Sakha Republic (Yakutia) is a huge republic that occupies a fifth of Russia's territory. Formally known as the Yakutsk Autonomous Republic, it covers 3,083,523 square kilometers (1,190,555 square miles) — an area three times the size of Texas or roughly the size of western Europe — most of which is covered by permafrost and 40 percent of which is above the Arctic Circle. The northernmost reaches extend along the Eastern Siberia Sea. The southern area includes the Stanovoi Mountains. The Lena River flows northward through cliffs before entering a broad valley and passing the capital of Yakutsk. Altogether there are 700,000 named rivers and streams and 708,000 lakes across Sakha but little agricultural land. Website: Yakutia Tourist Information Portal:

The Republic of Yakutia (Sakha), the parenthesis included, is the official name of the republic. It is by far the largest state-like entity in Russia. Despite this it is home to less that one million people (estimated 964,330 in 2018) and has a population density of 0.31 people per square kilometer. About 64 percent of the population live in urban areas. Yakutsk is the capital and largest city, with about 311,000 people, almost a third of the republic’s population and half its urban population. Yakutia is the largest ethnic republic in Russia. Yakuts, the ethnic group after which the republic is named, are a Turkic people that have been heavily Russified. About 50 percent of the population are Yakuts; 38 percent are Russians; 2.2 percent are Ukrainian;, 2.2 percent are Evenks; 1.6 percent are Evens; and 0.9 percent are Tatars and small numbers of Chukchi and Yukagirs.

Yakutia (also spelled Yakutiya) is a land of bogs, tundra, clouds of mosquitos, -79 degree C winter temperatures, week-long blizzards, packs of wolves, herds of reindeer, brown bears and Arctic char. The republic stretches from Russia's Arctic shores in the north to within 500 kilometers of the Chinese border in the south, and from the longitude of the Taymyr Peninsula in the west to within 400 kilometers of the Pacific Ocean in the east. Summers are short but can be surprisingly hot:, with temperatures it can reach 41 degrees C (105 degrees F), meaning the temperatures range throughout the year is over 100 degrees C and almost 200 degrees F. Nowhere else on earth is there such an extreme fluctuation.

The republic's economy is supported mainly by its extensive mineral deposits, which include gold, diamonds, silver, tin, coal, and natural gas. Sakha produces most of Russia's diamonds. It natural gas deposits are thought to be large and still largely untapped. Industrial enterprises are concentrated in the capital Yakutsk, as well as in Aldan, Mirny, Neryungri, Pokrovsk, and Udachny. The diamond, gold, and tin ore mining industries are the major focus of the economy. Uranium ore is beginning to be mined. Climatic conditions preclude agriculture in most of Sakha. Where agriculture is possible, the main crops are potatoes, oats, rye, and vegetables. Permafrost hinders construction as well as agriculture.

Sakha (Yakutia) is one the main regions of Eastern Siberia, which is roughly defined by the Yenisei River to the west, the Arctic Ocean to the north, Mongolia to the south and the Far East to the east. Covered by tundra in the north and taiga forest to the south, it is a sparely populated area. Most people live along the Trans-Siberian Railway, the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) railway, Lake Baikal or the Lena River.

See Separate Article on the LENA RIVER


The Yakuts are the second largest indigenous group in Siberia and the northernmost of the Turkish people. Related the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, they speak a Turkic language and live in northern Siberia around the Lena River. They have traditionally been cattle and horse herders who fished and hunted and practiced shamanism mixed with animism and Russian Orthodox Christianity. The call themselves the Sakha.

The Yakuts are an Eastern- Central-Asian people who originated through the combination of local tribes with Turkic tribes that migrated northward before the tenth century. The Yakuts call their homeland "Sakja," which means "Sun." There are many legends and stories that refer to it in their canon of epic tales. Archeological and historical evidence seems to indicate that the ancestors of the Yakut originated in the Lake Baikal area and perhaps were part of the Uighar kingdoms which stretched from southern Siberia into western China. Their ancient literature describes many tensions and battles with other ethic groups.

There are around 500,000 Yakuts. They make up 50 percent of the Republic of Sakha (formally Yakutia). They tend to live together in Yakut communities, with many of their villages being completely Yakut. Most of the people who live in the Republic of Sakha are Russians or other Slavs. Many Yakuts are now urbanized. Even so Russians dominate the cities.

Yakits are also called Sakha people, Around 90 percent of Yakuts speak Yakut as their first language. It is a Turkic languages. The tribes near them included the Evenk, which speak a Tungus-Manchurian languages, and the Yukogir, which speak a Paleo-Asian languages. Today, Yakhuts are engaged in politics, government, finance, mining, industry, trade, fishing and cattle-breeding (horses and cows for milk and meat).

History of Sakha People and Yakutia

The ancestors of the Yakuts migrated to present-day Yakutia during the 13th and 14th centuries from other parts of Siberia. They migrated northward from Lake Baikal or Kyrgyzstan along the Lena River, where they the fought with and intermarried with the groups that were already there: the Evenk and the Yukagir nomads. In the centuries that followed they had both friendly and unfriendly relations with other Siberians, Chinese, and Mongols.

The name Sakha is of Turkic origin, "saqa-saha" meaning "cue" or "bat". The term Yakut is a corruption of zhaqut – yakut "precious stone", referring to the ruby. It comes from Persian and Arabic (Yaqut) which in turn is borrowed, via Greek, from a non-Indo-European Mediterranean language.

Sakha was annexed by the Russian Empire in the first half of the seventeenth century. Cossack arrived in Yakut territory in the 1620s. There were skirmishes and hostilities in which the Yakut hero Tygyn distinguished himself. The Russian settlement of Yakutsk was founded in 1632 as an ostrog (fortress) by Pyotr Beketov. In 1639, it became the center of a voyevodstvo. The Voyevoda of Yakutsk soon became the most important Russian official in the region and directed expansion to the east and south

By 1642, the Yakut were paying fur tributes to the tsar. Permanent peace did not occur until after a long siege of a Yakut fort. By 1700 Yakutsk was a busy Russian-controlled commercial and trading center and launching point for incursions into the Far East. By this time the Yakut were cooperating with the Russians and some had converted Orthodox Christianity.

