The Hidden Diamonds of Yakutia
Yakutia occupies 1/5th of Russia’s territory, but it still remains one of the most enigmatic and unexplored places of the world. Only several hundred tourists venture there every year and only a few dozen of them are foreigners. This is not surprising as Yakutia is 7,500 kilometers away from Moscow and even further from St. Petersburg. But if you want to really get to know this country, Yakutia is somewhere you should consider visiting.
Text by Elena Krivovyaz
Photos courtesy of Russia Discovery and Rail Zalyalov
An ancient Yakut legend has it that God was once flying over Yakutia and his hands got frozen (as well they might) so he dropped all his treasures. That’s why the region is so enriched with diamonds, gold and other treasures, so some locals believe. But these are not the only riches of the remote land. Incidentally, Yakutia is one of the few regions in the world where the natives still preserve their aboriginal authentic culture and old-time traditions. This is the land where the oldest petroglyphic drawings were found and the first ancient human site was discovered. The indigenous peoples of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia’s other name) are the Sakhas, Evenks, Ukagirs as well as many others. They are used to Yakutia’s inexorable weather and many of them are devoted to deer-raising and stock-farming. They are the bearers of the outstanding culture of the Far North as well.
Yakutia’s unexplored and un-spoilt wilderness can be seen everywhere: in the boundless tundra plains, in the primeval taiga and in numerous lakes hidden in the highlands. Yakutia contains a multitude of islands; rich with rare species like white bear, walrus and seal. The continental part is densely populated by reindeers, brown bears, wolves, argali, elks, musk deer and a vast collection of furbearing animals: blue foxes, sables, foxes, ermines, minks… The lakes and rivers are inhabited by more than fifty kinds of fish like sturgeon, carp, pike and many others.
Hunting & Fishing Extreme
Here are the largest salmon in the world, which can be found only in Yakutia: taimen or Tsar-fish, as locals proudly name it. These fish, which inhabit the deep and cold waters of Yakutia’s rivers, such as the Olenek, can reach two or even three meters (!) and weigh some 80 kilograms. Taimen are not that easy to catch; you need a guide, a motor boat and even a helicopter to locate them, which make such fishing tours rather expensive, however there is a great diversity of fishing tours available in the lakes and mountains, at heights of over 1,000 meters where the views are beautiful to the extent that it is difficult to describe them.
Hunting is alive and well in Yakutia, and you can join various specialist tours. The most expensive is elk or reindeer hunting. The Yakutia administration governs the amount of animals that can be hunted each year, and it is only possible to hunt there by permission or with special licenses.
The Northern Wonderland
If you happen to be an animal rights defender and don’t like such aggressive hunting games there are many other things to do in Yakutia. One of the most attractive places and a doubtless must-see are ‘Lena’s Poles’ (Lenskiye Stolby) which stretch for tens of miles down both banks of Lena River. Many tourists come from all over the world to see this huge conglomeration of 200-meter-high rocks which resemble giants who came to the water to drink, and then turned into stones. This magnificent landscape can be scrutinized by tourists when cruising along the Lena River on a cruise ship. Moreover, ‘Lena’s Poles’ are a unique ecosystem and they were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. You can start your itinerary from Yakutsk and it will take you two or three days to pass this stony magnificence.
The largest city in Yakutia – Yakutsk, cannot be considered a megalopolis – there are only 300,000 inhabitants – but for Yakutians it is a whole universe, as for them a settlement of 7,000 is a town. If you happen to visit Yakutsk, you should visit one of the most unusual museums – The Treasury of the Sakha Republic. It displays raw diamonds and gold, as well as awardwinning jewelry.
Many travelers choose Yakutia for the birds which are impossible to see anywhere else. The Yst-Lensky Nature Reserve is a unique place where 250 different kinds of birds nest, including the rare black and white crane, a rose gull, a merlin and so on. Many of the birds fly thousands of miles here to hatch their baby birds. Yakutia welcomes everybody who is interested in birds and this kind of tour is very popular.
If you a fanatic of Ice Age cartoons, then go to the Mammoth Museum. It is the only museum in the world where paleontological exhibits are stored, studied and displayed. Yakutia holds a significant collection of almost perfectly produced mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses, bison, musk oxen, cave lions and others animal of bygone eras. The first-ever skeleton of a mammoth - Adam’s mammoth - was found in 1799 in the delta of the Lena River. Mammoths have become a symbol of Yakutia.
If you’re adventurous enough you shouldn’t miss a trip to the Pole of Cold. The absolute coldest point of the Northern Hemisphere, it is situated in Oimyakonsky Uluss where a record negative temperature of –71 Celsius was recorded in 1926. Nearby, is the magical Lybynkyr Lake located in the mountains at a height of 1,060 meters. Locals call it the ‘Devil Lake’ and whisper numerous stories about a giant beast living in it which eats people and animals. When you get there, you will discover a beautiful and unforgettable view. A trip to Yakutia reminds you that life is worth living.