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3Sep/120

Arkaim, an archeological site or a place of power?

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.

The form of the ancient town (the museum of history in Arakaim)

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.

On the way 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.

Morning exercises

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.

Tourists are walking on the mountain of atonement

Me on top of the Love Mount

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.

27Aug/120

August buggy parade and scrap exhibit in Mayakovskogo Park, Yekaterinburg

On last Sunday of August the anual Baby Buggy Parade takes place  in Mayakovskogo Park. All Russia and Yekaterinburg in particular is experiencing a baby boom at the moment. So it’s not a problem to find buggies but for the parade they should look extraordinary as well as the baby and its parents.

This year there were 112 participants. Yekaterinburgers were really creative. A few themes very especially popular: pirates and boats, princes and princesses and Yemelya, a lazy character of a Russian fairy tale who is sleeping on top of a hot oven all the time.

At the same time in August Mayakovskogo Park holds an exhibition of sculptures made of scrap metal. Artists from all over Russia come with their scrap to show how interesting it in fact can be.

I didn’t stay till the end of the parade, so I don’t know which baby buggy won the first prize in 2012. All of them were charmingly beautiful and funny. Click on the gallery to see more babies, buggies and scrap sculptures in between.

8Jul/120

New monument of family, love and faith in Yekaterinburg

8th of July is a new celebration in Russia –St. Peter and Fevronya’s Day, the day of family, love and faith. A brand new monument to patron saints of marriage and family was opened in Yekaterinburg near the Church on the Blood and it immediately became a popular spot for newly-weds.

Originally, it was a Russian Orthodox celebrated only in the town of Murom as Peter was the Prince of Murom. The day of love and family was proposed by Russian Orthodox Church as opposed to St Valentine’s. The church doesn’t like that young people in Russia celebrate a Catholic Day. In 2008 the Russian Government accepted the proposal of a new celebration and it was actively promoted by Svetlana Medvedeva, the wife of the former president D. Medvedev.

Interesting facts: In spite of the fact that Peter and Fevronya symbolize traditional Orthodox values, Peter, the Prince of Murom didn’t want to marry Fevronya. She was a commoner who cured him of leprosy. In return, Fevronya asked Peter to marry her but he refused. However, he later suffered a relapse and came to Fevronya again. After that he had to marry Fevronya. The couple was childless which isn’t a good example of a good Orthodox family either. At the end of their lives they both joined the clergy. He became a monk and she was a nun and both prayed to die on the same date which they did on July, 8th 1228.

When speaking about love and faith, it’s worth mentioning some statistics here. According to Demoscope Weekly, every second marriage ends in divorce in Yekaterinburg. The average age of newly-weds in Russia is 26-27 for men and 24-25 for women. Only 30% of Russian women and 56% of men marry for the second time after a divorce. As for faith, 90% of men and 85% of women in Russia think that adultery is a good reason to get a divorce.

There are no special traditions yet about buying chocolate or flowers on this date. But considering the statistics, it’s probably a good thing that we have a day in summer when people can think about the family values.

29Jun/120

Kungur ice caves and air baloons

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.

Locals are having a picnic on the river

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

10May/120

Celebrating Easter in the country. Bym, Permsky Region

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:

13Apr/120

Happy Orthodox Easter! Churches of Yekaterinburg

On April 15th Russia is celebrating Orthodox Easter. Russian Easter has neither Easter bunnies nor chocolate eggs. Main symbols are hard boiled chicken eggs painted in different colors and kulich (Easter cake) Russians don’t have a day off on Monday after Easter Day but we have a nice tradition of ringing the bells. During a week after Easter you can go to any church up to the bell tower and ring the bells. This is good fun and the believers also say that it’s a healing activity, i.e. the sound of the church bells can heal you!

The most famous church to go is the Church on the Blood.

The Church on the Blood has 16 bells. The largest weighs 9 tonns

The Church on the Blood was consecrated on the 16th of July, 2003. It was in this place that the Royal Family of the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II was killed on the night of July 16, 1918. The inclusion of this place into the structure of the church makes it unique. The full name of the church is ‘the Church on the Blood in Honor of All the Saints Radiating in the Land of Russia’. The church consists of two chapels: the upper one is consecrated in the name of all the Saints Radiating in the Land of Russia, and after which the church itself was named, and the lower one is dedicated to the Holy Royal Martyrs.

Iconostasis on the ground floor

After the consecration of the church, Archbishop Vikenty, head of the local Orthodox diocese, made this address: “We all know that a violent crime occurred at this very place, and thus the unity between the church and secular authorities was destroyed. But now this church stands as a symbol of their reunion and puts an end to their enmity and destruction. From this day forward, this church will be a symbol of repentance, unity and revival of our homeland.”

But the main church in Yekaterinburg is not the Church on the Blood. It’s St. Trinity Cathedral on Kuybysheva st.

St Trinity Cathedral is the main church in the city

The Cathedral was lucky, the Bolsheviks didn’t destroy it like the rest of them. They only took away the golden dome and the bells from the tower. The body of the Cathedral was used a Soviet cinema ‘Rot-Front’ with 500 seats.

The only church that functioned in the city in the Soviet era was the Church of St. Iowan.

St Iowan Church on Repina st.

This small cemetery church was built in 1846. After the Revolution of 1917 the Bolsheviks demolished 43 churches in Yekaterinburg. However, during the Second World War Stalin decided to ease restrictions on churches to appeal to people’s patriotism. So the church wasn’t destroyed but, of course, Father Nikolay, the priest of the church had to be on friendly terms with the KGB.

Today, there are 28 Orthodox Churches in Yekaterinburg. So welcome to the bell towers on 16-22 of April!

28Feb/120

How to meet a shaman in the Ural forest

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.

We weren't alone in the forest, the prints belong to a marten

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.

a 'honeymoon' hut

The tradition of tying colorful ribbons on a tree can also be found in Siberia and Nepal

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.

At the end I could try on the shaman's outfit

Going back to civilization in UAZ

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/

8Feb/123

Mammoth, lizard and the Queen of the Urals. Russian legends.

The Queen of the Copper Mountain is a famous character of the Ural folk stories. Every child in Russia knows a fairy tale written by Pavel Bazhov.

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)

The Queen of the Copper Mountain on the Euro-Asia border

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.

The coat of arms of Sverdlovsk with a sable (left) and a lizard (right)

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!

Lizard with a golden crown is a common souvenir to buy in Yekaterinburg

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)

25Jan/121

Tobolsk. A step down from the Ural Mountains to real Siberia

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

The house requisitioned as the Romanovs' detention place in Tobolsk

Study room of Nicolas II in Tobolsk

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.

A woman is selling local fish at the train station

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.

8Jan/120

New Year 2012 in Yekaterinburg. Ice Town

A magnificent ice town appears in the Square of 1905 in Yekaterinburg every winter. This year the theme of the ice town is 200th Anniversary since the victory over Napoleon in Moscow.

Visitors will find themselves in the middle of Red Square with an icy Kremlin surrounded by the ice sculptures of Russian heroes and popular characters of Russian folk stories.

Click to the gallery to see the photos and welcome to the ice town! It’s in the centre of Yekaterinburg until mid. February to a great dismay of drivers who lost a parking place…C’mon guys, it’s time for a fairy tale!