Russians slowly populated the valley of the Lena River, which flows northward through the heart of Sakha. In the nineteenth century, most of the nomadic Yakuts adopted an agricultural lifestyle. The Yakut Autonomous Republic was formed in 1922, The collectivization period under the Soviet took its toll on the Yakut. Many lost their traditional homesteads and were forced to industrial or urban work.

The Republic of Yakutia (Sakha) won limited autonomy when Moscow's authority weakened after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The name of the republic was changed from Yakutia to Sakha in 1994. The governor refused to rewrite local laws that conflicted with Russia's. Moscow didn’t like this. Yakutia is rich in diamonds, gold, other minerals, coal, timber oil and gas. After Vladimir Putin became President Moscow exerted greater control over the republic.

Diamonds in Yakutia

The history of mining rough diamonds in Russia dates back to the 18th century, but sustained exploration began in the late 1930s. This was when Russian researcher Vladimir Sobolev published his paper on the geological similarities between South Africa and Siberia. Activity was interrupted by World War II, but resumed in the late 1940s. Geological expeditions were sent out to find rough diamond deposits around the river Vilyui, and its tributaries – the Malaya (small) Botuobia, and Bolshaya (big) Botuobia. In 1949 they found the first rough diamond in Yakutia. By 1954, the Zarnitsa pipe was discovered – the first primary diamond deposit in the Soviet Union. From that point, Russian diamonds made their way into world markets. [Source: Alrosa website]

Yakutalmaz Trust was created in 1957 in the tent village of Mirny, next to the Mir kimberlite pipe. The same year, it produced the first industrial diamonds. Two years later, it began to supply them abroad under a contract agreement with De Beers Corporation. Initially, rough diamonds were produced from the Mir kimberlite pipe and adjacent placers. Despite the challenges of working in the remote taiga – such as winter temperatures down to minus 60 degrees, no roads, and extreme distances to industrial centres – nothing stopped the early explorers. Indeed, they drove even further north.

In 1961, the Soviets began developing the Aikhal pipe – located almost at the Arctic Circle – where living and working conditions were even more severe than in Mirny. During this period, major mines were opened in Western Yakutia. Processing plants and housing settlements, roads and airports were built, and a specialized research and design institute was created. To supply energy to the plants and open-pit mines, these pioneers built the world’s first hydroelectric power station on permafrost, 100 kilometers from Mirny. In 1966, to recognise the scale of these achievements, Yakutalmaz Trust was given the highest award in the Soviet Union: the Order of Lenin.

Tourism and Getting to in Yakutia

Yakutia is a big, wild beautiful places. It is home to the Lena River with its famous Lena Pillars, as well as diamond mines and numerous animals. Taiga, tundra, mountain ridges, sand dunes, hot springs that do not freeze in the winter and glaciers that do not melt in the summer (called Buluus) can all be found in Yakutia.

Although getting there is neither easy nor cheap, travelers come to Yakutia for the things they would not be able to see or experience anywhere else. Activities include cruising down the Lena, rafting down wold mountain rivers, visiting sandy islands and fishing for huge spikes and perches. Further north you can visit the coldest cities and town in the world, look for polar bears, spend the night in a remoter hunter's lodges warmed by humming stove and ride shaggy Yakutian horses, dog sleds and reindeer. Residents of Yakutia are proud of their cuisine, which includes melt-in-your-mouth stroganina (sliced raw fish) from nelma and broad whitefish, sweet horse meat, diet venison, natural kumis (fermented horse milk) or byppakh (fermented cow's milk) and spicy cowberry sauces.

Getting There: There are hardly any roads in this area. The only way to get to Yakutsk, the main city, is by air or boat on the Lena River. By Plane: The main airport of the Republic is in Yakutsk. The flight from Moscow or St. Petersburg lasts 6 to 7 hours. The tickets are quite expensive. As of November 2019, they cost RUB 20,000–24,000. If booked in advance, the flight can be much cheaper, about RUB 13,000.

By Train: Although the railroad has not reached the capital of Yakutia yet, it runs up to Yakutsk's satellite, Nizhny Bestyakh. From there, you can get to Yakutsk by car or on a ferry in a couple of hours. In the winter, when the rivers freeze over, cars can use ice crossings. The journey from Moscow to Nizhny Bestyakh takes almost 7 days! A single ticket costs anywhere from RUB 7,900 in an open sleeper car to RUB 46,000 in a deluxe compartment for five people.

By Car: Visiting Yakutia by car is quite a challenge. Recently, the A360 Lena Highway has received an unofficial title of the world's most dangerous road, edging out the legendary “Road of Death” in Bolivia. We would not recommend such a long journey covering about 9,000 kilometers from Moscow to beginners, particularly on an ill-equipped vehicle. But if you do dare, drive up to Chita and from then it is a straight drive from Skovorodino to Neryungri and finally Yakutsk.

The M56 links Moscow and Yakutsk in the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic. The last 600 miles to Yakutsk is known as the Lena Highway. This section is unpaved, but in good condition in the winter. When summer rains come, the road is impassible. Even large trucks get stuck in the deep layer of mud.


Yakutsk (on the Lena River, 450 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle) is a foggy, smoggy, city built around some of the world's largest reserves of diamonds, gold and oil. The only large city in the world built on top of permafrost, it is flanked on one side by dock cranes and the banks of the Lena River and comprised mainly of nine-story apartment buildings and ancient log cabins sinking side by side into the permafrost. Building built on stilts bored 10 meters in the ground stand upright. Those on concrete foundations, which melts the permafrost, tilt and sag.

Yakutsk is the capital and largest city of Republic of Yakutia (Sakha), with about 311,000 people, almost a third of the republic’s population and half its urban population.. Yakutsk is very foggy in the winter. Fog normally doesn't exist in temperatures below freezing but Yakutsk is chocked by "human habitation fog" created by the exhalations or people, their homes, their buildings, their homes and their machines.

Yakutsk is one of the main ports on the Lena River and a major cultural and scientific center in the northeast of Russia. The city is located in the Tuymaada valley on the left bank of the Lena River.Within the city is Chochur Muran mountain. Yakutsk gets its supplies from Lena river barges in the summer and expensive tractor trains that crawl up the frozen river in the winter. Bennetton was the first Western-brand name shop to open up in Yakutsk.

