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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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14Mar/170

Travelling in Sothern Urals. Part IV. Orenburg region and Pushkin

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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.

100km away from Orenburg we stopped at the village of Saraktash. Apart from the local museum and ubiquitous street markets with traditional Orenburg shawls the village is proud of St. Trinity church complex.

The complex of the churches is very impressive and the construction is still going on

The complex of the churches is very impressive and the construction is still going on

The Orthodox churches as well as the priest’s huge house (Father Nickolas and his wife adopted 70 children) have been built in the recent years with the help of Orenburg sponsors. The priest, father Nickolay proved to be a very business oriented person and attracted large sums of money to the village. The sponsors were often invited to Saraktash and to the priest’s house for parties. Finally the Church dismissed Father Nickolas after a drink and drive accident with his Mercedes car involved. The video made by the road police got to youtube. Nowadays the priest is in the church again but lives a more modest and quite reserved life in Saraktash.

The house of Father Nickolay

The house of Father Nickolay

The citizens of Saraktash will also tell you about a movie shot in Saraktash in 1998. 'Russian Riot' is a film based on the historical novel Captain’s Daughter by Alexander Pushkin. Pushkin visited Orenburg region to collect the information about the Russia’s largest peasant revolt also known as Pugachev’s Rebellion or Cossacks’ Rebellion of 1173-75.

A fortress built for the film Russian Riot

A fortress built for the film Russian Riot

The Moscow filmmakers chose Saraktash village for shooting the adaptation. The remained props of the wooden fortress are now the museum of the Captain’s Daughter. The museum has a hotel in the wooden house, a restaurant and a banya.

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In his novel Pushkin describes severe blizzards in Orenburg steps. As we travelled in the Southern Urals we realized how dangerous they can be. For many kilometers you find nothing but white kurgans (hills) and when the visibility is almost zero at night and the car gets off the road chances to be rescued on time are very low.  This will be the next story on the Southern Urals.

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7Feb/170

Traveling in Southern Urals. Part I

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).

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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.

Taganai National Park

Taganai National Park

We stopped at the village of Syrostan (Yellow place) with a lovely Russian Orthodox Church.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

Zavialikha Ski Slope

Zavialikha Ski Slope

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!

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From Asia to Europe