POLAR EXPRESS

trans_siberian_train

Photo by Jens Schlueter/AP

Siberia – The middle of nowhere, extreme temperatures that can freeze your breath, tough people wrestling bears, swimming in ice and constantly drinking vodka in their spare time to warm up their freezing cold bodies, and of course famous Trans-Siberian train that takes at least one week to get through. This is a picture that most of us get when someone mentions Siberia. Although this might not be a holiday idea for an average Sharm El Sheikh enthusiast, Siberian chilling reputation tells only half of the story. Siberia is more than cold and an infamous piece of history during Stalin’s rules, it is also one of Russia’s most spectacular regions which is filled with astonishing variety of wildlife and many mysterious stories and incidents.


Trans Siberian Train

You must have heard about the Trans-Siberian Railway. Trans-Siberian Railway actually covers three different roads: Trans-Siberian- 9289km long which continues east through Siberia all the way to Vladivostok, Trans- Manchurian, which covers 8,986km and goes to Beijing through Harbin and north – eastern China, and Trans-Mongolian- 7865km from Moscow through Mongolia and the Gobi Desert to Beijing in China. All three routes follow the same main line for the first 4 days from Moscow to Ulan Ude, and take 6 to 7 days to complete if travelled non-stop. On the train, you will spend your time mostly meeting people, chatting, reading, playing games and enjoying the wonderful views of the changing landscape.trans-siberian-map

Carriages

The four-berth closed second class compartments are reasonably comfortable and cheap and usually favoured by tourists and locals. The first-class compartment is shared by two passengers and sometimes has a washbasins and a TV/Video monitor. For those on the budget “Platskartny”- third-class is the cheapest option, but with open-plan bunks which can be rough and inadequate for a long journey. Outlets for charging your electronic devices are available in the hallways. The showers are provided only in the 1st class, and in some trains there are showers in a separate carriage for extra payment. For those who don’t travel the 1st class, at each end of the carriage there is a loo with a small sink. Most of the times the toilets are quite dirty, so you’d be advised to have some liquid soap and soft wet tissues with you.

Food

There is a restaurant on the train with the food quality which is hard to predict. The food menu tends to change together with the stuff when train passes through different countries, so if you are fussy, it might be a good idea to bring some supplies. But generally you will be able to buy everything: beer, water, potatoes, eggs, etc. Russian people are usually very friendly and famous for their hospitality, and they will often treat you to their own home made food and vodka. Yes, drinking is quite common on the train especially if you travel 3rd class. When you see someone flicks their throat with their fingers at you, that means that you are invited to come and drink with him.


Places To Stop By

You might travel all the way through in one go or make stopovers and explore the cities and nearby places you pass along, but to get the real taste of the Siberian beauty and see amazing, you will have to swerve off the course and travel farther. Siberia has one of the most beautiful and vast landscapes in the world which is also home to an astonishing variety of wildlife. From tigers and bears to many different species of birds to watch and enjoy. Although these places are hard to depict in a few words, I thought it still would be worth just to mention them for those few who might want to go and see them.


Altai Mountains

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Glamour Shavlo. © Anna Grafova. altai-photo.ru

Marvellous mountain landscapes, glaciers, crystal clear rivers, forest wooden lodges to sleep in, and organic, locally grown food. If you are looking for the “real Siberia”, this is one of the places to go. Altai Mountains are home to many rare species of relic plant, animals, and flora that can not be found anywhere else on earth.You might even find the door to the legendary Kingdom of Belovodia. According to legend, the doorway to another dimension opens once every thirty-three years. Only seven people can enter and only one, the seventh, needs to come back to show the way to six more in due time.

  • Train: Trans-Siberian to Novosibirskvia,Yekaterinburg or Omsk, than Change for train to Biysk. From Bisk take a bus to Barnaul (175km).
  • Activities: Horse-Riding, Trekking, Glacier-Climbing, White Water Rafting, Fishing, Jeep Tours.
  • Places of Interest: Chuya River Valley, Shavlinskie Lakes, Karakol Lakes, Potanii Glacier, Tavan Belchir.
  • Temperature: Winter: -7 / -15 C   Summer: +14 / +25 C

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Baikal Region

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Photo by Matthieu Paley

Baikal region, landscape filled with beautiful valleys, pockets of thermal springs and thousands species of plants and animals which two thirds of them can be found nowhere else in the world. It is also home to the deepest and largest by volume lake in the world, Baikal. To add to its picturesque charm, the lake is practically encircled by mountains covered with dense taiga which in many places comes right down to the water. The region is mainly inhibited by Buryats, who practice shamanism, and Tibetan Buddhists.

