AskUral.com Hello! My name is Luba. I can show you my Yekaterinburg and Middle Urals in Russia!

12Dec/180

Yekaterinburg City tour in winter

Standing in the middle of the frozen city pond you can see many famous sites of Yekaterinburg including the Church on the Blood, Sevastyanov house and Yeltsin center.
Have a look what it's like in winter!

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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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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5Apr/171

Travelling in Southern Urals. Part V. Paris and Steps

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In the South of Chelyabinsk Oblast (Region) travelers may get confused when looking at the map: going to the border with Kazakhstan the road goes along Paris, Berlin, Fère-Champenoise, then it turns to Leipzig, passing Kassel etc. The villages in that area got their names in honor of the Russian victories in major battles of Napoleonic wars.

The village of Paris is probably the most popular one with drivers who stop to take pictures with a road sign saying Parizh to post it on Facebook. Apparently, some drivers were not satisfied with taking just photos so they took\stole the road sign at the entrance of the village. The police put a new one but it was stolen again. After that the authorities stopped bothering and we could only take a photo at the exit with a crossed Parizh sign. Hopefully it remains there for good.

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Paris, Varna, Berlin and other villages with exotic names are also interesting from the anthropological point of view. The citizens of that area are called Nagaybäks. This minority with the population of about 1000 people was officially recognized in Russia as a separate ethnic group.

The origin of the Nagaybäks remains unclear. They are Tatars allegedly from Kazan Khanate who for some reason adopted Christianity. Nagaybäks speak a dialect of the Tatar language but keep Orthodox traditions. They lived in the territory of Bashkortostan in the 17th century where they assimilated groups of Christians from Iran and Central Asia. During the revolts of Tatars and Bashkirs the Nagaybäks remained loyal to the Russian Tsars and were recruited to the Cossack Army. So Nagaybäk men took part in the wars against Napoleon in Europe as well.

The museum in Fère-Champenoise

The museum in Fère-Champenoise

In the 18th century the Orthodox Tatars were rewarded with new lands on the border with Kazakhstan although according to the Nagaybäks it was a forced exile to the uninhabited steps to protect the Russian borders.

In Paris we visited the local museum where you can learn about the history of the Nagaybäks and about their traditions.

In the museum of Paris a Na?aybäk woman is showing a traditional dress

In the museum of Paris a Nagaybäk woman is showing a traditional dress

Paris wouldn’t be called Paris without an Eifel Tower. A 1.5 replica was constructed in the village in 2005 and it serves as a cell network station.

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On that day travelling in the Southern steps we received text messages with a warning about bad weather conditions and blizzards in the evening. When leaving Paris the wind got so strong that our driver he couldn’t feel the road. Besides the visibility was getting worse and worse.

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The situation was becoming dangerous, we had to cover about 200km that evening but on the empty secondary roads with zero visibility there was a little chance to be rescued. I realized, why Southern Urals was another place of exile – once the driver turned off the engine in a few minutes it became freezing cold in the car. The wind was so strong that even though it was -10 outside it felt like -40. We decided to stop and look for a hotel near Paris. Besides, everybody remembered the tragic accident of last year that took place in the step of the Southern Urals.

photo from Komsomolskaya Pravda, 03.01.2016

photo from Komsomolskaya Pravda, 03.01.2016

On3d of January 2016 80 people were trapped in 30 cars on the road between Orenburg and Orsk. It took 16 hours to clean 27 km of the road to get to the trapped people. By that time their cars were fully covered in snow and they couldn’t even open the doors to get out. Though getting out wasn’t an option either. The cars got run out of gas very quickly. To keep their families warm and to survive the drivers were making fires inside the cars. Those who didn’t have paper burnt their documents, money and passports. To keep his pregnant wife warm one man burnt the upholstery of the car seats. The people were rescued after 16 hours. One man died. He was trying to walk to the other cars when the blizzard only started but got lost and couldn’t find the way back. His body was found only 20km away from his car.

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photo from Komsomolskaya Pravda, 03.01.2016

In our case the blizzard was short once the wind stopped we hurried to the North. Very soon steps changed for forests: pines along the road are a good protection in case of a snowstorm. Orenburg steps are beautiful but can be lethally dangerous in winter. When returning home I reread the Captain’s Daughter by Pushkin. Russian kids study it at school but only after visiting Ural steps you realize in what conditions people had to live there.

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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.

17Jan/160

Ice Town 2016

Happy New Year 2016, dear readers! And traditionally I'm happy to share the pictures of our ice town in the Square of 1905 of Yekaterinburg.

