NENETS AUTONOMOUS OKRUG
Nenets Autonomous Okrug is a semi-autonomous entity that is part of Arkhangelsk Oblast. Nearly entirely above the Arctic Circle, it covers 176,700 square kilometers (68,200 square miles), is home to about 42,000 people and has a population density of only 0.24 people per square kilometer. About two thirds of the population live in urban areas. Naryan-Mar is the administrative center and largest town, with about 22,000 people, about half of the okrug’s population.An autonomous okrug is more or less the same as an "autonomous region.” In this case it was set up for the Nenet people. Don’t confuse it with Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug which lies further to the east. Website: Tourist Information Portal of the Nenets Autonomous District: visitnao.ru
Nenets Okrug is a place where blizzards reduce visibility to the length of your stretched-out hand, where snow-covered tundra seems to go on forever and the seas are icebound most of the year. The okrug touches the White, Barents, Pechora and Kara seas, all branches of the Arctic Ocean. Most of its territory is located beyond the Arctic circle. The original inhabitants are reindeer-herding Nenet nomads
Winter here lasts for seven or eight months. The polar night lasts for 2 months. Naryan-Mar is the only district city. The region produces oil and gas, but about half of the inhabitants are still engaged in reindeer husbandry in its classic form roaming the tundra, living in the chums. Among the things you can do in Nenets Autonomous Okrug are serach for narwhals, try the Nenets triple jump, catch a reindeer with a "tanzeem” lasso and spend the night at “chuma” (a special type of the house). You can also walk through the streets of Kamenii (Stone) city, feel the harsh wind of Buran-Dey tundra and search for diamonds inside the Kara crater. Sports fishing is popular.
Getting There: There is no railway in Nenets Autonomous Okrug. As for motor transport the okrug can be reached only by winter road in the winter. You can reach the port at Naryan-Mar by ferry delaur in the summer. By Plane: Naryan-Mar Airport is three kilometers from the town There are flights to Naryan-Mar from Moscow, St. Petersburg Chelyabinsk, Arkhangelsk, Ufa, Yekaterinburg and Syktyvkar. The round-trip plane ticket from Moscow to Naryan-Mar costs 20,000 rubles; from , St. Petersburg, 17,500 rubles round-trip Transport in the Region:
The main transport within the district is aviation. In some settlements there are plane or helicopter flights once a week; in others, twice a week. The roads are unpaved, and there are only few of them. The only real regional bus from Naryan Mar goes only to the village of Seekers (Iskateli).
WESTERN RUSSIAN ARCTIC factsanddetails.com; RUSSIAN ARCTIC AND FAR NORTH factsanddetails.com
The Nenets are an ethnic group of 35,000 nomadic reindeer herders who live in northern Russia and speak a language related to Finnish. They are also known as the Nentsy, Yurak or Yurak-Samoyeds. Nenets that follow their traditional customs dress in reindeer skins, eat raw fish, drink reindeer blood, practice ritual sacrifice, and sleep outside in tepee-like tents ( chums) made from reindeer skin and handcrafted poles even in the winter when temperatures drop to -60 degrees F. The word Nenet is derived from a Nenet noun for “human being.” [Source: Fen Montaigne, National Geographic, March 1998]
Russians have traditionally referred to the Nenets as Samoyeds which some historians believe means "self-eater" (perhaps given to the Nenets because their consumption of raw reindeer meat was confused with cannibalism). The term Samoyed is also used to describe a group that speaks similar languages and have traditionally lived in the northern areas of Siberia and the Far East of Russia. The Nenets are the largest of these groups. Other Samoyed groups include the Selkups and Ngananssan and groups like the Mator and Kamas that are now extinct.
Different groups are also defined by where they live: the tundra, the taiga or the mountains. The Tundra Nenets live in an area that extends from the Kanin Peninsula in the White Sea in the west to the Taimyr Peninsula in the east, a distance of about 2,000 kilometers. The southern boundaries of their range is defined by the tree line. The Forest Nenets live in a taiga region in an area around the middle Ob River. The languages of the Tundra Nenets and Forest Nenets is different enough to almost qualify as separate languages.
About 10,000 Nenets practice their traditional nomadic ways. Thousands of others live in barrel-shaped homes set above their permafrost in settlements working primarily as fishermen. "These are indeed people who live in a totally different dimension," Russian archeologist Andrei Golovnev told National Geographic. "They do not want to be the same as everyone else. They just want to be who they are. The Nenets believe they're the best reindeer herders in the world. Such absolute certainty on their superiority, the belief they are special people, allows them to survive."
