getting there by car: 115 km down Serovsky Trakt. Pass Lenevka Sanatorium and turn left to detour around Nizhni Tagil, then turn to Chernoistochinsk-Uralets and drive 50 km more. To enter Visim, turn left from the highway. To go to the farm go 300m straight on. The farm is the next right turn from the highway. You will see a sign in Russian 'ostriches, deer'
Getting there by bus: there are buses from Nizhni Tagil Main Bus Station. Take a bus bound for Visimo-Utkinsk and get off at Visim bus stop.
This post is for those tourists who asked me about riding a horse in the Urals.
Nature Park Bazhovskie Mesta (Bazhov’s Places) is located near the town of Sysert 60 km south of Yekaterinburg. The park is named after Pavel Bazhov, a writer from Sysert and an author of fairy-tale stories about Russian gems and jewelers based on the Urals folklore.
The forest became a nature park in 2007 almost accidentally. The government of Sysert decided to reorganize 38 hectares of forests into a park. The real purpose of the officials was to use the park partly as legitimate hunting grounds. Luckily for bears, the area was certified as Nature Park by the Regional Government which means it is now ‘especially protected natural territory’.
There is a lot to protect there. The pine tree forest is full of animals: squirrels, beavers, minks, roebucks, wild boars, elks and famous Russian brown bears. The river Chernaya, Sysertski pond and small lakes in the park are good for swimming and fishing. One of the park’s main attractions is Talkov Kamen (Talc Stone) – an old flooded talc mine. The mine is popular with divers and a glade near the mine is an ideal place for picnics.
There are numerous trails for hiking and riding horses. The park offers short and long riding tours (from 1 to 4 days) and provides the necessary equipment and meals. You can also rent a snowmobile in winter. Bicycle rental is to be opened this summer. 4 hour horse riding tour is 2.500 roubles. Book a tour a few days prior to your arrival. From summer 2012 the park offers short and long kayak trips for groupes of 2 to 6 people.
For more details call the office: +7 34374 74870, +79221235850
www.bm-park.ru (in Russian)
Getting there: from Yekaterinburg down Chelyabinski Trakt, turn right to Kashino and Sysert. Drive through Sysert further to the village of Verkhnyaya Sysert. To date, entrance fee 50 roubles, car park is free.
As summer is coming soon to the Urals, eco-tours and mountain trekking are in great demand. If you stay in Yekaterinburg for a few days, do find some time to go to Nature Park Olenyi Ruchyi (Deer Creeks). The park is very popular with local and foreign tourists due to its location – 130 km. from Yekaterinburg which is very close in terms of Russian distances.
The park is only 30 km long and 6 km wide, but the landscape is very diverse. You will see the beauty of the Ural Mountains, so very much desired by tourists because there are no mountains within the city. The landscape of Olenyi Ruchyi is mainly Ural forest and taiga along the Serga River.
There are no deer nowadays, but plenty of beavers, elks, roebucks, hogs, weasels and martens; the latter like to destroy the hives of wild bees.
There are 48 ancient caves in the park. Finno-Ugric hunters lived in the caves in 4.000b.c. Their traces can be found on the rocks – those are inscriptions and drawings of red deer, hence the name of the Park Olenyi Ruchyi
Cave Druzhba (Friendship) is 500 meters long and it’s full of water in spring time. In summer, however, you can find prints of sea shells there which prove that the sea used to divide European and Asian continents 400 million years ago.
Bolshoy Proval (great gap) is a vertical cave. It’s a 33m deep well with temperature +5C., so make sure to take a warm sweater before getting down even on a hot day.
One of the symbols of the nature park is the Angel of Hope. Similar angels can be found in Canada, Australia, Peru, Hawaii and many other countries.
The project was created by Swedish artist Lena Edval in 2004. Her angels are hugging the planet protecting it from catastrophes and terrorism.
There are two trails in the park. The short trail is 6 km (it takes about 4 hours) and the great trail is 15 km (7 hours). In both cases take snacks and drinks with you. There are a few spots where you can make a fire and pitch a tent, should you decide to stay overnight. Alternatively there are cottages to rent at the park entrance and a beer garden run by a German expat who chose to be a permanent resident in the Ural woods.
Entrance fee: 120 roubles plus 70 roubles for a parking place.
You can ask for a guided tour (in Russian only!) 2.500 – 3.500 roubles for a group up to 20 persons.
Tel. +79041725565 www.olen.ur.ru
Getting there from Yekaterinburg: by car getting there can be complicated without a navigator. Drive 120 km down Moskovsky Trakt highway. Pass the police checkpoint near Druzhinino and petrol station, then take a right turn towards Nizhniye Sergi. Follow the sign to Mikhailovsk. When you pass Polovinka village drive 2.4 km to the crossroad then turn to the left and drive 2 km to the car parking.
by bus from bus station Yuzhny Avtovokzal (8 Marta St. 145) take a bus to Mikhailovsk or Arty. Get off before Bazhukovo (tell the driver beforehand where you are going as there is no bus stop) then walk 2 km.