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This winter the recession in Russia affected everything including the Ice Town. There were no foreign sculptors invited this year only local. However the ice town is as specatcular as usual!

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In 2016 the theme is Russian Fairy Tales.

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The Square of 1905 is not the only place to see ice sculptures in Yekaterinburg. The contest 'Star of Bethlehem' for best ice sculptures started in front of the Church on the Blood on Christmas day (January 7th).

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 Click at the gallery to see more photos:

11Nov/150

All winter long – Husky dog sledding and deer farm

Photo by Venu Panicker

Photo by Venu Panicker

Dear readers, this winter you can join our amazing huski dog sledding tours and visit a deer farm in the Northern Urals for only 2000rub!

Tour dates:

December 13th, 2015

January 4th, 24th, 2016

February 21st, 2016

March 5th, 2016

Photo by Venu Panicker

Photo by Venu Panicker

Itinerary: 

8.30 Meeting at Dynamo Metro Station, Yekaterinburg

We are taking a comfortable bus or a mini-van to get to the village of Visim

11.00 Visiting a deer farm near the village of Visim (195km of Yekaterinburg). You will be able to feed Siberian deer and Yakut horses. There are also three African ostriches in the farm. Learn from the farm workers how the ostriches live through Russian winters.

Take some white bread, cabbage or other vegetables to feed the animals!

12.00 Lunch in a cafe in Visim

13.30 Belaya Mount ski resort. You will be able to get to the top of Mt. Belaya (705m) for a beautiful view of Northern Urals.

15.00 Dog sledding in the village of Chernoistochinsk.

19.00 Arrival to the city back to Dynamo Metro (arrival time is approximate)

Price per person:

Adults 2000rub; Children 1800rub

The price includes a transfer in a bus, entrance to the deerfarm, lunch, chairlift at Belaya Mt resort, dogsledding.

Book the tour here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/weekend-tours/dog-sledding-tours

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2Feb/150

National Park Taganai

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National Park Taganai in the Southern Urals, Chelyabinsk region is a popular place with hikers from all over the Urals. It’s easy to access, the tracks are not difficult and the highest point is 1178 m. above sea level, so you don’t have to be a professional climber to ascend the mountains of the Southern Ural ridge.

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Taganai means a’ holder of the moon’ in the Bashkir language and there’s a romantic Moon river (the river Ai) flowing near the park. Total area of the park is about 568 square kilometres (219 sq mi), it stretches for 52 km (32 mi) from north to south and about 10–15 km (6.2–9.3 mi) from east to west.

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I joined a weekend tour to Taganai organized by my colleague Ilia Gerasimov in December 2014. We left Yekaterinburg on Saturday at 7am and arrived in the park by noon. The distance from Yekaterinburg is about 270km, from Chelyabinsk 150km. The cars were parked at the entrance to the park, now we had to carry our rucksacks and sleeping bags to the nearest tourist shelter which was 10km away.

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On the way we stopped at the foot of Perya Mt. That mountain was difficult to ascend in winter because the path leading to the top is very slippery. It took us over one hour to get up there. However, getting down is easier, faster and more fun in winter time as you simply slide down on your bottom – 10 minutes and we were back on the track where we’d left our luggage.

Finally at the top

Finally at the top

Our tourist shelter that should be booked beforehand was a simple room for 10 people in a wooden house with 5 wide berths, an oven in the middle for heating and cooking and a big table. We cooked pasta and after a very late dinner (because it takes hours to boil water on the oven) went to sleep. The next day there was another mountain to climb.

our tourist shelter

our tourist shelter

after a Russian banya one can walk naked

after a Russian banya one can walk naked

Otkliknoy greben is 1155m high but it turned out to be hard to climb mainly because we didn’t find the trail under the sick snow  and had to make our own path. The weather was splendid on that weekend -10C, sunny and no wind at all.

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 From there we could see the highest peak of the National Park Kruglitsa Mt. But for climbing the peak one should plan a 3-day trip in Taganai.

The white cap at a distance of Kruglitsa Mt  1178m above the sea level

The white cap at a distance of Kruglitsa Mt 1178m above the sea level

My friends say that in summer time Taganai is also beautiful, so we are planning to go there again although sliding down on the bottom won’t be an option anymore.

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Getting there from Yekaterinburg by car: go to the south down Chelyabinsk road and then turn to M5 highway towards Zlatoust. Use the main road in the town of Zlatoust in the direction of Magnitka village. As you leave Zlatoust there is a road sign Lesnichstvo (Forest area) and the road turns right to the park entrance.

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