Since the break up of the Soviet Union the Evenks and the Nenets have suffered catastrophic declines in life expectancy and high rates of sickness and death that have prompted speculation that some of those groups may become extinct. [Source: Library of Congress, 1996]
The Kara Sea is part of the Arctic Ocean north of Siberia. It is separated from the Barents Sea to the west by the Kara Strait and Novaya Zemlya, and from the Laptev Sea to the east by the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago. It is named after the Kara River (flowing into Baydaratskaya Bay), which is now relatively insignificant but which played an important role in the Russian conquest of northern Siberia. The Kara River name is derived from a Nenets word meaning "hummocked ice". [Source: Wikipedia]
The Kara Sea is roughly 1,450 kilometers (900 miles) long and 970 kilometers (600 miles) wide with a surface area 926,000 square kilometers (358,000 square miles). It is relatively shallow: with an average depth of 131 meters (430 feet) and practically frozen all year round. Its shallow depth is significant in that it helps Russia claim it as part of its continental shelf and if oil and gas are found it will be easier to extract than if the water was really deep.
The Kara Sea's northern limit is marked geographically by a line running from Cape Kohlsaat in Graham Bell Island, Franz Josef Land, to Cape Molotov (Arctic Cape), the northernmost point of Komsomolets Island in Severnaya Zemlya. Its main ports are Novy Port and Dikson and it is important as a fishing ground although the sea is ice-bound for all but two months of the year. Significant discoveries of petroleum and natural gas have been made in the East-Prinovozemelsky field, an extension of the massive West Siberian Oil Basin. Deposits in the Kara Sea have not been developed. Exxon has been active in the Kara Sea but has seen operations restricted and stopped by U.S. government sanctions on Russia.
Water circulation patterns in the Kara Sea are complex. The Kara Sea tends to be covered with sea ice between September and May. Between May and August it heavily influenced by freshwater run-off of the Ob, Yenisei, Pyasina, Pur, and Taz Rivers, The Kara Sea is also affected by the water inflow from the Barents Sea, whose water originates in the Atlantic Ocean and whose currents are stronger in the winter than the summer.
The disposal of nuclear materials in the Kara Sea is an issue. In 1994, the Bellona Foundation estimated that radioactive dumping in the Kara Sea north of western Siberia and adjacent waters constituted two-thirds of all the radioactive materials that ever have entered the world's oceans. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]
Naryan-Mar is the only real town or city in Nenets Autonomous Okrug. A sea and river port town and the administrative center and capital of the okrug, it is situated on the right bank of the Pechora River, 110 kilometers from the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean. Naryan-Mar lies a significant distance north of the Arctic Circle. It is home to about about 22,000 people, about half of the okrug’s population.
Naryan-Mar is dotted with modern buildings and construction sites. Prices for groceries rival those of Moscow, as transport costs add to the official 12 percent inflation rate. No roads or trains from the rest of the country reach the district, and everything must be flown in by plane. Naryan-Mar was for many years a center of the lumber industry, and possesses several large, and currently defunct, lumber mills. At present, the biggest employer in the town is the petroleum company LUKoil.
The area occupied by Naryan-Mar has traditionally been occupied by Nenet nomads. Industrial development in the area around Naryan-Mar began in 1930, in the course of the first five-year plan of the Soviet Union. The growth of the region was the direct result of the development of the Pechora coalfield and the construction of related industrial infrastructure.
The town's importance derives from being the only developed commercial port in an area of several thousand square miles. As a result, Naryan-Mar has a reasonably well developed tourist services, with several saunas and hotels. The town also hosts a local museum, a large World War II memorial, an Orthodox church, and a historic district which predates the foundation of the modern city. In 2019, the center for Arctic tourism opened a souvenir shop Made in NAO. Here are all kinds of gastronomic, ethnic and religious Nenet souvenirs. Naryan-Mar has a subarctic climate with short, mild summers that may exceed +25°C (77°F) and very cold winters. Precipitation is somewhat greater in summer than in winter.
Accommodation: The Pechora Hotel has hostel beds for 1500 rubles in a four-bed room, single rooms for 3300 rubles, and the presidential suite for 8100 rubles. The hotel has a café and sauna. The Polar Capital Hotel has economy rooms for 3750 rubles on up to presidential rooms for 39,000 rubles, which contains a study, two bedrooms, a tea set and a wine set.
Restaurants: Museum Timan Restaurant serves reindeer carpaccio. white salmon steaks and makes its own beer. The interior-boats is decorated with animal skins, national clothes, unique drawings. The average bill is RUB 1,200. The Polar Capital restaurant offers Northern, Italian and European cuisine. Among the favorites are different types of venison; salmon, cod and tuna steaks, smelt, whitefish, mussels and stroganina from white fish. The average bill is RUB 1,200.
