Click for more information about Sakha Republic (Yakutia)
2017 Jul by Michael Novins
July 2017 -- I visited Yakutsk, a remote city in Eastern Siberia that can convincingly claim to be the coldest city on earth. The lowest temperature ever recorded in Yakutsk was −83.9 °F in February 1891, one of the coldest temperatures ever recorded outside Antarctica, and the city has never reported a temperature above freezing between mid-November and mid-March. Some of the survival skills in such an extreme environment are mind boggling -- for example, children attend school unless the thermometer plummets to −67 °F, although kindergarteners are treated more gently and get the day off if the temperature only drops to −58 °F.|
Yakutsk, like many Russian cities, has a prominently-located Lenin statue. But in this case there's a connection between the two since it's believed that Vladimir Ulyanov, at 31, changed his name to Lenin after the Lena River, which flows through Yakutsk.
In May 2013, paleontologists from North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk excavated an almost complete mammoth, with three legs, most of the body, part of the head and an intact trunk. This creature, now held in a cryogenic vault in the Lazarev Mammoth Museum Laboratory at the university, is the best-preserved specimen of a woolly mammoth in the history of paleontology. I made special arrangements not only for a tour of the museum, but also to access the cryogenic vault where I was able to hold a leg and tusk of the world's best-preserved woolly mammoth. Yakutsk, the largest city in the world built on permafrost, is home to Russia's only scientific institute devoted to the study of permafrost, the Melnikov Permafrost Institute. The institution studies the thermal and mechanical interactions between engineering structures and permafrost, especially useful in Yakutsk where every building sits on stilts sunk into the permafrost. The permafrost around Yakutsk reaches a depth of 1,493 m (4,898 ft), making it the deepest in the world. Along with academics from the local university, I joined a tour that only descended to 15 meters.
My favorite meal was at Chochur Muran, which looks like a Siberian hunting lodge and is probably the best restaurant in Yakutsk for Sakha delicacies. I started with stroganina, frozen raw chyr, a white fish common in Arctic rivers. The trick is that the frozen chyr must not melt until it's inside your mouth. I followed that with horse rib steak.
2016 Mar by Kolja Sport
Die Anabar Strasse im sibirischen Yakutien führt über 2.000km von Mirny über Udacny, Olenyok und Saskylakh nach Yuryung-Khaya. Der Endpunkt dieser offiziellen russischen Strasse liegt bei 72°49’Nord und damit höher als das Nordkap in Norwegen (71°01’N) oder Point Barrow in den USA (71°29’N). Es ist somit das nördlichste Strassenende der Welt. Die Anabar Strasse kann ab Udacny nordwärts nur im Winter befahren werden (russ. “Zimnik” = Eisstrasse). Ein grosser Teil der Strecke befindet sich auf zugefrorenen Flüssen. Die Temperatur liegt im Winter zwischen -30° und -55°C. Bis zu unserer Fahrt im Februar/März 2016 hatte noch nie ein Ausländer die Anabar Strasse komplett befahren.
Unser Startpunkt: Irkutsk. Endpunkt: Yakutsk. Gesamtstrecke: 7.000km auf Eis.
[Es wird ein Erlaubnisschein des FSB für das nördliche Grenzgebiet benötigt, sowie mehrere 100 Liter Treibstoff, da dieser im Norden rationiert oder nicht verfügbar ist. Ausserdem ist ein Satellitentelefon angeraten, sowie unbedingt eine separate Wärmequelle, falls das Auto defekt geht.] |
2013 Jul by Veikko Huhtala*
It is possible to travel Sakha Republic by train. From Birodizhan, Jewish Oblast we took train to Neryungri, a small town in southern Sakha. There are living only 60 thousand people. It was not easy to get hotel reservation, but via Russian Travel Agency we managed to reserve one night in Timpton Hotel. Local policemen were very interested to know why we visit the town, but our papers were OK and no any problems. Sakha Republic is the largest of Russian areas, but there are not many towns and population is under one million only. It is not possible to travel capital Yakutsk by train, but I think they are trying to build railway to there also. Tommot is possible to reach by train today, 370 km north of Neryungri. |
2012 Sep by Mikhail Rybochkin
Use this link to see my report of my road trip Irkutsk - Magadan - Irkutsk. The report is in Russian but contains lots of pictures.
2005 Dec by Jorge Sanchez
It was already dark in Yakutsk, the capital of Yakutia, a territory of over three million square kilometres [six Spains, one and a half Mexicos or ten per cent larger than Argentina!!] The clock was only reading four o\'clock in the afternoon. On the other hand, in the summer the sun never sets in this arctic republic. Even worse was reading the outdoor temperature on a thermometer: minus forty-one degrees centigrade! Except for the Antarctic, Yakutia is the place with the lowest temperatures in the planet, situated in an area of true permafrost.|
My Russian friend had warned me: take good care with the people of Yakutia! But as soon as I established a degree of friendship with these people, there in the Yakutsk airport, they warned me, \'Take great care with Russians!
