The Republic of Altai is in the southern part of Western Siberia, near the border with Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China. The people of Altai were once nomads that settled during Soviet times. They live from agriculture and have preserved a patriarchal way of life with beliefs linked to Burkhanism and shamanism. Altai Republic is one of the least populated regions of Siberia where, instead of industry, there are domesticated herds of horses and reindeer, a perfect destination for nature tourism.
Altai straddles two worlds and is divided by two landscapes and climates. In the South, a dry wind sweeps across the Mongolian steppe, while the northern Siberian plains attract rain. In just a few hours, you can cross over from taiga to semi-desert or mountainous glaciers that descend into valleys where fruit trees flourish.
Like other Turkic populations in Russia, including the Bashkirs, Yakuts and Tuvans, Altai people have preserved their traditional diphonic singing. In Altai, the Kaichi singers are accompanied by a string instrument called tovshuur. People here believe that, through their songs, they communicate with the sources, rivers and the Altai mountains. Local people often say: “When the Kaichi sings, the spirit of Altai comes to visit in the form of a small girl.”
The Altai people are now modest shepherds, once brave and nomadic. You have a unique opportunity to visit them on your tour. Russians brought them wooden houses, called izba, but they still preserved their traditions and continue to build yurts called ail. Nowadays, local Altai people own two homes, a main residence in their courtyard and a traditional yurt that they spend the summer in. If you ask them why they move during the warm season, they will simply answer: “We want to lead a Nomadic life.”
Even if it’s not as big or as deep as Baikal, Lake Teletskoye is the biggest lake of the Altai mountain range and is just as pure as its bigger brother. Telestkoye’s steep shores are covered in taiga and sparsely populated. If you travel from there you’ll discover the wild and barely inhabited Chulychman river valley.
The Altai Republic is in the southern part of Siberia, about 4,000 km from Moscow. The capital of this republic is Gorno-Altaysk.
Getting to Altai is easiest by plane with direct flights by S7 Airways from Moscow to Gorno-Altaysk. You can also fly to Barnaul but it’s less practical because you will need to transfer to Gorno-Altaysk (250 km).
If you are travelling by Trans-Siberian, you can change at Novosibirsk and get to Biysk by night train, which is just 100 km from Gorno-Altaysk.
The Altai climate is continental but the rains and temperature can vary depending on where you are. For example, on Lake Teletskoye the climate is gentler with fresh and sunny summers. On the other side, the Chuya steppe is very dry with little rain and winter temperatures that can fall below - 40°C, compared to summer, when they may reach +30°C.
It’s better to visit Altai during the warm season that starts in May when the rhododendron bushes start to flower in the mountains until the “golden autumn” in September. During this time, you can take a circuit that includes Lake Teletskoye (8 days).
The itinerary that crosses the Chuya steppe from Gorno-Altaysk to the village of Kosh-Agach (6 days) is accessible year-round.
For a short trip (4 days), visit the Karakol Valley or take a holiday on the shores of Lake Teletskoye with boat trips to waterfalls in the Altai national reserve.