Places in Naryan-Mar
Ethnocultural Center of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug is located in Naryan-Mar’s Arctic Palace of culture. The center’s main objective is to preserve and revive the culture and traditions of ethnic groups inhabiting the territory of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug. Visitors can try on national clothing, take photos and buy souvenirs made by local craftsmen. Experts at the center are engaged in folklore processing and, provide assistance to cultural institutions, clubs and individuals. The center organizes the “Sava Syo”, “Pechoryanochka” and “Vizula Yu” regional contests, holds festivals and parades of folk art. In the Ethnocultural center in Naryan-Mare there is an excellent choice of Nenets national clothes (burkas, hats) and other Souvenirs (tambourines, bone products), toys.
Monument to Reindeer Transport Battalions honors “the feat of the members of reindeer transport battalions during World War II” with a sculptural group by famous Arkhangelsk artist Sergey Syukhin featuring a a soldier-reindeer herder, a reindeer and a husky with the polar sun disk as the background. Six thousand of reindeer accompanied by several hundreds of herders were sent to the Karelian Front from the Nenets Autonomous Okrug. They formed five reindeer transport echelons. The most important tasks of the “reindeer army” were evacuation of wounded, delivery of cargos to remote military posts and airfields, rescue of downed aircrafts crews and military machines evacuation. The number of wounded soldiers evacuated from the front line and the deep enemy territory by the reindeer battalions totaled 10,142 people (a full division of the Red Army), 17,000 tons of armaments and 8,000 soldiers were transported, 162 airplanes were evacuated from tundra. Only seven reindeer came back to their native tundra out of six thousand sent to the Front, including the legendary sledge bull Dlinnonogiy.
Center of Arctic Tourism (seven kilometers from Naryan-Mar) is an ethnographic center where visitors can live in a chuma (a special house), learn Nenets traditions and legends and participate in a rite of purification — which involves being fumigated with juniper smoke to the accompaniment of a tambourine — to drive away evil spirits. You can also try to learn how to catch a deer with tynzeem (long stick with a lasso-like loop), throw an axe and as how to set a chum.
Arctic tourism center also functions as a tourist office, provides all necessary information about sights, attractions, events and tours of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug. The center organizes tours to places such as Big Gate Canyon, Stone Town on the Belaya river, Pustozersk, first Russian town beyond the Polar Circle, Golodnaya Bay, the mysterious Amderma settlement, Pym-Va-Shor geothermal source, and many other unique places of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug.
The center is housed in a two-storey administrative building in the style of a traditional reindeer herder dwelling — a Nenets chum. There are some hotel rooms, meeting halls and office facilities. One can relax in a cozy hall with a fireplace and play billiards. There is a bath complex in a separate building located near the center. The center also has a corral — special place to keep reindeer, and sites to install visitor chums. There is an open air theater with a stage and 150 seats to carry out cultural and leisure activities. There is a barbecue area with a pavilion for the case of inclement weather. It is used as much by local for the recreation as by tourists.
Malozemelskaya Tundra is limited by the Barents sea coastline in the north. The western boundary runs along the Timan range, the eastern one goes to the lower reaches of the Pechora river. In the south the territory is limited by the Sula river behind which the Pechora lowland extends. The territories adjacent to the sea coast possess extensive low-lying terraces of 60-80 meters in height. They appeared as a result of the sea recession. In some places there are small hills. But the main feature is a large number of lakes with varying degrees of salinity. They are often interconnected by channels and form a complex system.
Ortinskoye Site (70 kilometers northeast of Naryan-Mar) is an archeological site on the right bank of the Pechora river near the confluence of the Ortina river. Probably fortress, it existed here between 6th and 10th centuries. It is not known exactly who inhabited it, but it is highly possible that it was the central settlement of one of the indigenous peoples of the North which was later forced out by the Nenets. This is indirectly indicated by numerous finds of bone tools and points, jewelry, religious objects. There is nothing really to see at Ortinskoye site except the Arctic tundra landscape. .
Ortinskoye settlement is believed to be the tribal center for the ancient Arctic ethnic group inhabiting these places before Nenets came to the lower reaches of Pechora. In the Russian chronicles of 11th-14th centuries they were called “Pechera”, and in the Nenets legends: the Sirtya, Sikhirtya or Siirtya. If you visit the site in the summer keep in mind that there are tons of mosquitoes. In the winter you won’t be able to see much due to short daylight hours.
