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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This winter my colleagues, the guides of Yekaterinburg and I decided to explore the Southern Urals to see its touristic potential. Within 6 days we covered over 3000km by car, visited 3 regions of Russia populated by over 100 nationalities: Chelyabinsk Region, Orenburg Region and the Republic of Bashkortostan. Almost every day we were crossing the border of Europe and Asia, got into a severe blizzard in Step and drove through the thickest fog I’ve ever seen along the river of Ural. The temperatures in January varied from – 25 in the mountains to -7 Celsius in the step areas.
Here’s the first story of our staying in the land of Sinegorye (Blue Mountains).
On the first day we drove through the mountain region of National parks Taganai and Zyratkul along the spine of the Urals. The territory once belonged to the Bashkirs, muslim Turkic people but the Russians bought this piece of land for what the Bashkirs thought was a good price. However, the land appeared to be full of mineral resources, so apart from the National Park this western corner of Chelyabinsk region has many metallurgical and nuclear plants. The area became industrial in the 18th century but preserved the Turkic names, for example, Taganai means a moon holder in the Bashkir language.
We stopped at the village of Syrostan (Yellow place) with a lovely Russian Orthodox Church.
Between Syrostan and the town of Miass there is a Park of the Stone Age. Alexander, a local craftsman is making wooden sculptures of ancient citizens of the Ural mountains.
Walking among the wooden people our guide dressed like a shaman told us interesting facts for example, on how to catch and kill a mammoth!
Meanwhile, Alexander, the park owner was busy making a snow mammoth. As we came the mammoth was almost finished. So much work for one man knowing that his animal will melt down in two months!
The western corner of Chelyabinsk region is called Sinegorye (Blue Mountains): numerous lakes and the pines have a shade of blue. It’s especially obvious on sunny winter days.
Crossing the border of Europe and Asia there you get to Europe but only geographically because in fact you get to the autonomous Republic of Bashkortostan… and that will be the second story!
Arakul is a popular place for tourists who like hiking and spending weekends camping by the lake. Arakul is located in Chelyabinsk Region, about 140km South-West of Yekaterinburg.
Arakul also called as Arakulsky Shikhan is a 2km long mountain range that looks like the Chinese Great Wall only made by Nature. Its height is 60 meters from the surface. You can meet groups of professional mointain climbers but one can climb Arakul easily from the western side of it (opposit to the lake)
Archeologists found traces of ancient people here. Some still believe that round holes at the top of the range were places of secrifice.
From above you can spot 11 lakes. The nearest one is also called Arakul. Like many other lakes of Chelyabinsk Region Arakul is clean and full of fish.
by car - from Chelyabinsk highway turn to Kasli, then go in the direction of Vishenevogorsk and finally follow a sign to Arakul village. The village is located on the bank of the lake. The mountain range is seen from the lake.
by a local train - in the direction of Chelyabinsk you will need a train station Silach. Then 6km of walking to the rocks and 8km to the lake. The train goes only twice a day.
by bus - it's possible to get to Vishenvogorsk by local buses. Then walk 8 km to the lake.
Photos by Eugeniy Kochetkov