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.
Kungur is a popular tourist destination all year long but it attracts even more people from 30th June to 7th July when the city hosts a festival of air balloons. Last year my friends and I attended the last day of the festival. I was very impressed by the Mediterranean-like life of this old Ural town.
Lonely Planet guide book on Russia says: ‘Between the blandness of Perm and the blandness of Yekaterinburg, Kungur is like ice cream in a biscuit’. Well, we were certainly longing for an ice cream as we entered the city on a hot July day. Kungur looked like one of those Russian resorts on the Black Sea. People were swimming in the Sylva River in the center of Kungur, sunbathing on the benches of the main street and walking lazily back and forth in shorts and flip-flops with beach towels on their shoulders.
The Sylva River is a real pearl of Kungur. It’s very pure and slow enough for easy rafting. We rented a motor-boat and noticed that for the locals a boat or a raft is the main mean of transport and also the way of spending a weekend. Picnics onboard are as ubiquitous here as in Amsterdam.
Others, who weren’t lucky to be born in Kungur, come with their tents and spend weekends outside Kungur a few km down the city. By the way, you too should go 5 km out of town to visit the famous Kungur Ice Cave!
The passages stretch for over 6 km and only a small part has been explored so far. 1.5 km will be enough for you to explore. The grottos are "adorned" with columns of stalagmites and icicles of stalactites up to two meters in height. The best time to visit the cave is beginning of spring. That’s the time when icicles are especially big. We didn’t go inside because on that hot day I completely forgot about taking warm clothes and comfortable trainers. So these photos are from the Internet:
The cave is open daily 9am-4pm. Group excursions start every two hours and cost 600Rub. You can have an individual excursion for 1000Rub. An excursion lasts 1hr 20min.
Kungur was founded in 1663. The town is proud of its museum of tea, and old churches. To get a bird view of the city, you should climb the bell tower of this church:
As it got dark, the public in the center changed dramatically and we realized that Kungur is a very working-class town. In other words, to see the balloon show at night one had to be drunk on not to be there at all.
Accommodation: Kungur has two decent hotels which are always totally booked during the first week of July. Iren hotel is on Lenina st 30 in the center. Stalagmit Complex is outside the town but it’s just next to the entrance to the ice cave. However, many Russians prefer to stay in their tents on the banks of the Sylva.
Getting there: from Perm it takes about 2 hours by bus or suburban train. From Yekaterinburg – about 5 hours by bus from Yuzhniy Avtovokzal ( Bus Station) on 8 Marta st. 145
Click on photos to see more sights of Kungur and the river
Permsky Region in Western Urals is doing its best to promote not only Ural cities but small villages. This spring a small village of Bym (30km to Kungur, 260 km to Yekaterinburg) welcomed tourists to celebrate Easter in a traditional Russian style. The village is planning to host similar fests every year. Their first try was certainly a success.
Very few people among those who arrived from Perm and Yekaterinburg knew folk songs and dances but everyone participated in a cheerful fest.
On that day everyone could go to the bell tower of the church to ring the bells and to enjoy a breathtaking view of the Urals.
The highlight of Bym is Belogorsky Monastery – a beautiful church up on the highest hill.
click here to see more photos:
Every Yekaterinburg citizen knows about a mysterious Dyatlov Pass incident and everyone has his or her own version of what could happen to 9 students in Northern Urals in February 1959. Now it looks like Hollywood got its version as well. Local Mass Media wrote that Renny Harlin, director of films like “Die Hard 2”,“Cliffhanger” and “5 Days of War” about the Russian-Georgian war in 2008 is going to shoot a thrilling movie on Dyatlov Pass. So far he has only revealed that the plot is going to be set in the contemporary world: a young group of American students travel to the Ural Mountains in order to solve the mystery of the Dyatlov Pass incident and get into trouble there.
Meanwhile, Donnie Eichar, a writer and director from L.A. arrived in Yekaterinburg in February 2012 to gather the facts and documents in order to write a book based on facts and possibly to find the truth. Ironically, the Dyatlov Foundation led by Yuri Kuntsevich hopes that an American can do more than the Russians. The foundation has been trying to convince Russian officials to reopen the investigation of the case for years but to no avail. Donnie became the first American who trekked in extreme conditions (minus 30c degree) to top of mountain where hikers tent and bodies were discovered. I was lucky to assist him in interviewing the relatives and witnesses which was an incredible experience. Bit I must say that having heard all the terrifying details, I could barely sleep the following nights. I’ll keep you posted on when the book is published in English and in Russian.
In the mean time the facts that we know are as follows: It is February 1959 and nine experienced hikers, mostly students, break off on an expedition to the Ural Mountains on skis. Their goal: The Mountain “Otorten”, which in the local Mansi language means “Do not go there!” In fact, they will never arrive there. The “Dyatlov Pass incident“, named after the leader of the expedition Igor Dyatlov, is one of the biggest unsolved mysteries of the Soviet Union.