Golodnaya Lake (26 kilometers north of Naryan-Mar) is a relatively large lake carved out of the landscape by glacial activity. The lake is located on the territory of the Malozemelsky municipality (in the Zapoliarny district of the NAO) between the Pechora river delta in the east and the Nenets ridge in the west. The lake covers 186 square kilometers with an average depth on only two meters. There are some giant boulders on the shores. The wedge-shaped lake stretching from southwest to northeast. The shores are represented by bush and lichen tundra. In the northeastern end of the lake there is a Nenets settlement Nel’min Nos which is the northernmost village of the Pechora river.
Siera Bald Peak (near Gorodetskoe Lake) is a sacred bald peak where the Nenets people have placed many wooden carvings of their gods. In the past the peak was a place of sacrifice, visited by the Trans-Uralian Nenets. According to local legend, at the base of Bald Peak there is an entrance to the underground world of a legendary Sikhirtya tribe. In Nenets mythology, these mythical people lived in the Arctic tundra before the arrival of the Nenets (“real people”), but now live underground and fear the daylight. . The Komi call it Sieramlylk and the Nenets call it Siera Hoy, which in translation means a deceiving hill. Siera Bald Peak is part of the Pustozersk Ancient Settlement Natural Historical Monument. In the winter, tourists as a rule get to Siera by a snowmobile; and in the summer by ATV.
Nenets Nature Reserve
Nenets Nature Reserve (50 kilometers north of Naryan-Mar) was established in 1997, and covers and area of 3,134 square kilometers (1,210 square miles), of which 1,810 square kilometers ha (700 square miles) is over water. The reserve covers an area of tundra, the coastal waters of the Barents sea and several islands that are home to polar bears. On Dolgii island there is a rookery of Atlantic walruses. Narwhals, whales with two-to-three-meter-long tusks, are seen in waters in the park.
Officially known as Nenetsky State Nature Reserve, the park is located in the Barents Sea. The land area is occupied by largely undisturbed subarctic and arctic tundra. The snow cover lasts for 231 days. Wetlands covered with multicolored mosses and lichens are found on the river deltas of the Pechora and Neruta Rivers, the coast of the Barents Sea, and islands of the Barents Sea. There are many historical and cultural monuments related to the history of the development of the Nenets culture on the Arctic islands of the Nenets reserve (Nenets sanctuaries with sacrifice attributes (idols, polar bear skulls, reindeer antlers, bones of sacrificial animals).
The reserve is a habitat for the Red Book species of plants and animals. Including polar bear, Atlantic walrus, beluga whale, Greenland whale, white-legged diver and tundra swan.
The territory of the reserve attracts thousands of birds to the nesting grounds and tens of thousands during the spring and autumn migration seasons with its abundance of wetland vegetation. A scientific expedition to Matveyev Island in the reserve in 2015 counted over 600 walruses on the breeding grounds of the island. Common land mammals including Arctic fox and hare. Scientists on the reserve have recorded 26 species of mammals.
As a strict nature reserve, the Nenets Reserve is mostly closed to the general public, although scientists and those with 'environmental education' purposes can make arrangements with park management for visits. The reserve offers exclusive tourist programs: amateur ornithology — observation of rare bird species, ecological tours and extreme vacations among severe snow in the winter and picturesque landscapes in the summer. The guided tours aimed primarily at birdwatchers. Permits and tours must be arranged in advance through the main office of the reserve in Naryan-Mar.
Bolshiye Vorota Canyon
Bolshiye Vorota Canyon (160 kilometers west of Naryan-Mar) is located in the Malozemelskaya Tundra along the middle reaches of the Belaya River, a tributary of the Indiga river. The natural monument covers an area of 212 hectares. The landscape of the canyon is distinguished by picturesque coastal cliffs up to 80-90 meters high. The basalts of the river canyon have numerous inclusions of agate and other semi-precious minerals.
Three hundred and sixty to four hundred million years ago, this place was the shore of a Devonian sea. Now its precipitation is clearly visible in the coastal cliffs of the rivers. The cliffs, composed of sandstone and shale of the Upper Devonian period, feature fragments of shells and teeth of Devonian armored fish, different species of corals, trilobites, as well as casts and charred remains of Upper Devonian plants.
The river Belaya flows through the territory of the natural monument, with numerous white rocky shoals. Within the canyon it is 25-30 meters wide. White River is a spawning place for salmon, as well as the habitat of other species of fish (such as Arctic char and grayling). The water in the river is so clear that from its high rocky banks one can see all its inhabitants. There is so much fish that often the number of times a fisherman casts his rod equals the number of fish he catches.