  • Train: All three Trans-Siberian trains to Irkutsk. From Irkutsl it is 2h by bus or 45min by hydrofoil.
  • Activities: Ice Safari, Ice Diving, Dog Sledding, Ice Fishing, Rafting On Ice, Horse Riding, Baikal Cruises, Trekking, Swimming.
  • Places of Interest: Baikal Lake, Sayan Mountains, Hot Springs, Barguzin Valley, Circumbaikal Railway, Buddhist Centre, Olkhon- the 3rd largest lake island in the world.
  • Temperature: Winter: -15 / -25 C   Summer: +17 / +20 C

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Terelj National Park

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Photo by Benjamin Packham

If you opt for Trans-Mongolian path, you definitely should get off the train at Ulan-Bator and head to Terelj National Park which is even connected with Ulan Bator by a paved road. Terelj National Park is located in Khentii Mountains and is very well known for its natural charm and fascinating rock formations. The area is ideal for hiking, climbing and many other activities. Here you will also get the taste of Mongolian culture and opportunity to live in a ger camp, a traditional Mongolian tent used for generations by nomadic herdsman.

  • Train: Trans-Mongolian to Ulan-Bator. From there, there is a bus which takes aprox. 2, 1/2 hours to get to Terelj village.
  • Activities: Trekking, Horse Riding, Hiking, Climbing, Photography, Seeing Nomad Culture.
  • Places of Interest: Turtle Rock, Praying Lama Rock, Tuul River &Gorkhi river Areas.
  • Temperature: Winter: -14 / -20 C   Summer: +17 / +22 C

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Stolby Nature Reserve

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raskalov-vit.livejournal.com

Stolby Nature Reserve is perhaps best known for its unique and mystical beauty of majestically looking and awkwardly shaped rock formations. The Reserve is also famous for Stolby climbers, ardent enthusiasts of climbing these rocks who are also called- “stolbists”. “Stolbism” became a socio-cultural phenomenon and is now published in Russian and foreign encyclopaedias. These rocks are truly big and marvellous, and its location in remote desert, (distance of 14- 20mi 24–32km) doesn’t make it easy to get there – neither on foot nor on horseback. The area also teems with wild animals.

  • Trains: All three Trans-Siberian trains to Krasnoyarsk. From there It is 40 – 60min by bus. For more attractions, travel to Khakasiya or to Tuva republics.(600 km).
  • Activities: Trekking, Mountain Climbing.
  • Places of Interest: Taiga forests, Karst Caves, Lion Gates Rock, Sayan Mountains, Krasnoyarsk, Yenisei River.
  • Temperature: Winter: -26 / -35 C   Summer: +12 / +25 C

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Lena Pillars National Park

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Photo: Bulgien myopera.com

UNESCO World Heritage, Lena Pillars Nature Park is located in the Central Yakutia and is marked by spectacular rock pillars which sit along the banks of the Lena River. Ancient local people believed these statues were frozen mythical characters. The shapes of these pillars can really capture your imagination: here one can see shapes of mythical animals, monsters or an old man leaning on his huge staff. In this area, scientists discovered ancient bone remains of mammoth, bison, Lena Horse and woolly rhinoceros. It is an excellent place to spend your time rafting and hiking through majestic, geologic formations. Some rafting tours duration are 10-15 days long and will give you an opportunity to see  flora, fauna, and stunning sceneries of this part of Siberia .

  • Train: Trans-Siberian to Krasnoyarsk and from there a number of train connections to Tommet. However, if possible, the best option is to get off the train in Irkutsk and catch one of an occasionally operated passenger boats coming in from Ust-Kut (Irkutsk Oblast) to Yakutsk. You can also catch direct trains from Moscow Kazanskaya to Tommot. From Tommot to Yakutsk- 450 km bus ride. Yakutsk to village of Elanka on the bank of the Lena River (150km). Another option is to go by train to Nerungri and Aldan and farther by road. Trans-Siberian railway line connection to Yakutsk is under construction and is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.
  • Activities: Rafting, Trekking ,Fishing, Climbing, Boat Tours.
  • Places of Interest: Lena River, Lena Pillars Rocks, Valley Of Labydia, Desert Dunes, Diring-Yuryakh-Archaeological Excavations, Glacier.
  • Temperature: Winter: -42 / -47 C   Summer: +26 / +31 C (Yakutsk is the coldest city in the world. Record temperature recorded at  -64 C).

