It is the first time that I had the chance to go to the place where cold is permanently present. A couple of weeks earlier, several of my colleagues and I have been contacted by representatives of the two ministries of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) – the Ministry of Federal Relations and Communications, and the Ministry of Business and Tourism. They invited us to take part in a big festival called “Winter starts from Yakutia”, which is held in early December each year.
This is not just a celebration, but also one of the key brands of Yakutia. With this event the real winter starts, when Russian Father Frost from Great Ustyug comes to visit the Yakut Lord of Cold, Winter and the Kingdom of Permafrost whose name is Chiskhaan. Together they (drink vodka) celebrate the coming of Symbol Cold, which then starts its pre-new year’s trip through Russia.
Of course, I accepted the invitation to discover Yakutsk with pleasure and don’t regret it at all. On the contrary! This was an amazing trip with great people, bright impressions and intensive events. I am not very good in relating the complete sequence of events, and I don’t really like doing that, but I would like to share with you some of my personal impressions.
Below you will find 7 of the most impressive moments of my trip to Yakutsk. They are not shown in order of importance, as it is quite difficult to classify them. They come in the order in which they came up to my mind when I wrote this article.
1. Geography and climate
The Republic of Sakha is the largest region of Russia. Yakutia area represents 2/3 of the Western European area, it is 6 times larger than France and 13 times larger than the UK . Yakutia represents 1/5 part of whole Russia.
Many people know that winters in Yakutia are long and cold, and summers are short. But only few know that summer is relatively warm and sometimes even hot. In winter, temperatures can drop at as low as -60 or lower (the overall record is -71.2), and in summer it can rise up to +40. With such a difference, the amplitude of seasonal temperature reaches about 110 degrees.
Yakutsk welcomed us with an intense warming. One day before our arrival, the temperature was -44, and the day we arrived it increased to -30. “It is warm”, say locals about such weather. Before this trip, I have heard many times from different people that -40 in Yakutia it is not the same as -40 in our latitudes. Meaning that -40 there is like -20 in Moscow region. I don’t know about -40 (the lowest temperature that we could experience was -35), but with -30 it felt exactly the same as -30 in Moscow. So if you come here, dress warmly!
Most of Yakutia is located in the permafrost. The earth crust is frozen between 500m in depth (near Yakutsk) to 1500m or more (in northern areas). In summer, the earth melts in depth of about 1-1,5m maximum. Surprising but true, this is enough for growing vegetables. People say that in the south of Yakutia they have even learned to gather the harvest of watermelons.
What is more complicated is the graves for people. No one, of course, digs out his relatives, but most probably they look about the same as when they were buried. Actually, thanks to this particular climate, in this region people not only constantly find bones and tusks of ancient animals, but also a well-preserved mummies of wild horses, mammoths and woolly rhinos at the age of two or three dozen millennia.
2. Girls, Girls, Girls again
They are extremely beautiful!!! I have always been sensitive to the Asian looking eyes, but Yakut girls knocked me on the spot. So, here I lie knocked out and it is impossible for me to photograph them. Actually, I thought it was possible, but then I saw this photograph of Petya Lovigin, and realized that competing with him in the shooting of female beauty of Yakutia is beyond me.
«Aita» © Photo by Petr Lovigin
But I got a couple of pictures of a beautiful girl Nina, one of the organizers of the trip.
In general, when I spoke during our gatherings in Yakutsk, it often sounded like that: “Let’s drink to the Yakut girls and beautiful women in general, regardless of eye shape!” (All men who read these lines should get up and have a drink while standing.)
Frankly, I was impressed not only by girls, but also by boys…
But also by women, men, grandmas and grandpas. Despite the sometimes very sad looks, the face of Yakuts immediately breaks into a smile when you start a conversation. Wherever we were, we were always greeted with open arms, offered the best treats and presented gifts.
It is clear that the main hospitality came from the organizers and the hosts. What surprised me the most is the personal involvement of the members of the government in dealing with us, mere mortals. Ministers and their deputies came to meet with us without pathos or undue familiarity and we even met with the mayor of Yakutsk. But more than that I was surprised by the fact that officials were not interested in what we plan to write about Yakutia, but in our impressions of her. We had open and official meetings with the media, and also private dinners. There was no difference in the behavior of the officials, they asked the same in both events and felt free to criticize what we saw.
