This is really cool to help international travellers with their trips across Yakutia. In March 2012 in Yakutsk, I met three nice Westerners, Austrian Brigitte and the Swiss couple Susan and Peter, who were invited to the Russian region of Republic Sakha-Yakutia by my friend Alexander Permyakov‘s Russian Expedition Club. Extremely nice people!
They planned to go to Verkhoyansk, one of the coldest inhabited places in North-East Yakutia, and they eventually made it there. I resolved for them just a few issues with a vehicle and drivers. Saying a lot of thanks to Slava Mestnikov for an urgent assistance.
Their route was Yakutsk – Khandyga – Teply Klyuch – Topolinoe (reindeer herder community) – Stalin’s Gulags – Batagai – Verkhoyask. As you know, the part Khandyga – Teply Klyuch is located on the Road of Bones, officially known as the Kolyma federal road.
No more words from me. Let’s continue to traveller’s road trip witnesses and photos. Yes, photos. 50+ images of the long journey from Yakutsk to Verkhoyansk.
A WINTER ROAD TRIP TO VERKHOYANSK, RUSSIA
Brigitte, Susan and Peter’s Travel Report:
When we told our plan to visit Yakutia, people first did not have the vaguest idea where this could be and when they heard it was in Siberia generally showed little understanding for this plan. In middle Europe this region is mostly perceived as a forbidding landscape, being extremely cold and hostile with nothing to see or to do besides maybe fishing and hunting.”
But also we ourselves had no clear picture what to expect. It was a hard-earned trip, not easily at all organised from the distance and following the tempting call of “Yakutia extreme” we imagined something adventurous, exotic and maybe even dangerous.
Approaching Yakutsk in plane our first impression could be called somehow exotic, when everybody except us – being well-drilled European air passengers and accustomed to supposedly security-based oppression – was talking on their mobile phones during landing.
The next literally breathtaking experience was the inhalation of – 38 degree cold air.
So much for extreme experiences.
Though facing extraordinary environmental conditions Yakutsk presented itself as a quite “normal”, friendly and welcoming city with various cultural and social offers and a pleasant place to stay for some days. But it was not the city we came for; we wanted to hit the road to the north – out into the wild.
The wild turned out to be mild and gentle towards us and we did not have to struggle with any adversities of nature and/or the road. On the contrary we immersed into a kind of winter fairy tale. The cold was not breathtaking any more, but felt pleasant. The sun kept shining every day from a perfectly blue sky, producing surreal long shadows. The light and the colours seemed to be from outside of this world.
The brilliant white and dry snow felt like washing powder and could not be used for building snowmen; instead it formed little snowballs in the branches and twigs which gave the impression of endless cotton fields. Shamanistic symbols and offertory places on the way added to these extraordinary charms.
The snow also graciously covered less charming aspects like rubbish along the road and omnipresent rusty metal parts. In contrast around coal-fired power plants the snow – and everything else – turned dark like in mourning, thus exceptionally matching with negative prejudices.
We got to know some of the pitfalls of the winter road, but overall it was much less adventurous than described in various travel reports. After all it is a frequented and quite well maintained road, even though admittedly a case for experienced drivers.
We had the chance to meet all kind of people – not all of them being super nice, but none being really nasty – and to experience cordial hospitality. Amongst many hospitable people we particularly like to remember the team of the meteorological station Iaema.
Even the station itself is remarkable and somehow fallen out of time not only for having its own time zone, but also for still using the Morse system for data transfer and communication with the outside world.
Contrary to popular perceptions the huge and vast landscape is varied and scenic, offering surprising new views around each curve. But amidst this lovely scenery also horror lurks around. Numerous well preserved Gulag camps with still intact watch towers and barbed wire line the road and according to local belief the spirits of the many killed still haunt the region.
Recapitulatory looking back it was neither really adventurous nor exotic or dangerous but
a wonderful and varied experience, that brought us quite close to landscape and people.
“Yakutia extreme” applies to the environment, not the trip and observing how people cope with this extreme environment made us reflect on our own way of living, as well.
We will try to make the sceptical people around us understand that Yakutia is definitely worth a visit.
Saying TONS of “thank you” to Brigitte, Susan and Peter for such a great travel feedback!
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