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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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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.

17Aug/170

Watch how foreign tourists experience wild life in Ural Mountains

Watch a short film about two tourists from Hong Kong Kong Wai Po and Ball who came to the Urals for trekking and hiking in Taganai National Park.

Sometimes they weren't sure if they could climb the highest peaks but finally they did it thanks to their professional guide Ilia Gerasimov.

You can book the Taganai Tour here http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/taganai

And you can watch more videos about the Urals (only in Russian though) made by our friends, amateur hikers from the town of Verkhnyaya Pyshma here https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCB798X6rDO9mry3uO1f8Ohg

5Jul/170

Hiking in Konzhak Mt in Northern Urals

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In June of 2017km I climbed the highest peak of Sverdlovsk Region Konzhak Stone (1569m) for the third time.

This time we were with the Uraloved club - club of amateur hikers from Yekaterinburg. Uraloved was organizing a 4 day tour to the Northern Urals. It was a perfect schedule because a standard 3-day Konzhak trip implies that you climb it in one day. It means 42km or 12 hours of trekking and the following day you can’t feel your legs. The other two days you spend on driving to Konzhak and back (450km one way, takes about 6 hours from Yekaterinburg). The area of Konzhak stone has many other interesting mounts to climb so we had plenty of time to see everything around.

Road to Konzhak

Road to Konzhak

The trail to Konzhak Mt is very picturesque and it’s famous for the annual Konzhak Mountain Marathon held on the first Saturday of July. In 2017 the winner of the marathon, Yevgeniy Markov (31 years old) finished the trail (42km) with the time 3.00.16. Well, we weren’t in a hurry and had heavy rucksacks, so we did first 14km in 5 hours on the first day.

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At first the trail goes through a magnificent almost magic-like Taiga forest with huge cedar trees, crooked spruces and a carpet of thick green moss. Because we arrived on Friday, there wasn’t a single soul in the forest. Taiga was silent only making squeaking sounds of the old trees in the wind every now and then.

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The 14th km of the trail is called the valley of painters, probably because it has a nice view of the Ural Mountains. That’s where tourists pitch their tents. On weekends the valley is overcrowded and those who come late have to put tents in the middle of swamps. Since we came on the working day, we could afford choosing the most convenient and driest spot for our camp. The great thing about Konzhak is that it never gets dark in summer time here. At midnight we could still chatting at the campfire enjoying the views around us.

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The second day was dedicated to the peak of Konzhak and Yov’s Plateau. In June the top of the mount is still partly covered with snow which was actually great. Instead of jumping up and down the huge stones making sure that your feet doesn’t slide in the holes between them and the stones are moving to make it even much worse, in June we could easily walk on snow. We didn’t stay long at the top because the wind there is always beastly strong and the raindrops hit your face like thousands of sharp icy daggers.

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Descending was very easy we could just slide down the snow.

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Yov’s plateau was still swampy in earlier June. Later in summer time the plateau is covered with colorful flowers.

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On our third day we went to climb Serebryanka Mt (1305m). It’s the second place of attraction in the area. This peak is easier to climb that’s why you meet more tourists there and families with children.

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Unfortunately, in the recent past there was a mine made in that area and the road for heavy trucks was build that goes past Serebryanka Mt. and Yov’s Plateau. A lot of lazy tourists from Yekaterinburg and Perm come the plateau by offroad jeeps. We even met a tourist bus that brought 30 people from Perm for a weekend. From the road it takes about 20 minutes to get to the top of Serebryanka. But for us it felt that we are walking alone a busy road in the middle of town. It wasn’t quite what we wanted to see after driving 450km north getting away from the civilization…

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The wind on Serebryanka Mt is not so harsh and we could stay there longer taking a lot of great photos.

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As you can see in the pictures we were really lucky with the weather. It’s not always like this and very often people hike in fog there. Of course, we were ready for the worst, took a lot of winter clothes, raincoats, so the last thing I could think of was a sun protective lotion. Eventually, trekking for four days in the Northern Urals I returned to Yekaterinburg with a burnt face so everyone thought I spent a weekend in Sochi or somewhere else in the South.