Please meet Mikhail Kulikov, Deputy Minister for Federal Relations and External Affairs of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). Our trip was largely due to his initiative. Michael says that it’s not a very good picture (he knows better), but take my word – it is a very kind one.
But the ordinary people, with whom we had the pleasure to talk a little bit (in markets, public events and other places) made a very positive impression on me. They are open and friendly, although they almost always seem to be very severe.
4. Kitchen and Stroganina
It would be better for vegetarians, animal lovers club members and fans of CSKA to skip this section. Because it will be about the most delicious – young horse meat, bear meat, venison, and of course, stroganina. No, not … Stroganina! With a capital.
I truly liked the different species of northern meat. Frankly I do not know what to write about it, you just have to try. It is really delicious! But Stroganina deserves special mention. Probably because I love sashimi and raw fish (by the way, I like raw meat a lot too), Stroganina entered into my life and on my tongue as the best treat ever.
What is Stroganina? It’s just raw frozen (to the state “like a brick”) fish, from which you first scrape off the scales and skin, and then cut very thin slices of fishy meat. You then get such white chips that literally melt in your mouth and are not only great food, but also a divine snack with vodka. Most of all I liked the stroganina from whitefish.
Stroganina is a national dish (not just in Yakutia, but for people of the North in general), in Yakutsk there is even a special festival held. On the “Stroganina-2012”, where we were invited, about 20 teams competed in the ability to quickly and correctly (there is a lot of nuances!) cut stroganina.
The jury was presented dishes of stroganina made by different people. What only didn’t we see there – snakes, ships, plague, Christmas trees from cut fish … Some of them were very artistic!
5. The Kingdom of Permafrost and ice Stopariki
One of the stops in our agenda was a visit of the Kingdom of the Permafrost. This is an artificial cave, once made in the mountain either for research purposes, or as a warehouse for storage. Today it is a tourist attraction with ice sculptures. Frankly, I do not find such attractions interesting, but nevertheless I was very impressed with this structure.
Photo by Ivan Dementievskiy
First of all, this is the permafrost, which can be viewed from the inside. In winter and in summer (when it is for example +30), there is always -7. In summer, tourists come here to get cooler after the ice slide and in the winter to warm up.
Second, not a single member of our group was indifferent to the amusement called “Ice Bar”! Its main feature is the icy glasses and cups from which you can drink either vodka or champagne. And then have a bite of stroganina, which you yourself can immediately cut (however, the first time you are unlikely to succeed.)
6. The hourses of Yakoutia
In general, these horses are like normal horses. They are short, with fur. But it turns out they do not need special food. That means that when the horses are grown for meat, they are, of course, fed with special food. But in ordinary life it is entirely optional. Yakut horses not just quietly tolerate frost up to -60, but also find food themselves, digging the frozen grass.
7. Government report to the public
This is certainly my biggest surprise. As you know, I’m an apolitical person and I am generally not very interested in what is which government doing and with which goals. But here’s the information with which I was not left untouched.
In fact, for 8 consecutive years, in February of each year, the new government of Yakutia holds a series of events entitled “Report of the Government to the people.” The officials, from high to low grade, are divided into small groups (up to 1-2 persons) and go at different places, even the most remote end of the Republic for a personal meeting with the inhabitants. They tell people about what was done during the year; listen to questions, suggestions and criticism. All this is recorded and then is brought to Yakutsk, where it is discussed, noted, analyzed, etc. Exactly a year later officials again go to the ends of the republic, they say what happened and changed during the past year, what could or could not be done. And so on … for 8 times. In February 2013 will take place the 9th round.
The key idea of this report is that government representatives personally meet with every person in the republic, no matter how far the person is. In the most remote areas you have to fly on a plane, then a helicopter, and then a ride on reindeer or snowmobile. Village clubs, which in real life are not used for such meetings, are specially heated (it usually takes 2-3 days). And all this is sometimes for only 10-12 people, residents of villages on the shores of the North Arctic Ocean.
It is hard to believe, right? I begged the government officials to take me on one of those trips. Perhaps this will be done in February 2013, and then I will be able to show pictures and tell more about it.
Well, let me add to the above several photographs, which are difficult to be accompanied by some specific explanation. It is just a little visual addition to my verbal impressions of Yakutsk.
The main impression of the trip is the best represented by this picture :)
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