Expedition to the Pole of Cold

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Journey by 4x4 jeep to one of the coldest inhabited place on Earth – township Oymyakon in Yakutia.
1000 km route passes along notoriously famous the Kolyma Highway also known as the “Road of Bones” that was built under the rule of Joseph Stalin by slave labourers – political prisoners and captives. You will cross the mighty Siberian river Lena on ice and its many streams. It’s a long way through uninhabited tundra with no houses for hundreds of kilometers around. You will meet indigenous nomad Evens people and courageous truck drivers who ply through this harsh area between Yakutsk and Magadan.
This trip is a true expedition that doesn’t require physical training. However, the traveler should be ready for extreme cold temperatures, extended hours of long jeep rides and experiences that have nothing in common with mass tourism.
Challenge yourself and share daily life activities with locals such as ice fishing, harness a reindeer with reindeer herders, reindeer racing through tundra.        

Visual guide to this trip

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Itinerary

Departure flight to Yakutsk in the evening. Night on the plane.

Arrival at the airport in Yakutsk. Meet your local guide and transfer to the hotel.
After breakfast head out on a city tour with your guide: Yakutsk is the largest city in the world in the permafrost zone with a population of 282 000 inhabitants. All the houses are built on stilts and their utility systems are installed above ground. Visit to the Old Quarter situated in historical part of the city where once used to be wooden fortress built by Russian Cossacks in the XVII century.
Visit to the Treasury of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). You’ll see famous diamonds, jewelry made by Yakut craftsmen, exquisite carvings in mammoth tusks. One third of the world’s diamonds are mined in Yakutia, gem cutting and jewelry making is one of the main part of local economy.            
Lunch in the restaurant with local specialties such as “stroganina” (slices of frozen fish served cold), venison and young horse meat dishes.
After the lunch visit either the Mammoth Museum or Ethnographic Museum.
The unique mammoth fossils and other ancient animals have been discovered in permafrost in Yakutia.
You will learn a lot about the national instrument jew’s harp and listen to how it’s played in Ethnographic Museum.
Night in the hotel in Yakutsk.

After early breakfast check out from the hotel.
Today our expedition to the Pole of Cold begins with the ice crossing over the Lena. The Lena is one of the longest and largest by volume river in Siberia that separates Yakutsk from the mainland during freeze-up period. The ice is over 1 meter thick in winter that easily withstands very heavy trucks.
The main road of Yakutia that connects Yakutsk with the rest of Russia is situated on the other bank of the river.
You’ll travel to the north 410 km (8 hours) to the small settlement of Khandyga. Our route passes through low land area of Yakutia where wetlands follow larch taiga. This is the land of horse breeders. You will constantly encounter herds grazing freely. You’ll have many photo stops for spectacular landscapes.
Lunch in the cafe in one of rare villages where truck drivers stop for lunch driving along the Kolyma highway.
In the evening one more ice crossing over the Aldan River.
Arrival at a small settlement of Khandyga. Dinner in the cafe. Night in the guest house.

Breakfast in the cafe.
Khandyga was founded in 1938 as a distribution point of Gulag. That’s the place where the construction of the road to proven gold reserves in Kolyma river valley had started.
Today is the most difficult mountain section of the road till you reach Oymyakon (480 km, 10 hours). Quite soon you will see snow-covered peaks of Verkhoyansk mountain range.
Stop for a visit to a local museum at the settlement of Tepliy Klyuch. The Kolyma highway was built under the rule of Joseph Stalin on the frost soil through marshy tundra, carved out of the sides of mountains by captives and prisoners of Gulag camps. Scores of prisoners died in these inhumane living conditions from cold and hunger, giving the highway its haunting nickname “Road of Bones”. Along this road you will see high crosses. One of them was erected in memory of Romanian war prisoners who built this road.
Drivers slow down on mountainous road while passing famous “hare loop”. The only inhabitants in this ice desert are reindeer herders. You might see reindeer-hide tents called chum far away in the tundra.
Stop by the Kubeme village for fuelling and lunch in a small cafe. You leave the Kolyma highway to make the remaining 100 km till Oymyakon.
Arrival at Oymyakon, dinner and night in a guest house.          

Breakfast in the guest house.
Today you will spend the day with the locals. Oymyakon is the coldest permanently inhabited place on the planet. In 1938 record-breaking temperature of −77.8 ° had been recorded. You’ll start the day with the walking tour of the township that is situated in a picturesque Oymyakon valley.
Our next stop is horse breeders’ farm where you will learn about Yakuts main traditional occupation – horse breeding and unique breed of Yakut horse. Our hosts will treat you with berry juice called mors, slices of frozen fish/meat served cold called stroganina and will invite you to warm up by the stove in the nomad tent.
After the lunch in the guest house you will be introduced to another important activity of the locals is ice fishing. Oymyakon is situated on the bank of mountain river Indigirka that is rich in valuable salmon fish such as broad whitefish, omul, nelma, muksun. Together with local fishermen you can try to pull the net with the caught fish or just watch how they do it.
Dinner and night in the guest house.

Breakfast in the guest house.
Today you will visit Tomtor settlement that had developed during the construction of the Kolyma Highway. Many famous prisoners lived here, such as writer Varlam Shalamov, who wrote “The Kolyma Tales”. There is monument to the victims of Stalinist repression – The Memory Bell.
During the walking tour in Tomtor you will see local school, post office where you can send a postcard from, shop and a small wooden house-airport (planes land here once a month). In local museum you will learn that during WWI USSR received military planes from American allies which flew from Alaska to the military front with many stopovers including in Tomtor. An important part of the exhibition is devoted to Gulag where you will see personal belongings of prisoners and their documents.
Our next stop is ice cave. It’s the labyrinth in the permafrost that is decorated with ice sculptures.
On the way back to Oymyakon you will stop in a small village where members of a family of horse breeders live. There will be a small concert of traditional Yakut songs performed by locals in the cultural center.
Dinner and night in the guest house.

Breakfast in the guest house.
Journey back to Yakutsk.
In the afternoon you will stop by reindeer herders camp and meet with Evens. Evens are indigenous people of Yakutia, nomads who herd hundreds of their reindeers.
Meet reindeer herders in their hut and try reindeer soup and tea. After having a small talk about their daily life you will have reindeer sleigh ride.    
Continue your journey.
Dinner in the cafe and night in Khandyga.

Breakfast in the cafe.
We continue onwards to Yakutsk (410 km).
En route, we stop to visit the open-air museum in Cherekh. In Russian Empire Yakutia was the place for the exiles and was called “the prison without walls”. Escape from these remote and deserted places was meaningless.
You will visit the home of revolutionary Pekarsky who prepared the dictionary of the Yakut language during his exile. The museum contains several traditional houses such as winter dwelling of Yakut and summer yurt.
Arrival in Yakutsk in the evening.
Festive dinner in the restaurant “Chochur-Muran”.
Night in the hotel.

Breakfast in the hotel.
En route to the airport you’ll visit a local market in Yakutsk. In the open-air part of the market they sell frozen fish, stacked in piles, boxes full of cranberry, cowberry, blueberry and other taiga berries.
In the heated part of the market they sell delicacies of cured venison and young horse meat, red caviar. You can buy here traditional footwear called torbasy (soft boots made of deer skins with the fur outside).
Transfer to the airport.
Departure to Moscow.

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