Dog sledging is something that you expect to have in Alaska or in Yakutia but Ural winters are snowy enough to offer this type of entertainment for travelers.
This winter I discovered two places where you can meet Huskies and feel yourself like Nenets (indigenous people of Northern Arctic Russia)
Ethnic center Akvilon is located in Chelyabinsk Region (Southern Urals). The center is aimed to show the life of northern people: a guide who is dressed like a snow maid will show you a chum (igloo), you will have a cup of tea with a local shaman and talk to a Yakutian Father Frost. However, those people are far from being indigenous – most of them work and teach history at the University of Chelyabinsk.
Having met all those characters we finally got to the field for dog sledging. But because there were about 40 people in our group we could only sledge one time which lasted about 2 minutes.
One big advantage of Akvilon – they have a lot of dogs and apart from huskies that are for sledging, you will spend some time playing with the cutiest creatures –Samoyed Laikas.
Samoyeds are very friendly and playful dogs. They are named so after the Nenets people who were also called Samoyeds by the Russians. The word means ‘selfeaters’ in Russian but there is the second meaning: ‘self riders’. When the Russians saw the sledging Nenets at a distance, they couldn’t see their white dogs in the snow so they thought that the Nenets were moving on their own.
Akvilon is 30 km of Chelyabinsk which makes about 230 km of Yekaterinburg. So it’s certainly not worth going just for two minutes of dog sledging unless you have some other things to do in the region. Chelyabinsk is not the most interesting Russian city to explore either. Although, thanks to the meteorite that dropped near the city in February 2012 it may attract some curious individuals. The citizens of Chelyabinsk are planning to erect a monument to the meteorite in the near future.
Price: 540rub per person for dog sledging; 890rub for the whole program at the center.
Dog sledging in the village of Chernoistochinsk (near Nizhni Tagil)
Irina, the owner of five huskies had been waiting for two years until her dogs grew up and got trained well enough to sled. In the winter of 2012-13 she started organizing dog sledging in her native village. Next winter (2013-14) one more puppy should be big enough to pull sleds.
You can sled this husky family for one hour and pay more to prolong it if there are no tourists coming after you. As we came in a group of 30 people, we booked two hours and paid the same price as those who book one hour: 100 rub per person. If you book and individual tour, you can sled in the forest which makes it more fun compared to the small circle in the center of the village that we were offered.
Chernoistocbinsk is 160 km north of Yekaterinburg. Apart from dog sledging you can also visit a nearby deer farm: to feed Kaspian deer, Yakutian horses and African ostriches that live in one place. It is also on the way to Belaya Mount (711m) – a mountain ski resort with a beautiful view of Northern Urals.
There is no infrastructure in Chernoistochinsk. The nearest place to eat and have a cup of tea is in Nizhni Tagil (20km) or at Belaya Mount (10km) Otherwise, take your own flask and snacks.
Price: 1 hour - 1500rub for individuals; 100rub per person for large groups
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/
It says that the Queen of the Copper Mountain is a beautiful young lady who owns all the treasures hidden in the Ural Mountains. Very few people met her because she turns into a lizard every time a man comes up. There was one lucky man though: Danila, a local miner. The Queen of the Copper Mountain fell in love with him. She showed him where her gold was, in return Danila had to stay with her deep underground. The man refused for he had a fiancée at home. The Queen was kind enough to let Danila go. She even gave him a present for his fiancée. As Danila got back home he gave the present, a malachite box full of treasures, to his future bride.
However, he never married the girl, for he went insane and for the rest of his days he was dreaming of the Queen of the Copper Mountain…
This winter I was guiding a group of the 2020 Expo Committee. Yes, I should add here that Yekaterinburg is bidding to host Expo 2020 along with Dubai, San Paulo and Izmir (Turkey). We went to the border of Europe and Asia and there she was…the Queen of the Copper Mountain greeting us with karavai (a loaf of bread with salt in the middle, that you bake specially for greeting important guests)
It was a bright sunny day with -20 Celcius so the members of the Committee from Moscow, the USA and Australia felt very uncomfortable, to say the least. The Queen didn’t show us any gold loads but she had something more valuable in store: 40% proof Russian vodka! My guests couldn’t be happier. This is how you begin treasuring simple pleasures…
If you are coming to Yekaterinburg you can book a meeting with the Queen of the Copper Mountain on the Euro-Asia border but it’s better to do for large groups. It’s quite pricey for a group of two or three tourists.
But back to the Queen or is she a lizard? A legend of a giant lizard with horns was known in the Urals since the time of the cavemen. Ancient Mansi tribes called the lizard Mammoth. So the name ‘mammoth’ came from the Urals only the Mansis were mistaken about its appearance.
When the first Russian gold was found in the Urals in 1745, a lizard came to focus again. In fact, its importance can be scientifically approved: lizards choose the warmest stone in the woods to rest on and the warmest stones are the ones with gold veins underneath. In other words, follow a lizard and you may find gold as there is still plenty of it in the Urals!
You can find many souvenirs with the image of a lizard with a crown in Yekaterinburg. The same lizard was in the coat of arms of Sverdlovsk (the previous name of Yekaterinburg in the Soviet times)
This autumn I was lucky to meet Marina Chebotaeva, the General Director of Enviro-Chemie Gmbh in Yekaterinburg. She is also an author of the travel guide on the Urals. Her books The Urals: a first stride into real Russia volume 1 and 2 won the National Tourist Prize of Senkevich as the best published work on traveling in Russia.
Each travel guide has 52 routes throughout the Urals, each starting from Yekaterinburg. The trips are divided into three categories: short trips (4-5 hours by car), one day trips (10-12 hours), weekend trips (including trips to Bashkiria and Khanty-Mansiysk)
Apart from detailed descriptions and maps, the books have amazing photos. I was surprised to learn that all the photos were taken by amateurs, not by professionals. Most of them were Marina’s friends and colleagues. She just gave them maps and they went to 52 different directions, even to Salekhard at the Polar circle. Though it’s better to fly there for ‘only very brave people go to Salekhard by car’ – the book says.
It started as a hobby or even a necessity four years ago: Marina was looking for souvenirs for her business partners from Germany. It turned out that Yekaterinburg doesn’t produce anything that could be called ‘a nice souvenir from the Urals’. Of course, there are semi-precious stones but they are stones, you know. So Marina decided to create her own Ural gifts.
“A book which is given as a present is read by eight to ten people. Can you imagine how many people all over the world will learn about the Urals and will want to come here!” she says.
The Urals: a first stride into real Russia volume 1 and 2 by M. Chebotaeva are available in Russian, English, German and Chinese in Yekaterinburg bookstores (price is around 1.700 Roubles).
You can also order the book for 1000Roubles at www.nashural.ru or by phone +7(343) 278-27-96, +7-912-218-35-69 (or contact me if you are lost in translation)
click here to see photos from The Urals
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!
Read more about the mountain here: http://askural.com/2011/06/gora-belaya-mountain-resort/
Sunday: to the west for hiking in Olenii Ruchiy (Deer Creeks) 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
Read more about the park and directions here: http://askural.com/2011/05/ural-nature-park-olenyi-ruchyi/
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.
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.