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Needless to say, on the fourth day nobody in our group wanted to go back to the city. We promised to each other to come back to Konzhak. May be in August - September next time when the forest is full of berries and mushrooms.

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19Jun/170

Museum of Soviet Household in Yekaterinburg

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In 2017 Yekaterinburg has got a new museum – the Museum of the Soviet Household.

Irina Svetonosova, a former journalist was inspired by the idea of the similar museum in Kazan and decided to open a similar nostalgic exhibition of the Soviet memorabilia in her home town.

Irina, the owner of the museum photo by E1.ru

Irina, the owner of the museum
photo by E1.ru

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She rented a 100 years  old house in the city center and started collecting old stuff from the attics of her friends and relatives. The citizens of Yekaterinburg who have already been to the museum now bring their own items for the museum, so the collection continues growing.

The building of the Museum photo by E1.ru

The building of the Museum
photo by E1.ru

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Of course, for Russian visitors it’s a reason to feel nostalgic about their childhood days. I believe, it’ll also  be interesting for foreign visitors of Yekaterinburg to understand how people lived in the USSR and may be to compare the life style with their own.

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Address: ul. Sakko I Vanzetti, 40

Opened daily 11.00 – 20.00

Admission: Adults – 200rub \ School children – 100rub

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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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3Mar/171

Travelling in Southern Urals. Part III. Orenburg

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Orenburg Train Station

I was surprised not to find Orenburg in the guidebooks such as Lonely Planet on Russia. Of course, it’s far from the main touristic routes and 900 away from the Trans-Siberian railway. But if you happen to get to the Southern Urals, Orenburg is certainly worth a visit. The city with about half a million population is unofficially called the Asian Capital of Russia. It was once the capital of Kirgiz Autonomous Soviet Socialistic Republic but in 1925 remained in Russia. In 1938-1957 the city was called Chkalov, named after a famous Russian pilot who had never lived in Orenburg.

The bridge over the Ural river in the historical center of Orenburg marks the border of Europe and Asia.

The bridge over the Ural river in the historical center of Orenburg marks the border of Europe and Asia.

Orenburg was built as a fortress on the Or river on the border of Russia with Kazakhstan in 1734. The city is proud of having over 100 nationalities living together in peace. The signs of international friendship can be seen everywhere. The most interesting site in the city is the so-called National Village. It’s a walking street with 10 houses-museums on both sides representing the culture and traditions of 10 major nationalities in Orenburg.

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There you can enter a Ukrainian house with a straw roof, stay at the Tatars’ wooden home, relax in the Kazakh yurta, dance national dances with Belarusians or eat Bashkir chak-chak with honey.  By the way each house-museum has a restaurant with national cuisine!

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We really liked the Governor Museum, especially it’s room of the Sarmatians’ Gold.

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In 1986 a group of students of the Bashkir University of Ufa found several burial kurgans (burial hills) 100km away from Orenburg. All the graves contained a lot of gold. One kurgan in particular was a grave of a rich Sarmatian  female warrior. Golden coins and decoration made of pure gold were scattered all over the place. All the pieces date back to IV -II b.c. and are still in a very good condition.

photo by Bashkir TV

photo by Bashkir TV

The ornaments have mostly an Iranian influence. It’s still not clear whether the nomadic tribes of Sarmatians made them themselves or perhaps took them as trophies.

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Although most of the findings are exhibited in the Academy of Science of Ufa, a part of the collection including the treasures of the rich woman’s grave, stayed in Orenburg. The museum guide told us that it’s not allowed to take photos in the room of Sarmatians’ Gold but on the second thought ‘it’s ok if you do it quickly’

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What kind of a souvenir can one bring from Orenburg? All over Russia people know about famous Orenburg shawls. Finely knit shawls are also known as wedding ring shawls because even large ones are so fine they can be pulled through a wedding ring.