History of Yakutsk

Yakutz was founded as a Cossack fur trading outpost. In 1632 a detachment of Yenisei soldiers under Peter Beketov, surveying the coast of the Lena River, laid Yakut (Lensky) fort on the right bank of the river, 70 kilometers downstream from the location of the modern Yakutsk. In 1638, the fort became the center of the newly formed province of Yakutsk. In the years 1642-1643 the fort was moved to its present location in Tuymaada valley.

The fort and settlements around it were named Yakutsk in 1643. Describing it in 1720, the explorer John Bell wrote, "The winter here is very long, and the frost so violent, that it is never out of the earth...When the inhabitants bury their dead above three feet deep, they are laid on frozen earth...I am informed, all the dead bodies remain in the earth, unconsumed; and will do so until the day of judgement."

In the 18th and 19th century Yakutsk served as a military, administrative and commercial center of the Lena region, In 1822, it became a regional town. In 1851, the Yakutia region received independent status. Yakutz became a kind of wild west town, complete with saloons and brothels and gunslingers, when mineral wealth was discovered in the Lena basin. The largest building at that time was a vodka factory.

Yakutsk developed rapidly between 1907 and 1913, During that time a power station was built. A telephone exchange and museum were opened and the department of the Imperial Geographical Society was founded From 1922 to 1991, Yakutsk was the administrative center of the Yakut ASSR. Under the Soviets, mines in the region were often worked by prison labor. For a time Yakutsk was known as the "jail without doors." There were no locked prison cells. Those that dared to escape were usually found frozen to death, starved or half eaten by bears.

Tourism in Yakutsk

Yakutsk isn't a very pleasant or welcoming place. Many people who live thee would like to leave, It hasn't changed the name of Lenin Square or removed his statue. Foreigners visitors that show up at the airports used be slapped with a US$75 "visa" even if they already had a Russian visa and were coming from a Russian destination.. Maybe the policy is still place,

Sights include Gradoyakutskaya Transfiguration Church and Peter Tower, a symbol of Yakutsk, located in the city center. You can walk around the old town, a reconstruction of pre-Revolutionary Yakutsk and see ethnic manors such as Atlasov Manor. Within the city you can climb Chochur Muran mountain for wonderful views of the city, the Lena River and the taiga and factories around Yakutsk

The Permafrost Institute (in Yakutsk) is the only one of its kind in the world. It contains a cavern in the permafrost (with layers visible from when the area was a thawed out swamp), and some interesting exhibitions. Among the things the institute has explored is the use of permafrost tunnels, which need no shoring, to transport natural gas without pipes.Mine Shergina (intersection of two streets Kulakovskogo and Yaroslavl), a 19th century research facility located in large log festival, has a 116-meter-deep shaft dug between 1828 and 1837 in the permafrost.

old City of Takutsk is a - historic-architectural quarter in the city center. There are 19th-century-style wooden buildings with cafes, restaurants and shops inside. The area is usually quiet as traffic is limited in this part of the city. Among the the more interesting buildings are Krujalo Malls, Preobrazhenskiy Church and Pyotr Beketov Ostrog tower. The majority of wooden buildings are reconstructions or copies dilapidated, burned-down, or dismantled buildings. Ostrog tower is a showcase of Russian wooden defensive architecture. In August, 2002 the tower was burned down as a result of a childish prank. It was rebuilt within two years based on archived plans.

Accommodation: The most popular hotels in Yakutsk are the “grand trio”: Lena, Polar Star and Tygyn Darkhan. Prices start from about RUB 4,500 and up. Small private hotels and apartments for rent are a less expensive option.

Museums in Yakutsk

The Museum of History and Culture contains a carcass of a baby woolly mammoth, with its wool and flesh still intact, traditional Yakut houses, displays in Yakut shaman and kayaks used in polar expeditions. Also worth a look are Yakut State Museum of History and Culture of Northern Peoples, Art Museum of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) and a small museum with ancient Yakut objects.

Mammoth Museum was founded as a scientific and cultural center, which has been studying mammoths and their environment during the ice age. Among displays are a copy of the famous mammoth Dima found in 1977 in the upper reaches of the Kolyma river (the real one is in Saint Petersburg) and a large collection of mammoth and animal bones from the same era. Museum guides are themselves scientists who participated in the excavations. The Museum staff speak English, Russian and Yakut languages. Before the Foundation of the Museum most of the finds of fossil animals immediately went to the central institutions of the largest cities in the country. The creation of a Museum of the Mammoth allowed all the necessary research and storage to be done directly in Yakutsk.

State Repository of Treasures of Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) (ul. Kirov, 12 in Yakutsk) contains a unique collection of precious metal nuggets, gemstones, jewelry and ornamental products made from precious metals, gemstones of other materials having historical and art value. At the beginning of an exposition visitors acquaint themselves with a geological structure of the territory of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) and it reserves of minerals. Then the climatic conditions of Yakutia and the production and processing of non-ferrous and ferrous metal are explained.

Some of the largest diamonds of Yakutia, the best jewellry with diamonds, golden, platimun and silver nuggets, bank ingots, unique works of jewellery with precious and semi-precious stones made by the best jewellers of Yakutia are shown here. Also you will see the stones that are only mined and found in Yakutia. Website:, Phone number:+7 (4112) 42-52-90

Near Yakutia

Tours are arranged to Yakut and Evenks settlements. These are expensive because often times you have to be flown in. The village of Yelanka, located opposite the famous Lena Pillars, is within just several hours from the capital of Yakutia. The same applies to Buluus glacier that does not melt in the summer. Buluus Glacier is often visited together with Kuruluur Waterfalls

Buluus Glacier (about five hours from Yakutsk by car) is a massive ice build-up that forms from flows of ground water during winter and stays almost intact throughout the entire summer. The glacier reaches its best shape in late June–early July. If you wish to visit Buluus, get ready for a journey of 12 hours. Buluus is located 87 kilometers from Yakutsk as the crow flies, but since there is no direct route between them, you will have to travel about 120 kilometers by car in addition and wait for and take a ferry ride. Then you have do the same in return and spend the night in Yakutsk as there is no accommodation at or near the glacier

Kyuryulyur (30 kilometers from Buluus) is a beautiful waterfall. As a rule, tourists first travel to Buluus from Yakutsk and then go to the waterfalls in the evening. Here you can camp, swim in freezing water and enjoy a barbecue. Since both landmarks are relatively close to the city, you might manage to get there and back in one day. Staying overnight at Buluus is not allowed. Heading to the waterfalls for an overnight stay, bring along a tent or a good warm sleeping bag and insect repellant.

