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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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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.

28Jan/160

How to celebrate Russian Christmas in the Urals

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On January 9th 2016 our international team of tourists went to the village of Kostino (130km East of Yekaterinburg) where we celebrated Svyatki. Svyatki or saint days is a mixture of pagan believes and Christian traditions celebrated between Ortodox Christmas (Jan.7th) and Epiphany (Jan. 19th).

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The first week of Svyatki is called a saint week and includes celebrating of Christmas. The second week is called "scary". Slavic people believed that evil forces are particular dangerous during that week.  It includes fortune telling at night, carroling and playing outdoor games.

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Fortune telling is one of the traditions in January. Young girls got together in a banya at night to find out who they would marry and how soon. But first a girl had to take off her cross. Christian and pagan rites had to be separated.

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In Kostino we used candle wax and a bowl with water to predict the future. You can guess the meaning of the shapes made by the drops of wax.

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 When carrolling people wear masks of animals (bears, goats, bulls or geese etc) so that they can't be recognized   and one man should be dressed as a goat. If a host refuses to share drinks and treats with carrol singers, the goat can do some mischief. That's why we were treated well and our ‘goat’ – a French guest Gerard got a lot of drinks.

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We all agreed that Kostino is worth coming back in summer. So on July 9th we'll have another weekend tour to the village to celebrate a pagan slavic day of Ivan Kupala!

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9Special thanks to my Moscow friend Katya Sverchkova for the beautiful photos.

26Aug/140

Irbit Fair and the Ural motorcyle factory

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On August 22nd we went to the annual fair in Irbit. Irbit is a town on the Eastern slope of the Ural mountains 200km east of Yekaterinburg. Back in the days Irbit was a gateway to Siberia. Thanks to its favourable location, the town became an attraction for Russian merchants who came to buy and sell goods from Siberia at the fair.

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In 19th century Irbit Fair was the second largest in Russia after Nizhni Novgorod. The fair was famous for fabrics, Siberian furs and tea from China. In the Soviet period the fairs were not held in the Ural town but the tradition came back in 2002.

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You can still buy a bear skin in Irbit!

You can still buy a bear skin in Irbit!

In the past the fair took place in winter and lasted for a month. These days the fair is held every 4th weekend of August from Friday till Sunday. Irbit Fair is an exhibition of various crafts in the Urals from making feltboots valenki to baking gingerbread. Local craftsmen invite you to the workshops. The guests are treated with tea and blinis.

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Irbit is also famous for its Motorcycle Museum as the town is the home of the IMZ Ural motorcycle factory. In the USSR Ural bike was a very popular transport but in the 1990s the factory went bankrupt.

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Fortunately deallers abroad were found and today Ural bikes are craftwork. The factory produces 1200 motorcycles a year, 95%  of them are exported. One of the Ural bikes with a sidecar belongs to the Hollywood actor Brad Pitt.

Irbit has the Motorcycle Museum but thanks to the Center of Tourism Development of Sverdlovsk Region my colleagues and I were lucky to get to the factory.

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By the way, the Ural factory has a nice website in English, in case you decide to buy one http://uralmoto.ru/en/

Click the gallery to see more photos from the  motorcycle factory and of the fair

 

 

4Mar/140

Maslenitsa in an old style in the village of Kostino

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On March 2 we organized a one day tour to the country to celebrate the pre-lent pancake festival called Maslenitsa. Maslenitsa is probably the only pagan celebration in Russia that has survived until nowadays with all the rites and traditions. After Christianity of Russia the Orthodox Church had to change the dates of the Lent so that people could eat pancakes and go crazy on Maslenitsa. As for the Russian Tsars, they liked to have fun too. Even the Soviet regime couldn’t change Russian habits.

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To have a proper Maslenitsa fest it’s a good idea to go to the country. Our group of Russians and expats from Italy, France, USA, Serbia and India went to the village of Kostino 130km East of Yekaterinburg. Kostino is one of the most prosperous villages in the area thanks to the Kolkhoz (a collective farm) which is still active. Our Maslenitsa began in the local museum where we were greeted with bread and salt (a Russian tradition of greeting special guests) – everyone has to try a bit of bread with salt before entering the house.

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After the excursion in the museum we had a workshop – learnt how to make an obereg – a special maslenitsa talisman that symbolizes the sun and protects from the evil spirits. Considering the fact that we met no spirits on that day, the talisman worked!

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The folk performance in the museum consisted of songs and blinis. Some of the maslenitsa traditions were quite brutal. A son-in-law would beat his mother-in-law with a wooden stick thus wishing her good health and longevity. Another tradition was a mass fist fight of men. It was called a-wall-to wall fight. The most dangerous one was a fight with a bear. Surely, such fights involved drinking including drinking vodka with a bear!

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Fortunately, there were no bears in Kostino and instead of vodka we were treated with a local liqueur. The main part of the festival was held outside. Having dressed up a little bit all the guests took part in fun skiing and horse riding competitions, a race with a frying pan full of pancakes etc. Finally we burnt down the maslenitsa doll saying farewell to the winter.

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Even though we are still having minus temperatures in March in the Urals, the spring has come to the people who follow the traditions of their forefathers. Well, except for beating your mother-in-law!     

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special thanks to Irina Loktionova and Venu Panicker for the photos!

23Aug/130

Yekaterinburg – 290s Jubilee

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photo from www.e1.ru

On August 17th Yekaterinburgers celebrated 290s Birthday of the city. The Jubilee attracted half a million people (one third of the city population). Probably the number of people was so big due to the weather: +30 Celcius. Occasional rains during the day were a relief for many. In my opinion, the next step for the government should be – to clean the city pond so that we could bathe right in the city center!