Street market of Orenburg Shawls

Street market of Orenburg Shawls

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The shawls became famous in Russia in the 18th century when Russian aristocratic women noticed that local Tatar and Bashkir country women make beautiful and very warm shawls of the wool of native Orenburg goats. Due to the harsh climate in the Ural steppes the down hair of the goats is very thin soft and fine. Attempts to breed Orenburg goats in Europe ended in a fiasco as the animals need the climate of the Southern Urals.

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Orenburg has numerous shops of shawls and all are hand-made, by the way!. Some stores  are very fancy and look more like museums. In one of them we could even have a photo-session  in traditional Russian costumes.

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The prices of shawls vary from 1000rub to 50 000 depending on the size and art work. If a shawl is under 1000rub it’s more likely to be machine-made with synthetic wool.

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2Aug/160

How I met a Romanovphile from Canada

This summer I was lucky to meet a very interesting tourist from Canada - Paul Gilbert, the founder of Royalrussia.org. Paul is Russophile and Romanovphile, his publishing house in Canada specializes in books on Imperial Russia and the Romanovs.

It was Paul’s second visit of Yekaterinburg. Obviously, he knew much more about Nicholas II than me. Apart from visiting the Monastery Ganina Yama and the actual place of the Romanovs’ burial place found in 1978, Paul wanted to go to the town of Alapayevsk.

with Paul Gilbert in Alapayevsk

with Paul Gilbert in Alapayevsk

Alapayevsk is a small town 180km North-East of Yekaterinburg. Romanovs-wise, the town was the place of the detention of the Grand Duke and Princes Romanov, the elder sister of the Empress Alexandra. The relatives of Nicholas II were imprisoned in a school building of Alapaevsk. On July 18th  1918, the following night after the execution of the family of Nicholas II his relatives in Alapayevsk were taken to a nearby forest and thrown into an old mine when they were still alive. Unlike in Yekaterinburg, the bodies of the Grand Dukes and Elizabeth were found a month later  by the White Army.

Construction of the church in the Convent of St. Elizaveta

Construction of the church in the Convent of St. Elizaveta

Today Alapayevsk has a monastery of the New Martyrs of Russia on the site of the mine and a convent of St. Elizaveta . Elizabeth was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church like the family of Nicholas II. Today the relics of St. Elizaveta are in the Russian Orthodox Church of Maria Magdalena in Jerusalem.

The school in Alapayevsk where the Romanovs were kept is still a secondary school. One of the classrooms has a memorial wall with the photos of the Royal prisoners.

The school still works in Alapayevsk

The school still works in Alapayevsk

It took us a whole day to explore the sites of Alapayevsk with Paul. The priest of the local church was very kind to take his time and to tell more about the days of the Romanovs in Alapayevsk.

I’m sure Paul will write about his experience in one of the next magazines he publishes twice a year. I was honored to receive two of the latest magazines with very interesting articles on the Romanovs.

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In 2013 Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna had elevated "Paul Gilbert" to the Imperial and Royal Order of St. Stanislav, III Class.

"The Order is being given in recognition of a lifetime of service to the Russian Imperial House. Gilbert is best known for his Royal Russia web site and blog, the publisher of more than 30 books and magazines on the Romanov dynasty, his support of the Russian monarchy, and his personal dedication to distributing accurate information about the House of Romanov and to highlighting the importance of the Russian Imperial House in today's Russia."

extract from http://www.angelfire.com/pa/ImperialRussian/royalty/russia/introduction.html

photo from http://www.angelfire.com

photo from http://www.angelfire.com

 Living in Canada Paul is a true Ambassador of Russia in the West and in his blog he keeps on reminding people that the way western media portrays Russia is far from reality and to understand the truth one should go and see Russia.

You can read more on Paul Gilbert and Imperial Russia here: www.royalrussia.org