Cherkekh Historical and Ethnographic Museum (150 kilometers west of Yakutsk) is the first open-air museum in Yakutia, Founded in 1977, the museum houses 20 historical and architectural monuments of wooden architecture and about 800 ethnographic items, including a collection of Yakut koumiss crockery, 217 hunting supplies and blacksmith's tools, 70 ethnographic objects, bells, and rare books, documents related to the Christianization of Yakutia.

Orto-doydu Cultural and Ethnographic Complex (50 kilometers south of Yakutsk) is located on a ceremonial area, where the main holiday of the Yakut people, Ysyakh, is celebrated annually at the end of June. The complex occupies a vast territory, on which there are ancient traditional Urasa buildings, a composition at the entrance with the image of cranes and a totem of the ulus eagle, an observation deck. Also there is a composition in the form of an ancient Yakutian spiral calendar in the complex. The calendar is a spiral that twists from the middle through a sun to the outside, embodying and affirming the infinity of life and being. During the holiday of Ysyakh, people dress in traditional Yakut costumes, dance the osuokhay national circular dance, listen to khomus music, drink koumiss and consume traditional dishes.

Lena Pillars

The Lena Pillars (150 kilometers south of Yakutsk) are huge tower-like sandstone formations that appear along a 16 kilometers section of the Lena River. The park containing the pillars was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012. According to UNESCO: “Lena Pillars Nature Park is marked by spectacular rock pillars that reach a height of approximately 100 meters along the banks of the Lena River in the central part of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia). They were produced by the region’s extreme continental climate with an annual temperature range of almost 100 degrees Celsius (from –60°C in the winter to +40°C in the summer). The pillars form rocky buttresses isolated from each other by deep and steep gullies developed by frost shattering directed along intervening joints. Penetration of water from the surface has facilitated cryogenic processes (freeze-thaw action), which have widened gullies between pillars leading to their isolation. Fluvial processes are also critical to the pillars. The site also contains a wealth of Cambrian fossil remains of numerous species, some of them unique.

“Comprising a vast area of 1,387,000 hectares, the property of the Lena Pillars Nature Park occupies the right bank of the middle part of Lena River in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) of the Russian Federation. The Lena Pillars Nature Park displays two features of significant international interest in relation to the Earth sciences. The large cryogenically modified pillars in the region are the most notable pillar landscape of their kind known, whilst the internationally renowned and important exposures of Cambrian rocks tell us key stories about our planet and the early evolution of life during the entire Cambrian Explosion, and the story of the emergence of the frozen ground karst phenomenon.

“The Lena Pillars Nature Park displays two features of significant international interest in relation to the Earth sciences. The large cryogenically modified pillars in the region are the most notable pillar landscape of their kind known, whilst the internationally renowned and important exposures of Cambrian rocks provide a second and important supporting set of values.

“The celebrated pillars (up to c.200m in height) that line the banks of the Lena River are rocky buttresses isolated from each other by deep and steep gullies developed by frost shattering directed along intervening joints. The pillars form an outstanding discontinuous belt that extends back from the river’s edge along the incised valley sides of some rivers in a zone about 150 meters wide.

“The Lena Pillars Nature Park property contains among the most significant record of events related to the ' Cambrian explosion ' which was one of the pivotal points in the Earth’s life evolution. Due to platformal type of carbonate sedimentation within the tropical belt of the Cambrian Period, without subsequent meta-morphic and tectonic reworking, and magnificent impressive outcrops, the property preserves an exceptionally continuous, fully documented, and rich record of the diversification of skeletal animals and other biomineralised organisms from their first appearance until the first mass extinction event they suffered. The Lena Pillars include among the earliest and the largest, in both tem-poral and spatial senses, fossil metazoan reef of the Cambrian world. The Lena Pillars shows exceptional processes of the fine disintegra-tion of the rocks dominating the shaping of the carbonate pillar relief. These karst phenomena are enriched by thermo-karst processes developed in the area of a great permafrost thickness (up to 400-500 meters).”

Visitors can walk around pillars and climb them. Climbing is tough and dangerous unless you have proper equipment but the view from the top is breathtaking. The Lena Pillars Natural Park has set up several tourist trails with hikes takes 2–4 hours. Many species of rare animals and plants are found in the territory of the park. Remains of mammoths, bison and other prehistoric have also been found. Rafting is done on the Botuoma and Sinyaya Rivers, both tributaries of the Lena River. Trips last 3–5 days. The Lena Pillars can be reached by road, motorboats or large on-board ships such as the Demyan Bedny and Mikhail Svetlov.

Accommodation: There are no hotels in the park, but you can rent a small cottage in the village of Yelanka, on the other side of the river. On rafting trips, you will spend the night in pre-arranged tent camps or camp sites. Those traveling on cruise ships sleep on board.

Kolyma Highway: The Road of Bones

The R504 Kolyma Highway connects the cities Yakutsk and Magadan. Its length is slightly more than two thousand kilometers, of which approximately 1,200 kilometers is located on the territory of Yakutia. Those who traveled along this route, say that it is one of Russia's most beautiful roads: beautiful mountains, endless taiga space and breathtaking views make travel more than once to stop to admire the view.

The story of the construction of the Kolyma Highway is not so beautiful. It was largely built by Gulag prisoners. Those who died due to the harsh conditions of life and work were often just left on the side of the road or in the road itself because it was too difficult to dig a grave in the permafrost. Today the bones of these workers are scattered on the entire length of the road and that is why it called the “Road on Bones.”

The Dalstroy construction directorate built the Kolyma Highway during the Soviet Union's Stalinist era. Inmates of the Sevvostlag labour camp started the first stretch in 1932, and construction continued with the use of gulag labor until 1953. The Monument of Northern Highway Toilers was established in 1987 by production motor transportation association to honor toilers of northern routes. Now tour operators offer summer and autumn tours from Yakutsk to Magadan at the legendary highway length of 1 week.