Two weeks after their disappearance, local search teams find five of the corpses close to the mountain Kholat Syakhl, the “Mountain of the Dead”, barefoot and dressed only in their underwear.
Investigations reveal that the hikers must have fled their tent for an unknown reason, tearing it open, leaving in a heavy snowstorm and temperatures of -25 decreasing to -30. The officials explain that they died of hypothermia. The real mystery only begins after the thaw when the remaining four corpses are found. All of them are discovered in utterly strange conditions. Two of the corpses have fractures on the skull, a woman is lacking her tongue and the clothes of two corpses contain a high level of radiation. Further, the corpses show signs of aging like grey hair and a deep orange-colored tan.
The suspicion that the local Mansi, Finno-Ugric people, had killed the hikers for entering their holy lands and mountain, which play a big role in many of their traditional legends, was refuted. No hand-to-hand struggle could be proved. The fractures of the skulls indeed seemed to be caused by a force much stronger than a human being, as if the bodies had exploded from the inside without any harm to the outer organs. Another group of hikers, camping 50 km away from the Mountain of the Dead, later testified that they noticed strange orange spheres at the sky that night. Northern lights, UFOs or the Soviet military? The conspiracy theories vary. Soviet investigators, unable to solve the mysterious circumstances of the deaths, claimed the hikers were killed by an “unknown compelling force”.
For this post I used the photos provided by Nashural.com and the text from the English newspaper Your Yekaterinburg.
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/
Every Russian knows about the Siberian town of Tobolsk from the history books but very few visited the town. These days tourists choose other routes to the South and it’s rather far for foreigners: Tobolsk is not on Trans-Siberian route. However, this Siberian pearl does its best to attract different travelers and it’s worth coming in summer and in winter.
Tobolsk is 536km to the north-east of Yekaterinburg in Western Siberia. It is in Tyumenskaya Oblast, the neighboring region to Sverdlovskaya Oblast. So, in terms of Russian distances people in the Urals may say that it’s just around the corner. Tobolsk is very old compared to most of the Ural and Siberian cities. It was founded in 1587 on the place where the Tobol River flows into the Irtysh. Very soon Tobolsk became the center of political, economical and cultural life of Siberia.
The main place of attraction is a breathtaking white Kremlin in the upper town. I couldn’t stop taking photos of it:
The downtown is located down the hill on the river bank.
They say that Siberia gave Russia many prominent people and most of them were born in Tobolsk. The most known name in the world is chemist Dmitry Mendeleev, the inventor of the periodic table . Tobolsk also became the land of prisons and exile. Russian Tsars were deporting political prisoners to Tobolsk for centuries. A short excursion to the old cemetery will tell you more about it.
Of course, Russian exiled aristocracy changed the habits and lifestyle of Tobolsk. I was very much surprised to meet many teenagers in the local museum dressed as ladies and gentlemen of 19th century. They came to an annual ball arranged here on the eve of Christmas.
Ironically, the Bolsheviks decided to exile the last Russian tsar to Tobolsk as well. Nicolas II and his family had lived in Tobolsk from August 1917 till April 1918 before they were sent and murdered in Yekaterinburg
Tobolsk has always been a spiritual center of Russia. There are 16 churches in the town including a Catholic Church in downtown. You can also arrange a tour to Abalak monastery (30km from Tobolsk)
Outside the monastery there’s a lovely Abalak tourist center with a wooden hotel, bars, skating rinks and the home of Father Frost.
Find more about Abalak here: http://askural.com/2011/12/father-frost-in-abalak-siberia/
Tips for travelers: Most of the museums, cafes and souvenir shops are located in the Kremlin area. Tobolsk is famous for muksun – a type of fish that you can try in local eateries. Smoked fish is available at vendors’ right on the train platform.
The train station of Tobolsk is outside the town. There are several buses to take from the station, but if you are arriving early in the morning or late at night, it’s wise to order a transfer beforehand. The local travel agencies arrange transfers and tours but they don’t have English-speaking guides, so bring your own interpreter.
One day is pretty much enough for Tobolsk. There are several decent hotels in the city but I chose to arrive by train at 7.30 am and took a train back at 9pm. Thus you can sleep two nights in a train and spend a whole day in Tobolsk.
Getting to Abalak: by car: from Yekaterinburg take the road via Tymen to Tobolsk
by train: There are many trains bound for Tobolsk. I suggest taking train #310 from Yekaterinburg. This night train is convenient as it leaves Yekaterinburg at 22.16 and arrives at 8.28. A 10 hour sleep in a train will cost you 800-1500 roubles.
Uktus: The sports center is on a territory of 424 hectares among century pines.