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The so-called City’s Day (Den Goroda) is celebrated in Yekaterinburg on the third weekend of August. Although, officially it’s November 17th. On this date in 1723 the State Iron Factory of the future Yekaterinburg was put into operation. Well, the history is the history but November here is bitterly cold so let it be August!

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If you asked the locals what they usually do on the city’s Birthday most of them would say “Oh, we go to datcha to stay away from the crowd” or something like “I never go to the city center on this day, who wants to see all those drunk slobs from Uralmash and vicinities”. So the general opinion is that the City’s Day is a chaos when Lenin Street is occupied by the chaffs from the industrial neighborhoods. Frankly speaking it used to be so even 5 years ago but things are changing. The alcohol ban in the city center helps a bit but most importantly, the people’s mentality is changing. Young people prefer dancing on the streets to drinking on the corner.

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Alyona Grigoryan, my Facebook friend posted the other day the following comment:

“This year, the City’s Day was a nice surprise. The festival itself wasn’t a surprise, it was just very good!!! I was surprised to see so many happy people who really enjoyed the holiday. The people were so beautiful, well-dressed like in a summer resort. So many people came with the families, with children and grannies. Lots of people came with little kids and babies and nobody was afraid of a crowd. There were many policemen, all dressed in white, they were friendly. May be that’s the reason why everything was quiet, nobody tried to make a row. I hardly saw any drunk people, even those with beer were stopped by the police. I saw how the policewomen came to men with beer and asked to take it away. And there were many nice intelligent faces. 6 years ago it was impossible to see. So beautiful! People were sitting on the lawns just like in Europe. They were enjoying their time and having fun. The city is really improving. I wish it were always like that!”

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Only on the City's Day you can be lying on the lawn on Lenin St. in front of the Residence of the President of Russia!

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click on gallery to see more faces of Yekaterinburg and the fireworks:

24Jul/130

Festival of Church Bells in Kamensk-Uralski

Last Saturday the regional Ministry of Tourism invited the travel agencies of Yekaterinburg to the Festival of Church Bells to the city of Kamensk-Uralski.

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Kamensk-Uralski is the third largest city in Sverdlovsky Region (Middle Urals). I doubt it will ever become a popular tourist  destination but it has beautiful river sceneries around and the festival is worth seeing too. The city of metallurgists holds the Festival of Church Bells every year in July. A local citizen Mr. Pyatkov opened his bell foundry here in 1991. Now it’s the largest bell producer in Russia and abroad.

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Our visit started at the bell foundry. There are excursions to the foundry held daily Mon-Fri. You can see how the church bells are made and of course try to make it ring!

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The festival held in front of the chapel included dancing, singing and lots of ringing.

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They say that bell ringing has an ability to heal people. Bell towers of Russian Churches are always located in the western corner. It is believed the bells can scare evil forces that always come from the west. Just like the communists used to say!  

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Lenin and the communists on the wall of the town hall of Kamensk-Uralski

On that hot summer day not every one chose to listen to the bells

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boys swimming in the fountain

photos by Irina Loktionova

 

25Mar/132

Maslenitsa in Aramashevo village

Last weekend (March 16) we gathered an international team of expats and travelers from the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Russia to go to the village of Aramashevo (110 km of Yekaterinburg) to celebrate Maslenitsa (Pancake festival before the Lent)

We’d chosen the village as my colleagues (other guides in Yekaterinburg) recommended it as the best place for Maslenitsa. And even though the pancake feast is celebrated in every village and in many parks of Yekaterinburg, I’m sure we were at the right place for a true folk fest!

Aramashevo was founded in 16th century by the Cossacks. The village is located on top of the cliff on the bank of the Rezh River. It’s worth coming here in summer to enjoy a wonderful view from the cliff. The river is also god for rafting. The Museum of the History of Rural Life in the Urals will be an interesting visit any time of the year.

The best thing of the museum is that you can touch everything, put on the clothes of the farmers or play the music instruments. For the guys from New Zealand and Australia it was a true fun to play a babushka and dedushka:

Meanwhile the Russians rally enjoyed the Soviet room of the museum:

We also had a workshop and made vesnyanochka – a doll, the symbol of the coming spring

After the excursion we went outside and joined the villagers in different types of competitions.

After energetic dances we got to the main part of the festival – burning down Maslenitsa which symbolizes farewell to winter.

The weirdest thing about the Maslenitsa in Aramashevo was that there were no pancakes! We expected lots of pancakes but instead got pirogi (pies) and shashlik (BBQ). The local sbiten – a honey alcoholic drink was nothing but herbal tea with vodka in it. Nonetheless, we had a lot of fun and did the main thing – said good bye to the winter. As we returned back to Yekaterinburg in the evening, it was + 10!

10Jan/130

Welcome to vodka tasting on the Europe-Asia border

The Your Yekaterinburg newspaper and AskUral.com invite you to join a vodka tasting tour!

We'll fill you in with history of the Urals, Russian drinking traditions and of course different types of vodka. You will learn Russian toasts and sing Russian drinking songs with us!

January 20 at 14.00
Meeting point: 51, Lenina, in front of the University

price: 950 rub
please, confirm that you are coming and pay in advance
tel: +79122800870
email: yekaterinburg4u@gmail.com

3Sep/120

Arkaim, an archeological site or a place of power?

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.

The form of the ancient town (the museum of history in Arakaim)

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.

On the way 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.

Morning exercises

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.

Tourists are walking on the mountain of atonement

Me on top of the Love Mount

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.