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Ergaki Nature Park

Ergaki_Nature_Park_4
www.kamakaev.ru

Everything staggers the imagination here, and it seems that there’s nothing constant, the rocks and lakes surrounded by the tumble of the huge boulders have their own queer colours and tints. On the area of 300 km, there are many beautiful waterfalls, rock and lakes, each of them worth travelling to. Almost 500m high vertical rocks make Ergaki Nature Park very popular training and competition ground for rock climbers, and not only. Ergaki is also a federal training centre for many Athletes and attracts a significant amount of active nature lovers. Even though these hills are not one of that biggest, the typical for mountains changing weather and the possibility of meeting wild animals, make hikes to Ergaki very serious and responsible task.

  • Train: Trans-Siberian to Krasnoyarsk. From there, train to Abakan (14h) or Irkutsk – Abakan (about 17 hours). Bus from Abakan to Minusinsk (23km). There are also direct trains from Moscow. Over all It is easily accessible region by road.
  • Activities: Trekking, Mountain &Rock Climbing, Kayaking, Mountain Biking, Fishing, Horse Riding, Snow Mobile Safaris, Skiing, Snowboarding.
  • Places of Interest: Rainbow Lake, Golden Lake, Lake Of Mountain Spirits, Bright Lake, Dragon’s Tooth, Sleeping Sayan Waterfalls, Waterfall Of Mountain Spirits.
  • Temperature: Winter: -13 /-25 C   Summer: +13 / +26 C

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Kamchatka

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Photo by Igor Shpilenok

Kamchatka, land cloaked in secrecy. The Russians used to ban this region to travellers for military reasons, and even today with open borders some places are still off limits. Its remoteness means that only the most adventurous venture to this secluded land. This place is one of the most stunning, high density of active volcanoes regions on our planet. It is the world where violent extremes collide, where giants still rain and where fire and ice compete forever. Here, you can face the world’s largest brown bears and the rarest eagles on earth. You can watch volcanic eruptions light up the night, and geysers spiting boiling water 20 meters high into the air. Common myth is that travel to Kamchatka is prohibitively expensive, impossible to do on your own, and requires the use of helicopters to get to and around peninsula. While travelling by helicopter is an expensive option and will add an extra dimension to your trip, you can still fly there for around 300 to 500 £, and you can move around many places by means of snowmobiles, horses, and all-terrain vehicles.

  • Train: Trans-Siberian to Vladivostok. From there you need to board the boat or plane to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (Plane- 3 hours). You can also fly from Irkutsk and Moscow. Unfortunately, there are no official land roads connecting Kamchatka with other parts of Russia. The conditions are too extreme.
  • Activities: Trekking, Volcano Climbing, Skiing, Heli-Skiing, Big Game Hunting, Acid Lake Water Sports, Salmon Fishing, Bear-Watching.
  • Places of Interest: Kronotsky Nature Reserve, Kronotsky Volcano, Valley Of The Geysers, Blue Lakes, and many other beautiful places.
  • Temperature: Winter: -5 / -15 C   Summer: +15 / +30 C

 
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Great Wall Of China

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Great Walls from www.wallpapergang.com

The Great Wall is one of the greatest wonders of the world, and is listed as a World Heritage by UNESCO. 5500 miles (8,851km) of a gigantic dragon winds up and down across mountains, plateaus, grasslands and deserts, from east to west of China. 2000 years of history had its impact on the wall and many of the sections of the wall are now in ruins or don’t exist any more. However, owing to its architecture and historical value, it is still one of the most appealing tourist attractions. Unlike some of the Siberian destinations, the Great Wall can be quite overcrowded, and in order to get a quiet experience, you will need to travel farther to less popular, remote sections.

  • Train: Trans-Manchurian or Trans-Mongolian to Beijing. Once in Beijing you board a bus or train to your chosen section of the wall. ( 1h 20min to 2h 30min).
  • Activities: Hiking, Biking, Cultural Trips.
  • Places of Interest: Wall Sections- Badaling, Juyongguan, Jinshanling, Huang-Hua-Cheng, Mutianyu, Gubeikou, Simatai.
  • Temperature: Winter: +2 /-10   Summer: Plus +26 / +33 C

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