In 2008, the road was granted Federal Road status, and is now a frequently maintained all-weather gravel road. When the road was upgraded, the route was changed to bypass the section from Kyubeme to Kadykchan via Tomtor, and instead pass from Kyubeme to Kadykchan via a more northern route through the town of Ust-Nera. The old 420 kilometer section via Tomtor was largely unmaintained; the 200 kilometer section between Tomtor and Kadykchan was completely abandoned. This section is known as the Old Summer Road, and has fallen into disrepair, with washed-out bridges and sections of road reclaimed by streams in summer. During winter, frozen rivers may assist river crossings. Old Summer Road remains one of the great challenges for adventuring motorcyclists and 4WDers.

Magadan Route Museum

Magadan Route Museum (150 kilometers east of Yakutsk) was created in 1996 on the initiative of Valentina Gerdun — employee of the culture department of the administration of the Tomponsky district. Since 1992, she began to work with archival documents on the construction of the Khandyga-Magadan highway. She conducted meetings with eyewitnesses, rehabilitated, victims of political repression, with residents of the Warm Key and the entire Tomponsky district, who built the Magadan route. Road surveys were conducted, expeditions were organized, trips were made to places of former camps and burials of prisoners in order to find exhibits for the museum.

The museum has one exhibition hall with an area of about 50 square meters, where the permanent exposure is located. It reflects the general history of repression in the U.S.S.R. (the stand “The dictatorship of one person and the tragedy of the whole people”), the history of Magadan camps and famous prisoners (stand about the Zhigulin writer), the camp history of the area, construction and operation of the Kolyma (Magadan) highway .

Almost all available materials on the history of the Gulag are represented in the permanent exposition: expedition findings, photographs, documents from the archive of the Road Administration, biographical materials of the first builders and residents of the village, newspaper and magazine publications.

Kolyma River

The Kolyma river is largest river in the Magadan region and is also one of the main rivers of Yakutia. .It has long been one of the main transport arteries of the region. Gold found in and around the river led to the rapid development of the entire northeast Russia region. Kolyma refers to area around a river, and Magadan in particular. The valley and mountains surrounding river are covered by coniferous, mainly larch, forests. The Kolyma river is regarded as a great fishing river but was also an important transportation link some of the northernmost prison labor camps.

The Kolyma is 2129 kilometers. It source is in the mountains and pleateaus of the Okhotsk-Kolyma Highlands. Its mouth is in the Arctic Ocean. For than half of the year the river is frozen solid and you can drive a truck on it. Sometimes when the ice breaks up the spring there are huge floods. Navigating the Lena down river into the Arctic Ocean and then heading upriver into the Kolma is one way to get to northeast Russia without flying. Pride Kolyma — at phenomenon Sugoysky Krivun — is where the huge river bends like the letter S and narrows to a few tens of meters.

More than half of the Kolyma River basin is located in the Magadan region. The Frisher Kolyma Hydroelectric Power Plant. uses the natural power of the Kolyma River to provide 95 percent energy consumption of Magadan Oblast. The Kolyma reservoir is one of the largest reservoirs in the world. Today, the energy potential of the river is still largely untapped. A second power station is being built at - Ust-Srednekanskaya. It will provide resources for the development of the mining companies in the region.

Among the mountain taiga in the mainstream of the river and streams that feed into it are 25 species of fish, most of which are common in the waters of Siberia. These fish include pike, perch, East Siberian grayling. burbot, sturgeon, Siberian white salmon, broad whitefish, Arctic grayling, cisco and burbot with its butter-soft liver.

Kolyma River, the Soviet Era and the Gulag System

The Kolyma river an important transportation link for some of the northernmost Stalin-era prison labor camps. In the 1930s, barges plied the Kolyma river taking scurvy-stricken prisoners to some of the harshest camps of Josef Stalin's gulag system, many of them involved in building the "Road of Bones". Now the camps are long gone and the region — once a bustling Soviet Arctic outpost — is largely forgotten.

Dmitry Solovyov of Reuters wrote: “ The Kolyma used to be a river of death for prisoners in some of the harshest camps of Josef Stalin’s Gulag empire. Now the camps are long gone, but so too is the activity of a once-bustling Soviet Arctic outpost. In the 1930s, barges plied the Kolyma river taking their cargo of scurvy-stricken prisoners to penal camps in Siberia’s northernmost settlements or the nearby Magadan region, a trip along what inmates dubbed “the road of bones.” [Source: Dmitry Solovyov, Reuters, September 20, 2007]

“Once dubbed a “cursed black planet” in camp inmates’ songs, the river is now a lifeline for a shrinking community. Under Soviet rule, the authorities used to fly in fruit to make sure residents had a balanced diet. Now with no more state subsidies, local industries, or ships in the port — infrastructure that made life possible in this remote corner — those who still live here relish what the river offers: fish.

“For the neighborhood, this river is its daily bread,” said Valery Gizatulin, a 45-year-old fisherman at the Markhayanova fishing concession which in Soviet days hosted a large fish factory. “There used to be good infrastructure around this area. Now only fishing and hunting remain for locals.” Eight time zones east of Moscow, residents here call the rest of Russia “the mainland” — it is so difficult to reach that this region might as well be an island.Gizatulin gulps down a shot of vodka and forks up a generous chunk of steaming hot fried sturgeon: “The river provides us with a livelihood, it gives us fish, money, everything. Otherwise, we would not have survived here.”

Oymyakon: the World’s Coldest Town

Oymyakon (600 kilometers northeast of Yakutsk, 30 kilometers northwest of Tomtor on the Kolyma Highway) is the world's coldest inhabited palace. According to the Guinness Book of Records, it has unofficially recorded temperatures as low as –72 degrees C (-98 degrees F). It officially recorded -68 degrees C (-90 degrees F) in 1933 and –71 degrees C -(-96 degrees F) in 1964.During the winter the mercury hits -50 degrees F nearly every day and routinely drops to -80 degrees F. But even in these temperatures reindeer herders in the region camp outside in tents and herd their animals.

It is surprising that Oymyakon is so cold because it isn't even above the Arctic Circle. Towns further north are not as cold because they are nearer the sea. Even when frozen over the Arctic Ocean has a warming influence on the land. Oymyakan is hundreds of kilometers away from the ocean and mountains surround the town which prevents the wind from blowing away the thick layer of frigid air.

