Normally I ramble on at length about a destination on the Trans-Siberian; the starring locations at least lend themselves to it. Not so with Novosibirsk. We’ve pretty much been there, it seems. I’m informed that, whilst being a perfectly serviceable location and a good jumping-off point for further travels, there is little to recommend it as “somewhere to go” in it’s own right, so that’s that.
It does have an ace to play though … along with Barnaul that precedes it: both are viable spring-boards to the Altai mountains.
The Russia Experience offers an Altai excursion from Barnaul … though it’s not for the faint of heart. The necessary detour from the main Trans-Siberian line is via a six hour bus ride to the village of Chemal. From there the magnificent landscape may be explored (optionally via Altai Mountain Horses) until the superlatives run out … Highlights include ancient cave and cliff paintings and, of course, the scenery itself. Picture: dynamic forested slopes, lush river-valleys and isolated lakes to explore.
“Altai” itself translates to “Gold Mount” or “Mountains of Gold” in the local Altai language and Mongolian, respectively. Geographically they delineate a region where four countries collide: Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, and also contain the sources of two rivers: the Irtysh and the Ob.
The Sayan range blends into the Altai in the East, and numerous plateaus surround the landscape cumulating in the vast Mongolian plateau and the great plateau of the Gobi desert.
UNESCO has declared an area of over 16,000 square km as a World Heritage site under the title: “Golden Mountains of Altai”. This includes glaciers, two reserves, a lake, mountain and plateau. Key factors in their decision were that the region contained endangered animals (the Snow Leopard for instance) and a comprehensive vertical range of altitude-specific vegetation.
The region has vast bio-diversity, with a range of animals from bears to small birds. Additionally, a slim Mongolian and Kazakh population and an absence of industry and development are major factors in preserving it’s unadulterated wilderness. In spite of this, tourist activities are popular … the region is surely vast enough to contain them: trekking, caving, climbing ( including mountaineering), horse riding, rafting, hunting and para-gliding are all extensively pursued.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 46) Exploring Altai in the virtual world
[Photo by sashapo]