Opposite the airport were two hotels. I made enquiries at the firs and they told me that the rate for a single room, including a sumptuous breakfast, was three hundred roubles, a bit under ten American dollars. Astonished by the low price and determined not to be thought guilty of deception, when I showed my passport, I told the receptionist, \'Look, I\'m a foreigner.\' She didn\'t turn a hair and replied that if foreigners didn\'t stay at the hotel, she wouldn\'t be able to understand what I was saying. The price was just the same for everybody. Yippee! In Yakutia, the prices were the same, regardless of nationality, and I shouldn\'t have to seek out a geyser shed or a yurt [local type of tent] in order to sleep cheaply.
It\'s interesting that, because of the accent I had when speaking Russian, they took me for an Armenian and told me that millions of \'us\' were already there, engaged in cheap manual labour, often in diamond mining. When I got over to them the fact that I was Spanish, they were gobsmacked but when they started to revive from this, they gave me the heartiest possible welcome, saying with great conviction that it was a great honour for Yakutia to be visited by a person from such a distant country, as they see Spain.
On the following days I was invited to try \'kumis,\' a drink very popular in Kazajstan, made from the milk of mares. On one occasion an old person of the region interpreted a tune for me by means of a small instrument that they call a \'jomus,\' a bit like a soup spoon to look at. It\'s placed in part of the mouth and a reed is vibrated to produce sounds very pleasing to the ear.
The local people are of Turcoman stock, related to the people of Mongolia. They practice Shamanism; I was once fortunate enough to see and talk with a shaman with a massive mop of hair and outlandish clothes in a fair for medicinal plants in Yakutsk. Their language has strong similarities with Turkish, Tartar, Kazak and the language spoken by the people of the Republic of Tuva, some hundred and fifty million in total. Physically they are chubby and rather squat with pronounced cheekbones. Many of them are nomads who live with their herds of reindeer in the north of the country near the icebound Arctic Ocean, sleeping in yurts.
The women sport very bright jewels, especially necklaces. On close-up examination these can be seen to consist of any number of small diamonds; Yakutia has an astonishing number of diamond mines. The women of Yakutia show off their jewellery like Spanish girls wear silver forget-me-nots, given to them by their fianc?s. Every few metres you can find jewellers with the most brilliant and remarkable stones delicately sculpted into fantastic designs such as teardrops or dodecahedrons. The effect was multiplied by strategic positioning of mirrors and lenses in the shops almost to the point of being hypnotic, the sort of thing that would have suited Alibaba in his cave - to show off to the forty thieves. No doubt Yakutsk is a city of great wealth.
One day, while I was there, I decided to take a photo of a thermometer high up in the Telecommunications Building. It was already three in the afternoon and I needed to get back to my hotel. In the night the temperature would fall to below minus fifty centigrade! I had finished a visit to a fort built in 1632 near the River Lena by the Russian explorer, Simeon Deshnev, to the Cathedral, to the tower that remained from the old wooden fortifications, which had largely burned down and to some museums, including those of mammoths and of diamonds; in Yakutia you can buy little figurines made from Mammoth bones.
In August 2009 I made a boat journey from Yakutsk to Tiksi.
Tiksi is located in the delta of the Lena River, up in the Arctic Ocean. It is a very hard place to reach and you need a special permit because of its strategic and military importance since the years of the Cold War.
I received that permit after 50 days.
Then, for about 150 euro I bought a third class ticket in the boat Mekhanik Kulibin from Yakutsk to Tiksi.
Lena is the tenth longest river in the world (about 4400 kilometres) and navigating along it, from Yakutsk to Tiksi, was a breathtaking experience.
Practically all the passengers were Yakutians, except the captain, who was Russian. He was not a very sociable person and none of us could visit him, except me, the last day, to sign the book of guests.
There were some stops along the Lena River but we were not allowed to disembark. The Yakutians came in their motor boards to collect the cargo carried by the boat. That was an especial moment and practically all the villagers came to the banks of the river to observe the constant movements of passengers and goods coming and going. It reminded me the journey by boat from Belem to Manaus, along the Amazonas River.
On board there were contests of songs and chess games in the evenings.
The navigation lasted five days (including one day delay). We sailed the 5fh of August 2009 and arrived to Tiksi the night of the 9th of August.
During the navigation I made friendship with a lady in my third class cabin and I arranged to sleep in her house for only 300 rubbles per person, including transport from the port to Tiksi.
The apartment was in poor conditions and I had to sleep on the floor.
There was not hot water in the whole town of Tiksi.
Tiksi was a dreary city. During the Soviet Union times it sheltered 17000 persons, mainly soldiers, but after the Perestroika many military bases were dismantled and the soldiers sent to other destinations. Today the population of Tiksi scarcely reaches the 5000 souls.
Its streets still show Soviet signs and old phrases, such as “Glory to the Work” (Slava Trudu), which reminded me the German phrase in Auschwitz extermination camp of “Arbeit Macht Frei”.
There was only one hotel in Tiksi (closed), a museum (closed), a Post Office with Internet, a stolovaya (basic cafeteria with some snacks), and several shops selling products, especially beer and vodka.