The primary economic activities in the town are raising fur animals, herding reindeer and providing lodging for the television crews that show up in town. Nomadic reindeer herders are out in the cold, whether the temperature is -40 degrees F or -80 degrees F. The Church of the Savior in Zashiversk (350 miles northeast of Oymyakon) is a 17th century wooden church. An expedition to Zashiversk in 1969 discovered the surrounding village had vanished but the cold weather had kept the church intact. The population of the village was wiped out by the black plague in the early 19th century.

Oymyakon (also spelled Oimyakon) means“nonfreezing source” in the Yakut language. It is situated on the left bank of the Indigirka River between two valleys. There are streams in th area such as Razluka that don't freeze even in the coldest weather, the source of the town’s name perhaps. During World War II, an airfield was built for the Alaska-Siberian (ALSIB) air route, used to ferry American Lend-Lease aircraft to the Eastern Front. Today, Pole of Cold tourist trips are conducted from December to March. Those visit the town on an “expedition on the pole of cold” tour receive a registered certificate that they visited the world’s coldest town and the coldest time of the year.

Verkhoyansk: the Town with Greatest Temperature Range

Verkhoyansk (675 kilometers miles north of Yakutsk, 92 kilometers from Batagay) holds the world's record for greatest temperature range. According to the Guinness Book of Records, it boasts a range of 188 degrees F (from -90 degrees F to 98 degrees F). In centigrade that works out to -68 temperature C to 37 degrees C, a range of 105 degrees. In the winter of 1994, the temperature in Verkhoyansk dropped twice to -80 degrees F.

Verkhoyansk is located on the Yana River north of the Arctic Circle and is home to about 1,300 people. The town doesn't have any restaurants, hotels or supermarket. There is a river port, an airport, a fur-collecting depot, and the center of a reindeer-raising area. The Yana River is frozen nine months of the years. Everything is expensive because it has to be brought in from outside. Because nothing grows all food have to be brought in expect meat from hunted animals such as reindeer, moose and rabbits. There isn't much to see except the Pole of Cold Museum. On the unpaved road to Batagay there is a shaman's post.

Cossacks founded an ostrog in 1638, 90 kilometers southwest of the modern town. The ostrog's name "Verkhoyansky", roughly translating from Russian as the town on the Upper Yana. In 1775, it was moved to the left bank of the Yana River to facilitate tax collection. Between the 1860s and 1917, the town was a place of political exile, with some of the more prominent exiles including the Polish writer Wacław Sieroszewski, as well as Bolshevik revolutionaries Ivan Babushkin and Viktor Nogin.

Despite being located within the Arctic circle, Verkhoyansk has an extreme subarctic climate dominated much of the year by high pressure. This has the effect of cutting off the region from warming influences in winter and together with a lack of cloud cover leads to extensive heat losses during the cooler months. Only Antarctica has recorded colder temperatures than those of Oymyakon or Verkhoyansk. Around Verkhoyansk temperature inversions consistently form in winter due to the extremely cold and dense air of the Siberian High pooling in deep hollows, so that temperatures increase rather than decrease with higher altitude. Verkhoyansk has never recorded a temperature above freezing between November 10 and March 14. Verkhoyansk’s climate is dry, with little rainfall or snowfall largely because of the dominance of high pressure system.

Living and Working in the Super Cold

In regions of permafrost, buildings must be constructed on pilings, machinery must be made of specially tempered steel, and transportation systems must be engineered to perform reliably in extremely low and extremely high temperatures.

Cars in Omyakon and Yakutsk often last only a couple of years. The windshields have double panes with air between them to keep them from becoming opaque with ice. Sometimes it is so cold tires split open and brittle metal cracks when you hit it. People often drive in groups. One man got a flat tire and while he trying to change it his hand froze to the wheel. He tried to chew his hand off but before he could finish he froze to death.

At -35 degrees C (-31 degrees F)the strength of steel is compromised and steel structures can become brittle and collapse When it is -62 degrees C (-80 degrees F) spit freezes before it touches the ground, expensive down parkas break like glass and frostbite can ravage an uncovered nose in minutes. Journalist Dean Conger was walking the streets of Yakutsk when somebody stopped him and told him to rub his nose because it was white. He laughed and said, "But I've only been out of my hotel for five minutes." Then he notices his nostrils were clogged with ice and every breath caused a stinging in his chest. He took up the advise and starting rubbing.

Everything is expensive because it has to be brought in from outside. Nothing grows locally. The only locally produced meat comes from hunted animals such as reindeer, moose and rabbits. It takes seven truckloads of wood, costing $1,650, to heat house in the winter. Many people have been forced to leave because with the lose of government subsidies they can no longer afford it.

Work goes on in the cold temperatures of Siberia. Mortar is heated so bricks can be laid when it is -45 degrees C (-50 degrees F). When the temperature drops to -51 degrees C (-60 degrees F) cranes don't work properly. To construct a house steaming hot water is used to melt the permafrost so that piles can be sunk seven meters down. When the soil refreezes the piles are is anchored firmly in the ground at a depth that won't melt in the summer. Houses that don't have such piles sink and shift in the permafrost during the summer.

Mining gold in the permafrost is a two year operation. The first year the surface is melted. The area is then flooded with water which freezes down to about two meters. Insulated by this top layer of ice, the subsurface water continues thawing during the early winter. The next spring dredgers break through the ice and mining begins.


Mirny (820 kilometers west of Yakutsk) is a town with about 37,000 people located on the Irelyakh River and founded in 1955 after the discovery of a nearby kimberlite pipe The Mir diamond mine is located within the town. The town is served by the Mirny Airport. Safety concerns have been raised about aircraft operations near to the open diamond mine; helicopters are forbidden to pass over the abandoned workings.

Mirny used to be a closed town run by Yakutalmaz Trest (now part of ALROSA). Today, Mirny is no longer closed. Some interesting guided tours, including visits to diamond mines, are offered but may have to be arranged in advance. The museum of kimberlites of ALROSA, the company that operates the Mir diamond mine, opened in 1974 and has 120 show-windows with about 6,000 display items. You can see not only kimberlites but also other geological formations: various ornamental measures, ore minerals and semi-precious stones. There is a collection of charoites from their only source in the world in the southwest of Yakutia, a collection of nephrites from Vitim, marble from Slyudyanka on Baikal, a collection of crystal slates of the Anabar board and Patom Highland, a collection of skarn from Primorye, and ore samples from east regions of Yakutia, from Dalnegorsk, Ural, Altai and Norilsk.