Guests of the Uktus can use 4 ski slopes of various difficulty levels. The length of the tracks is 400-750 meters. The elevation is from 54 to 100 m. There are also a snow park, a wellness service, a café and parking. If you are bored with skiing, you can play paintball or tennis, ride horse or relax in the gazebo.
The cost of renting ski kit is 420 rubles per hour. Rent of snowboard with a full kit is 420 rubles too. Climbing on the elevator is 50 rubles. http://www.uktus.ur.ru/
Pil’naya: It is 38 km away from Yekaterinburg, in Pervouralsk. There are 5 ski slopes with a total length of 2800 meters. The maximal elevation is 98.5 m.
A set of ski or snowboard equipment costs 400 rubles per hour. Snow tubing with the elevator costs you 350 rubles. If you want to rent a trainer, you must pay 600 rubles per hour. The cost of parking is 50 rubles for the full day. You can reach Pervouralsk by bus or by train. In addition you can visit the Snow Park or sauna there. http://www.pilnaya.ru/
Volchikha: It is the highest peak in the vicinity of Yekaterinburg. The Volchikha’s height is 526 meters. There are four slopes. The longest one is 700 m with a height difference of 143 meters.
The cost of tickets for the elevator varies from 300 to 1100 rubles for 3 hours. It depends on the day of the week and time of the day. The cheapest tickets are during the week and in the daytime.
The rent of a package for skiing and snowboarding costs 400 rubles per hour. You must pay 700 rubles per 2 h, 900 rubles per 3 h and 1000 rubles for 4 h or more.
The other entertainments are a snow park, Zorbas, outdoor skating rink and the rent of snowmobiles. Volchikha is situated 5 km from Revda and 7 from Pervouralsk. http://www.volchixa.ru/
Belaya: It is located near Nizhny Tagil, more precisely, 37 km away. There is ski rental (from 310 rubles to 710 rubles per hour kit) and snowboard (350 rub.). You can take skates there (100 rub. per hour), and do snow tubing. There is also a swimming pool, high ropes course, a café and a hotel. In addition, you can play strike ball near the Belaya. http://www.gorabelaya.ru/
Abzakovo: It is located in the spur of the ancient Ural Mountains in the southeast of Bashkortostan, 60 km from Magnitogorsk and 35 km from Beloretsk. Complex Abzakovo is unique in offering a variety of forms of leisure, recreation and entertainment throughout the four seasons.
The rent of snowboard or skiing equipment is 100-600 rub. per hour and 300-800 rub. per day.
In conclusion, we wish that you spend the winter enjoying fun and health benefits! The information was compiled by Marat Ramazanov for the Your Yekaterinburg English newspaper.
Every sun rise is beautiful and it’s similarly beautiful in any part of the world. I spotted my October sun rise in a strange place near Novouralsk, a closed town behind the wall 90 km north of Yekaterinburg.
The town was known as Sverdlovsk-44 in the Soviet times and it was absolutely unknown to the rest of the world until 1994. Since that year it’s not a secret town but a closed town due to the Ural Electro Chemical Plant built there during World War II. Novouralsk had the first mountain ski track in the Urals but very few people from the outside world could go skiing there (population of the town is 85.519)
Another treasure of Novouralsk is Verkhneyvenski pond with beaches and a yacht club.
The pond is outside the town thus you don’t have to go through the control post which you won’t be able to do anyway. Boat and yacht rentals are available in summer.
Getting there: by car from Novo-Moskovsky trakt drive through Pervouralsk. By any local train bound for Nizhni Tagil. Get off at Verkh-Neyvinsk Station. Novouralsk is on the left side, you will see it behind the barbed wire. The pond is on the right side. And the sun rise is for every one!
watch the sunrise by clicking here:
October is beautiful here but it’s raining a lot and temperatures seldom rise above +10. Usually I watch October from my window. Last weekend I left my cozy flat for a rainy weekend in the mountains with Joao Lamos, a Brazilian expat in China who arrived for the weekend to see some nature. Thanks to him I found out that it’s walking in the rain can be fun besides this golden season in Ural forests lasts for only a few weeks.
Here’s the best weekend out in October:
Saturday: up to the north to Belaya Mountain with two stops in Nevyansk and Visim
It can be windy on top of the mountain (705m) but it's worth it!
Book the tour to Belaya Mt and the Deer Farm here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/northern-urals
Sunday: to the west for hiking in Olenii Ruchiy (Deer Streams) Nature Park
It was quite a surprise to meet many people in the park that day. Some of them came for fishing in the rain!
Leaving the park stop at the German Biergarten for hot sausages and a glass of beer
Book the tour to the Nature Park: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/deer-streams
October has just started, so don't miss the chance to see some autumn beauties of the Urals before the long winter!
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.
Book the tour to Belaya Mt and the Deer Farm here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/northern-urals
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.
Book the tour to Belaya Mt and the Deer Farm here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/northern-urals
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.