Accessible by Air from Naryan-Mar
Kara Meteorite Crater (600 kilometers east of Naryan-Mar) is a funnel with 50-56 kilometers diameter in fifteen kilometers from the Kara river. It was created by a catastrophic meteorite crash that occurred at the end of the Cretaceous period about 66 million years ago. The Cretaceous period was during the time of the dinosaurs. Kara crater is the 10th largest meteorite crater in the world. The rock filling the crater has been affected by ultra-high temperatures. It is believed that you can find diamonds in the crater. The crater is in a border zone, so you will need a pass for the trip. You can get to the crater using an all-terrain vehicle from the village of Ust-Kara, which is reachable only by air from Naryan-Mar once a week.
Vaigach State Nature Reserve (500 kilometers northeast of Naryan-Mar) is a unique, remote place with the unforgettable landscapes, Arctic flora and fauna and many places sacred to the Nenet. Located on Vaigack Island, which is quite mountainous, with ice-covered . terrain that is difficult to cross, it has many areas hardly ever visited by people. Rivers in Vaigach have rocky riverbeds, and in some places they flow in deep rocky canyons with numerous waterfalls.
There are 230 objects of cultural heritage registered within the reserve. There are some Stone Age encampment sites. Vaigach is a unique “sacred island” of indigenous peoples of the North. from time immemorial, people from Bolshezemelskaya Tundra, the Urals, Yamal and the Lower Ob region came to here worship their gods and make ritual sacrifices here. Each clan made their small tribal idol here. Apart from skulls and bones, many coins and many items made in the Perm animal style were found near the ancient sanctuaries. Until the 1920s, people preferred not to settle here. The locals believed that only deities could stay here.
Nenets call the island is “Khebidya-ya”, which means “holy land.” One of the two main idols, Khodak (“old man”) stood in the north of the island, and the other, Vesako (“old woman”), stood in the south. Now the seven-faced female idol is hidden in Tzinkovy island off the west coast of Vaigach. The idol is made of soft wood, is 128 centimeters tall and dates back to the 19th century. Unfortunately, although the “wild Nenets” guarded Vaigach against the invasion of strangers, and it was forbidden to hunt and even pick flowers next to the sanctuaries, hundreds of stone and wooden idols were destroyed by missionaries in the nineteenth century. There is currently only one village on Vaigach, — Varnek. The Nenets who live there are mainly reindeer herders. The village has a small shop where you can buy Nenets souvenirs.
Shoyna: the World's Northernmost "Desert
Shoyna (370 kilometers miles east of Naryan-Mar) by some reckoning is the world's northernmost "desert". Alexei Golubtzov wrote in Russia Beyond: “In Shoyna, sand is ubiquitous. It is all around, as far as the eye can see. The dunes, which migrate up and down the White Sea coast by action of the westerly wind, can bury a house up to the roof in a single night. Shoyna is one such village, but here the people's attitude to sand is improbably fatalistic. They have only one precaution: do not close the door at night. Because come morning, it may not open. Half the village, population 400, is at the epicenter of a slow but inexorable sand wave. [Source: Alexei Golubtzov, Focus Pictures, Russia Beyond, February 26 2013]
“Here, people are accustomed to the fact that sunlight penetrates only the top part of the windows, but newcomers will feel almost buried alive to begin with. The locals used to disinter homes with a bulldozer, but two years ago it broke. A new one was sent a couple of days before our arrival.No one knows the exact reason why the sand crawls up and down the coastline. The phenomenon has not been researched extensively by scientists. Neither have they studied ways of stopping the dunes. Back in the 1930s, Shoyna was a large settlement, described as the "second Murmansk". Up to 70 fishing vessels would ply the shoreline.
“Life in Shoyna is not opulent, but nourishing. The gulf abounds with fish: plaice, navaga, white salmon, peled. Money comes from Norwegians across the border, who for many years have bought up the local cloudberries. The men earn a living from hunting. A local marksman boasts that the geese here as numerous as the grains of sand in the dunes. There are also bears, but they are rarely hunted: the meat is not tasty. The vicinity is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including some very rare species of birds. No wonder that ornithologists make of point of visiting every year.
Getting There: By light aircraft. Passenger "agricultural planes" fly regularly to Shoyna. It is better not to eat anything before the flight if you would prefer not to see it again. Accommodation: ? Unsurprisingly, there are no hotels in Shoyna, but there is a vacant barracks with four rooms. In any case, the hospitality of the locals means you won't be sleeping outdoors. Food: Where to eat? The locals will demonstrate their hospitality by feeding you insane quantities of fish delicacies and seagull eggs, in return for a slice of humility. If your pride is too strong, the village has a shop, even two.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (official Russia tourism website russiatourism.ru ), Russian government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in September 2020