Russian citizens say about Yakutia the same what foreigners say about Russia: very far and cold, plenty of bears and taiga is everywhere. All the statements are true about Yakutia. There is no railway connecting the capital Yakutsk with the rest of the world. The easiest way to get here is by plane.
Yakutia is situated very far from the sea and separated by the mountain range. It’s extremely cold here in comparison to the rest of Siberia. Outside Yakutsk there are rare settlements of horse breeders, in the north – nomadic Evens reindeer herders.
While there is complete lack of infrastructure travelers are attracted by photos of frosty eyelashes on social networks and videos about how poured boiling water in one instant turns into snow dust.
In Yakutsk, the largest city located in continuous permafrost, work relevant institutions: Permafrost Institute does research on soil behavior in the Arctic north. The Mammoth Museum studies the remains of ancient animals. Diamonds mined in the depth of Yakutia are processed at lapidary plant. When the temperatures reach up to -50°C life in the city does not stop. The Yakuts stay elegant: real fur coat from sable and arctic fox decorated with beads, boots made from reindeer fur – here it’s just a condition for survival.
The mighty river Lena (length 4500 km) is the main traffic artery in Yakutia due to lack of railway and motor ways. Rare hard surface roads are not the best due to soil movements on continuous permafrost. However, winter road laid on the ice of Lena can compete with the best autobahns. Head on a tour along the ice road to explore amazing rock formations on the banks of the river.
At the beginning of Stalin’s rule when Soviet geologists discovered large gold reserves in the Kolyma river valley, it was decided to build the road to access these resources. The GULAG prisoners and prisoners of war had been sent there for backbreaking job during exhaustible summer heat and extreme cold in winter. Thousands of prisoners died there breaking a frozen ground with their picks and carving their way through mountains. Their bodies had been simply covered with the moss and left on the side of a new road. Few years ago the Kolyma highway had been expanded and now this road passes literally over the bones.
The Evens are one of the indigenous people of Yakutia, with a population of no more than 20,000. Following the Soviet attempts at enforcing a permanent settlement, they are once again taking up traditional reindeer herding. Although their lodgings may seem modest – a tent or a wooden hut, they consider themselves to be the wealthiest of all; after all, they have thousands of reindeer, and the entire Tundra is at their disposal. Share a meal with the nomads, and then go for a reindeer sleigh ride.
This is the meeting point for all the signs of Yakutia’s sharp continental climate. Here, one can witness a temperature difference of up to 100 C between winter and summer. The Pole of Cold is located at an altitude of 700 meters, in a mountain basin. This of course also means that one can expect an even colder climate here, since the basin traps cold air; thus, lowering the temperature further. Several hundred people live in what may be one of the hardest places to reach in Russia. This ice desert is home to nomads, horse breeders, Yakuts, Evens, Russians, Ukrainians, and descendants of the GULAG prisoners who at some point, chose to stay here.
A trip to Yakutia starts with 6 hour flight from Moscow to Yakutsk.
The best time to come to Yakutia is in winter and in the beginning of spring (from the middle of December till the beginning of April) when ice crossing is possible through the rivers. It’s faster to reach Oymyakon in winter than in summer thanks to ice crossings on the rivers.
You will need 6 days for the trip to Oymyakon, the pole of cold: 2 days for the road there and 2 days back, 2 days with the accommodation in Oymyakon or Tomtor. You will need 8 days for the whole trip if to add one day for a visit to Yakutsk and one day for the trip to the Lena Pillars.
You will need at least one week for a trip from Yakutsk to Magadan (2000 km) along the Kolyma Highway till the Sea of Okhotsk. You will visit ghost towns, the remnants of GULAG camps.