There is no nightlife in Tiksi, except a kind of brothel frequented by drunken Yakutians and some low class women. The first night in Tiksi I went there by mistake, thinking that it was a cafeteria, just to buy soft drinks, but immediately appeared a strong inebriated Yakutian looking for trouble, so I bought a bottle of lemonade and left the place at once.
Nothing else was open; therefore I went to sleep early to my apartment.
Tiksi is composed by Tiksi I, Tiksi II and Tiksi III.
Tiksi I was the place were I stayed. Tiksi III was the airport and a small village nearby inhabited mainly by soldiers and pilots of the airplanes Tupolev TU-95 (NATO knows that plane as “Bear”).
Then, where is Tiksi II? I asked. And the local people, afraid, told me that Tiksi II was the cemetery. But some others were convinced that Tiksi II is a secret military town, underground, constructed during the times of the Cold War, sheltering secret weapons ready to use against USA in case of war.
Tiksi III is a place much nicer and less depressing than Tiksi I. I saw an Orthodox Church, an open hotel (called Arctic, where I had a decent lunch) plus an active life and laughs among the soldiers.
From Tiksi III I could observe the manoeuvres and practice flights of the strange, but beautiful, design of the “Bear” bombers airplanes.
........................................................................THE LENA PILLARS: The boat, called Mekhanik Kulibin, would sail within a few days during three days and two nights to the Lena Pillars. The price was fair, so I booked my ticket and two days later I was embarked together with about 50 Yakutians; not even a single Russian among the passengers, all of them were of Yalutian race. Only the captain of the ship was pure Russian. Everybody was surprised when I told them that I was from Spain, even more when they discovered that I could speak Russian. Yakutians are very sociable people and they like to drink as much as the Russian. In the evenings, most of the passengers were in the bar, dancing, and drinking vodka and beers. I had booked a bed in a four beds compartment, but since the boat was not full, I was left alone in my cabin, what I appreciated. During the second day of navigation we arrived to the fantastic formations on the river bank. We had reached the Lena Pillars. We disembarked and during one hour a guide took us to the top of a pillar, from where we enjoyed fantastic views over the River Lena. In the way back down to the river there were two shamans, man and wife, who performed rites around a bonfire. All the passengers, except me, participated in the ceremony. All of them were shamanists, members of a religion that is very popular en Yakutia, although they told me that they were at the same time Orthodox Christians. I observed the rites. They all danced around the fire as if possessed and cried in Yakutian language several words that I could not understand. The shaman was dressed in immaculate white colour and his wife in green. They were about 50 years old. After the ceremony they drank vodka and then I talked with the shaman (he could speak Russian, as most of the Yakutian people can). He told me that they live near the Lena Pillars and organize that ceremony for the passengers of the ship. In fact, the main reason to get there by the Yakutians was to participate in that shamanist ceremony. Rather than tourists they were religious pilgrims, because those Lena Pillars are considered sacred by the shamanists. They told me that the people who migrated to North America several thousands of years ago (the present Indians), through the Bering Strait, remembered those Lena pillars, and in order to reproduce them they erected totems in today Canada and USA. The third day the Mekhanik Kulibin returned to Yaklutsk and some days later my friends arrived. When we boarded the vessel to Tiksi I was surprised to see again the same captain in the same boat, the Mekhanik Kulibin! ......... The Lena Pillars is another wonder that awaits the brave traveller in Yakutia. It consists on natural formation of fantastic rocks resembling towers, statues and columns over 150 meters high, along more than 80 kilometers, found along the banks of the Lena River. That visual ecstasy lasted several hours.
In Yakutsk I bought that excursion, also in the boat Mekhanik Kulibin. The second day we stopped in a Natural Park where there was a shaman and his wife who had come to perform ceremonies in which almost all the passengers of the Mekhanik Kulibin participated (including me) dancing around a bonfire with the arms extended and shouting like possessed: Uuuuuhhhh!… Uuuuuhhhh!… Uuuuuhhhh….!
Back in Yakutsk I started the Road of Bones, or 2000 kilometres of bad roads built by the prisoners of the Gulags in times of the criminal Stalin, to Magadan, in the Sea of Okhotsk. The road is so called because of the prisoners dying daily during its construction, who were buried under the asphalt. In fact, that entire road is a huge cemetery.
..................................................................................... OVERLAND FROM TOMMOT TO YAKUTSK: In Neryungri I boarded a toy train to Tommot. This railway line is called Amur–Yakutsk Mainline. Then I boarded a car whose driver was waiting for passengers. When it was full we left to Yakutsk. It was a long journey crossing a river by ferry. The road in that year (2009) was unpaved. Several times we had to stop the car because of the works going on to continue the railway line until Yakutsk. When finally we reached Yakutsk it was dark, about midnight. I asked the driver to drop me in the airport, where I had sledpt in the past and I knew it was a safe place to spend the night, and free! It had been an interesting journey crossing some small villages and exuberant nature.