Getting There: Mirny can be reached by plane: from Moscow or St. Petersburg, but be prepared for a 10 to 13 hour flight. If your starting point is Yakutsk, you can opt for planes or roads. Accommodation: : Although there are no major hotels in Mirny, you will find a number of private hotels and guest houses. Rooms to stay can be scarce, so you might want to book your accommodation beforehand.

Mir Diamond Mine

Mir Diamond Mine (in Mirny, 820 kilometers west of Yakutsk) is an open pit mine, with the depth of 525 meters (1,722 ft) and a diameter of 1.25 kilometers (0.78 mi). By some reckoning it is the fourth largest diamond in the world. Production was stopped in 2004, and the mine was permanently closed in 2011, due to reduced recovery and the costs of working in the far northern climate.

Most of Russia's diamond mines are in north central Russia. These mines produce 13.6 million carats a year (25 percent of the world's rough diamonds in dollars). One mine is on the White Sea north of Moscow. There are believed to be 500 frozen diamond-yielding kimberlite pipes in Yakutia.

The source of many of the Yakutai diamonds has been the massive open-pit Mir (Peace) and Udanchni (Lucky) mines, which have yielded the 232-carat Star of Yakutia and the 342-carat XXVI Party Congress diamond (a joking reference to the fact the diamond is "huge and formless"). Both of gems are in a glass case in the Kremlin national treasury and may not be sold.

Mining the pipes in Siberia can be very expensive. They often need huge processing plants, large work forces and special technology to deal with the -70 degree C temperatures (cold enough to crack steel). Investments of over $1 billion have been needed to fully exploit the mines.

The Mir diamond mine in northern Siberia consists of a large pit that spirals deep into the ground. Opened in 1957, it was Russia's first diamond mine and gave birth to an entire city. At the time the mine closed in 2001, trucks took 90 minutes to carry their loads from the ore-bearing areas to the surface. Workers at the Mir mine wore felt boots and fur hats and used pneumatic drills to hack through 1,400 feet of permafrost. Vertical refrigeration pipes kept the shafts frozen and stable as warm air rose from the mine below the permafrost.

Yeluu-Cherkcheh (Death Valley)

Yeluu-Cherkcheh (200 kilometers east Mirny, accessible as part of a pre-arranged tour) is a strange place known as Death Valley. Here there are many kilometers a dead forest, where nothing lives, except insects and weeds. In these places, according to legend, you can find “metal boilers” — large abnormal structures, dug into the ground. Some of the “boilers” form caves with halls, which retain heat even on the coldest days. This mythical “anomalous zone” is located in the Vilyuy river valley.

According to some journalists, the name comes from Yakut hunters who used the “boilers” as a lodging place and became seriously ill afterwards,, and those who re-used the “boiler” quickly died overnight. One of the last expedition to the Valley of Death was organized by the “Seekers of Yakutia” crewin 2011.

According to legend, Death Valley is imbedded with mysterious metal spheres, the so-called “boilers” or “cauldrons,” where “extremely thin people” sleep. The mysterious cauldrons were first mentioned as early as the 18th century. The explorer Richard Maack wrote in 1853: “On the banks of the Algy Timirnit River, which means “the large cauldron sank”, there is indeed a giant cauldron made of copper. Its size is unknown as only the rim is visible above the ground, but several trees grow within it.” The cauldrons are also mentioned in the Olonkho, the national epic of the Yakut people

Tours to Uliuiu Cherkechekh are seasonal and usually arranged on demand, and involve rafting down the Vilyuy, Olguydakh, Tangkhay and Morkoka rivers, on whose banks numerous eyewitnesses have found the cauldrons. The trip Hiking, rafting, off-roading and the mystical atmosphere of the Valley of Death. This journey is not for everybody!

Laptev Sea

The Laptev Sea is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean located between the northern coast of Siberia, the Taimyr Peninsula, Severnaya Zemlya and the New Siberian Islands. Its northern boundary passes from the Arctic Cape to 79°N and ends at the Anisiy Cape. The Kara Sea lies to the west, the East Siberian Sea to the east. The sea is named after the Russian explorers Dmitry Laptev and Khariton Laptev. Frozen most of year, though generally clear in August and September, the sea is characterized by low water salinity, scarcity of animals, plants and people and low depths (generally less than 50 meters). [Source: Wikipedia]

The sea shores were inhabited for thousands of years by indigenous tribes of Yukaghirs and then Evens and Evenks, which were engaged in fishing, hunting and reindeer herding. They were then settled by Yakuts and later by Russians. Russian explorations of the area started in the 17th century. They came from the south via several large rivers which empty into the sea, such as the prominent Lena River, the Khatanga, the Anabar, the Olenyok, the Omoloy and the Yana. The sea contains several dozen islands, many of which contain well-preserved mammoth remains.

The Lena River, with its large delta, is the biggest river flowing into the Laptev Sea, and is the second largest river in the Russian Arctic after Yenisei. The sea shores are winding and form gulfs and bays of various sizes. The coastal landscape is also diverse, with small mountains near the sea in places. The main gulfs of the Laptev Sea coast are the Khatanga Gulf, the Olenyok Gulf, the Buor-Khaya Gulf and the Yana Bay. There are several dozens of islands with the total area of 3,784 square kilometers (1,461 square miles), mostly in the western part of the sea and in the river deltas. Storms and currents due to the ice thawing significantly erode the islands. The Semenovsky and Vasilievsky islands which were discovered in 1815 have already disappeared. More than half of the sea (53 percent) rests on a continental shelf.

The climate of the Laptev Sea is Arctic continental and, owing to the remoteness from both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, is one of the most severe among the Arctic seas. Polar night and midnight sun last about three months per year on the south and five months on the north. Air temperatures stay below 0°С 11 months a year on the north and nine months on the south. The average temperature in January (coldest month) varies across the sea between −31°C (−24°F) and −34°C (−29°F) and the minimum is −50°C (−58°F). In July, the temperature rises to 0°С (maximum 4°С) in the north and to 5°С (maximum 10°С) in the south, however, it may reach 22–24°С on the coast in August. The maximum of 32.7°C (90.9°F) was recorded in Tiksi. Strong winds, blizzards and snow storms are common in winter. Snow falls even in summer and is alternating with fogs.

