Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Beautiful Sakha...The Yakutia of Siberia
It's hard to believe that there is a river port with such beauty of Orthodox Cathedrals and traditional Russian dachas in one of the coldest places on Earth, but Yakutsk, in the Sakha Republic in Siberia is amazingly that. Summer here is actually harder to weather than winter. The river is only passable by car in the winter. It's an amazing and puzzling world that makes the rest of us wonder, why on Earth would one ever go there?
The fact is, it looks like most Russian cities. It's full of blue and white buildings, yellow and white buildings, mass transit, crowded streets, big signs advertising everything everywhere, and lot's of people. It doesn't appear that different until winter.
In winter, even Lenin is frozen. Yakutsk is one of the coldest cities on Earth. Temperatures reach -40 Celsius sometimes and occasionally even colder. The winters are long and the weather is brutal. It's windy, it's snowy, and it's dark. That's the way life is in Yakutsk in winter. So, here's the question; do they have tourism? The answer is yes.
You can fly right in from other regions of Russia. You will have to book a tour of some kind to visit anyway, just like the rest of the country. It's easy. There are companies that specialize in trips to the Sakha Region. You can fly in from the west through Moscow or from the east through Magadan. If you want, you can drive in from the east, but if you want to drive in from the west or south it will be trickier. There are no trains that far north in Yakutia.
But really, why would you visit such a place? Most of us want to go south, take a cruise, sit on a beach, have a Margarita, and relax.
This one is pure adventure. The Sakha Region and Yakutia has a very interesting history. It is the largest land area region in the world. It has been inhabited for thousands of years. It was used as a place to exile people during the Soviet Era and some before that. It's famous for it's gulags, gangsters, diamonds and gold. The Kolyma area was once a gold mining area run by local gulags. There is a large Jewish population to this day here, from when they too were run out of the more populated western parts of the Soviet Union. It makes for a very fascinating melange of cultures and peoples.
The Pole of Cold is one of the places that you can visit. This is known as the coldest place on Earth. Is it? I don't know, but they have festivals celebrating it and a museum with all kinds of exhibits that will explain why. It's certainly one of the coldest places I've ever encountered, but I'm not sure that it's colder than Antarctica. The people here will be some of the friendliest you've ever met, and the experience is well worth the visit.
Also on this trip, you can see the world's biggest diamond mine. Mirny Diamond Mine is Russia's biggest diamond mining operation. The giant hole that is the diamond mine would shock the western world, but in Siberia, it really isn't harming a thing. You can book tours of specific areas of the diamond mine and see how it all works.
Around Yakutsk there are several museums of all kinds. There is even an outdoor museum outside of town where you can see what life was like in the past for the peoples of the area.
The Mammoth Museum is one of the Yakutsk must sees. As you can expect, a lot of permafrost means a lot of things got frozen in there in the past. This area has a huge collection of Woolly Mammoths that popped up from the frozen areas throughout history.
But there are many things to see and do in Yakutsk. The list is enormous for such a remote area, but you would be shocked. These people are just used to the cold. Their lives are as normal as anyone in New York, just way colder most of the year. The Sakha are a proud people. They are proud of their lives, their history, and their traditions. Just meeting them is something that makes the trip worthwhile.
Here's an idea...take a cruise. That's right. You can catch a river cruise that will take you to see the Lena Pillars. Lena Pillars are a natural phenomenon that is found in other places around the world but not normally to this size and extreme. It's very old volcanic rock and here, it's formed large cliffs overlooking the Lena River. They are an amazing sight and the cruise is a wonderful way to spend some time.
But, what is it that drew me to this place where you will hear music played on Jews Harps and find huge strip mines in the ground? What is it that made this place an adventure for anyone? It's true that it's one of the coldest places on Earth. That in itself is an adventure. It's true that everything there is big like in Texas, from the river to the lava rocks to the mammoths to the mines to the land itself. But, Yakutia has something in bulk that most places don't have that much of. Permafrost.
Yakutsk has the Kingdom of Permafrost. It's hokey, but it's original. This place is connected with the institute for research of permafrost, but it's the fun side. They have it set up so that the tourist can enjoy their time inside the tunnels underground where you can see how permafrost really works.
The tunnels are full of ice sculptures that make the trip more beautiful and a lot of fun.
The locals sometimes have weddings there amongst the ice sculptures. Permafrost is part of the culture and makes for a very traditional local wedding.
And amongst the woolly mammoth exhibits and permafrost exhibits and ice sculptures you will run into Father Christmas. This is one of the most out of the way places I've ever seen that you can visit Santa Clause. It's an amazing tourist attraction, no matter how hokey it might look. There is a lot of good work going on here in the research to see how permafrost lives and dies, and how we can live with it without destroying it. The Kingdom is there to help fund the research, which is a great thing.
I know it sounds crazy, but come to Yakutsk. This is a one of a kind place with people to match. It's cold, and the best time to visit is actually not the summer. It's for hearty souls, but it's worth it. In summer it's good, but in the winter it's amazing. So, anytime anyway, come and visit the wild and wonderful arctic area of Yakutsk, Siberia. When your friends ask why on Earth you went there, you can tell them that they need to see it for themselves to understand why it's so fascinating.