In August 2012 I had a chance to visit a famously mysterious place called Arkaim. The archeological site of an ancient city of Arkaim (17th century b.c.) is in Southern Urals 432 km of Chelyabinsk near the northern border of Kazakhstan.
The place was discovered in 1987 by the scientists from Chelyabinsk. Presumably the people who lived in Arkaim in 17 century b.c. belonged to Iranian or an unknown branch of Indo-Iranian culture. Their settlement for approximately 1500-2500 people was protected by two circular walls. The ancient town covered 20 000 sq meters. The people lived there for 300 years then the settlement was burned and abandoned by its dwellers for unknown reasons.
All this you can learn in a local museum. However, today Arkaim is known as a ‘place of power’ is believed to be enigmatic and it attracts hundreds of pilgrims and esoteric organizations. Some people call it Swastika city or Mandala city. Others compare it with Stonehenge. Those who visited it (including my friends in Yekaterinburg) claim that they felt positive vibes and even healing effects. Obviously I had to go there to see and hopefully to feel something extraordinary!
A camping for pilgrims is located near the archeological site but not quite close to it. The guides say that there’s not much to see there in terms archeology though whilst the nearby mountains are much more interesting for they are the true places of power. In fact, the camping looks very much like a hippy village. Honestly, If you miss the 1970s, you should pay a visit to Arkaim. The flower children of Russia on tops of the hills, talk to ancient stones and sell souvenirs (probably drugs too) from India and China.
An ordinary day in Arkaim is as follows:
6 a.m. climbing one of the mountains (they are hills actually) to see the sunrise.
7 a.m. doing morning exercises with a local trainer who also sells herbal medicine made of Arkaim herbs, of course.
9 a.m. – till the sunset: climbing the nearby mountains\hills of different significance: mountain of love, of wealth, of making wishes etc. The mountain of atonement is the most popular one as people crowds were walking there in circles (that’s what you are supposed to do to say sorry for your deeds). Surprisingly enough the mountain of love was the least popular that day. But then I understood why – it’s the highest and the steepest one.
Alternatively one can stay in the camp to listen to lectures given by various esoteric gurus, go swimming in a small river or riding horses in the endless steppes.
The night time goes more or less traditional in Arkaim: it involves drinking and eating shashlik in a local café. Alternatively one can go meditating on top of a hill.
My personal opinion is that Akaim is an amazing place for someone who arrived from Yekaterinburg surrounded by dense woods. The steppe looks beautiful and exotic, especially when you meet local Asiatic people selling fresh milk and herbal tea from samovar. The climate is fantastic (while it was miserable +16 in Middle Urals, it was +35 in Arkaim). As for the power I didn’t feel anything weird but it felt like a good day off. And the hippies, well they are quiet and harmless anyway, just like their American counterparts. So the place is worth visiting even though it’s 634km of Yekaterinburg.
To make it easy for you to decide on what tours you would like to have in the Urals, I've made these pictures with short descriptions in English and in Russian (just click on each picture to read the description)
These are 8 most popular trips in Yekaterinburg and around. Some are short and some take a whole day. So when you travel by Trans-Siberian, make sure to see one of these sights of middle Urals!
For prices and details contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook page: Yekaterinburg For You
I realized that we live in a small world when during my vacation in Kerala, India I met a local man who had lived in Yekaterinburg for 2 years. Joshy (that was his name) had worked as a chef at an Ayurvedic Spa hotel near my home city!
India is now much closer than it seemed to be. To be precise it’s only 30 km South-West to Yekaterinburg in Kungurka village. IndRa Spa hotel is an ideal get away for yoga lovers with authentic Indian food and Ayurvedic massages. And because I got hooked on Indian massages in Kerala my friend and I went out on retreat to Kungura. Besides, Rimma Ozorina who runs the place was kind enough to show us around.
Accommodation prices range between 2 and 5 thousand rubles (incl. three meals at an Indian vegetarian restaurant). IndRa has also got two designer rooms: “Maharaja” and “Indian Princess” suitable for honeymoons and special occasions for 8500 rubles.
Body massages start from 2000 rubles. It’s not as cheap as in India, but definitely more affordable compared to Moscow saloons. No wonder, the hotel has become popular with Moscow businessmen who come on business to Yekaterinburg but prefer to stay in a quiet place overnight. It takes about 40-60 min by car to get from Yekaterinburg to Kungurka.
After a delicious lunch and a massage session we were way too relaxed to try other activities that IndRa offers: tennis court, sauna and horse riding at local stables.
Kungurka is not only an Indian Spa retreat. First of all, it’s a traditional Russian village that has a certain rustic charm: old wooden houses with banyas and Orthodox churches with golden onions.
Getting there: From Yekaterinburg drive down Moskovskaya Ul. To Polevskoy Trakt (P-355). Pass Kurganovo and after the bridge turn right to Kungurka. Follow the sign “IndRa”
p.s. Good news for expats in Yekaterinburg. Some of you asked me about yoga classes in English: IndRa has Yoga and Ayurveda center on Belinskogo, 54 with English-speaking teachers from India.
More information (in Russian): http://indra-ayurveda.ru
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.