Permanent mammal species include ringed seal, bearded seal, harp seal, walrus, collared lemming, Arctic fox, reindeer, wolf, ermine, Arctic hare and polar bear Beluga whales visit the region seasonally. The walrus of the Laptev Sea is sometimes distinguished as a separate subspecies Fishing and hunting is done on a relatively small scale and are mostly concentrated in the river deltas. Ice formation starts in September on the north and October on the south. It results in a large continuous sheet of ice, with the thickness up to 2 meters (6 ft 7 in) in the south-eastern part of the sea as well as near the coast. The coastal sheet ends at the water depth of 20–25 m which occurs at several hundred kilometers from the shore, thus this coastal ice covers some 30 percent of the sea area.

Pink Seagull Observation

Lower reaches of the Indigirka and Kolyma area (northern Yakutia) is the only place where you can find the nesting grounds of the pink gulls. On tussocks among lakes, pink seagulls hatchlings are fattened them with bugs, flies and other insects during the summer. During the winter they don’t fly South like the other birds but rather head north to the Arctic ocean, where they spend time looking for open water among the ice, feeding on fish and crustaceans.

Pink seagulls are very rare. They live only in remote places of the Arctic. These are small are about the size of a crows and have a black bill, gray back and tail, red legs, and a black necklace around the neck during summer only. The head, chest and abdomen are pale pink. The birds were discovered in 1905.

You can see the pink gulls during the breeding period in the Yana River Delta and the lower reaches of the Kolyma and Alazeya Rivers. Sometimes the nesting is late because snow and ice covers the tundra, lakes and rivers where they nest. ice. In such cases, the seagulls show up at human settlements and scavenge food. After the snow melts the birds settle in their nesting grounds, usually in early June, and lay one to three eggs.

Places where you can observe the pink seagulls are often along the rough, raw, bumpy shores of lakes and waterlogged lowlands with hills and moss and small grassy islets. The nest is very simple: typically made of dry grass, sometimes with the addition of mosses. Tourists who seek them camp in tents and bring everything necessary for stay in the wild. In such places tourists can often get within five or six meters of the birds and watch daily life: You can see how the eggs are incubated by both parents in shifts with the females stay with eggs longer on account her shift is in the night hours. The birds feed birds near the nest, extracting various insects and their larvae from the ground and plants. The birds head to the water when they get a chance and fiercely protect their nests.

Kisilyakh Sacred Mountains

Kisilyakh (Accessible from Laptev Sea) is located on a watershed of the Yana and Adycha rivers. In the Yakut language Kisilyakh means means “stone people”. The mountains are scared to Yakuts and Evens and has traditionally been associated with shamans.

There is a Yakuts and Even belief that in ancient time that mountains were possessed by supreme forces (upper Aiyy) and only shamans and their “kuturuksuts” (attendants) were allowed to climb the holy mountains. According to Adychi’s legend, upper Aiyy live on Kisilyakh — the mountain of spirits and gods.

For a long time, among people living near the mountains, it was strictly forbidden to climb or even go to and look at the holy mountains unless one was invited by a shaman and visited the mountains with good intentions, and were purified by the visit. Today tourists with good intentions are allowed to climb Kisilyakh. The climb takes four hours and visitors typically splash themselves with water from a special spring, which is viewed as a kind of holy water. Those that have completed the climb and ablution say they feel recharged and have a more positive perspective on life.


Chersky (1,920 kilometers northeast of Yakutsk, 100 kilometers south of the Arctic Sea) is an urban-type settlement on the Kolyma River with about 2,800 people. It is the center of the Nizhnekolymsky district in northeastern Yakutia, an area almost three times the size of Belgium but populated by less than 5,000 people, most of them in Chersky.

Dmitry Solovyov of Reuters wrote: In Chersky, “bread costs three times more than in Moscow. Apples and onions cost $5 or more per kg. Local fish is sold at just $2 per kilo. “Our staples, fish and (reindeer or moose) meat, are real life-savers,” Gizatulin said The fisherman guides visitors into what looks like the eerie realm of the Snow Queen: a maze of ice-covered underground corridors cut in the Arctic permafrost. The temperature down there is a steady minus 16 Celsius (3 degrees Fahrenheit). The tunnels used to be a huge fridge, big enough to accommodate 250 tonnes of fish for the factory. Now the fishermen catch just a fraction of this amount, but still store it in the natural freezer. [Source: Dmitry Solovyov, Reuters, September 20, 2007]

A tough, blue-collar town, what little glory Chersky may once have had is now thoroughly faded. In Soviet days, it was not only a major supply route for northern Siberia, it was also the main lifeline to support the Soviet Union’s Arctic expeditions and was Moscow’s main military outpost in the area. Its airport had daily flights to Moscow and the regional capital Yakutsk, and up to 25 giant barges and tankers were anchored off its busy port daily, waiting to be unloaded. People were compensated for the hardships with wages several times higher than in Moscow.

But Chersky’s heyday was over soon after the 1991 overnight collapse of the Soviet Union. Since then, the population has fallen almost four-fold to around 3,000, most of the cranes at its port are rusting and at the airport, when the occasional small plane makes a landing it bumps along a gravel runway where the tarmac has crumbled.

The town looks like a war zone. Many apartment blocks were demolished or set on fire after the residents left and the buildings developed huge cracks in their walls, caused by the permafrost thawing beneath the foundations. Mounds of rubble, mangled metal constructions, wrecked military installations and plundered storage facilities dot the area surrounded by the wild Arctic tundra. In the twilight of a crimson sunset over the placid Kolyma, repair worker Yegor Danilovich was casting his fishing rod from a pier in Chersky’s port. He will either eat his catch or sell it to supplement his monthly salary of 7,000 rubles ($273), half Russia’s national average. “Everything was good back then, in Soviet days, everything was great, there was work, now there are no jobs,” sighed the grey-haired 51-year-old. “Now everything is expensive, and wages are low.”“Is it possible to live on this pittance? But I survive, I fish for that. That’s what all my life is about.”“

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (official Russia tourism website ), 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

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