Abandoned Arctic Fairyland

17days trip to Karelia and the Nenets reindeer herders in Yamal

Yamal - The Abandoned Arctic Fairyland

Northern Russia

  • Themed Trips
  • Active Adventures
  • Culture
  • Overland
17 Days
1 Flights
Not Child Friendly

Note: this trip travels through areas where travel-related infrastructure does not exist, and through areas where people are simply not impressed by foreigners that are coming from afar to see them, their lives, and the environment they inhabit. We eat whatever we are served (if and when we are served), sleep on any sort of flat surface available, and travel by all sorts of mode of transportation. In return, we’ll get to travel through some places that are rarely traveled by outsiders, if at all. We’ll get to meet the locals in a way very few do, and get to learn about the history of traditions that go generations back. We get to see Russia exposed, with all its glory, and flaws. This is a trip for those who are willing to compromise their comfort (a lot!), and are curious to visit some of the world’s most remote regions, and the people inhabiting these regions.

Itinerary

This is a journey to the far north of Russia, beyond the Arctic Circle, to witness the impact of the post-communist era on the communities of both native Russians and indigenous people that have inhabited the area for generations. Here we will visit communities, some crumbling, some thriving, and some struggling to revive their former glory days, mostly due to efforts being put in by some dedicated members of the community, staying true to their old ways and traditions. We will be exploring some of Russia’s most picturesque regions, including Karelia, which considered by many Russians as the most beautiful province of their country, and all the way to Yamal- the ancient habitat of the nomadic Siberian reindeer herders. We investigate the mysteries related to the complex historical socio-economic impacts on these communities. Join us on a journey of discovery through some of the least traveled parts of the globe, for an up-close encounter with the warm hearted people of Siberia.

Day 1. 01 Septmber- Arrival in St. Petersburg

  • Dinner

Arrive in St. Petersburg. At 14:00 we meet our driver and guide and drive to our hotel in the city center. Being the heart of Czarist Russia for nearly 200 years, the city center reflects on a whole different era, when princes, nobleman and countesses were riding their chariots through the city’s street. For anyone who has read classic Russian literature, it would feel as being drawn to the familiar scenes known from the books of Tolstoy, Pushkin, and other writers of the Golden Age of Russian Literature. In the afternoon we take an introductory tour through the ancient streets of St. Petersburg, passing along the Church of our Lady of Kazan, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the Church of the Saviour on Blood, and other iconic buildings. After a welcome dinner we return to our hotel for the night.

Day 2. 02 September- St. Petersburg – Night train to Medvezhyegorsk

  • Breakfast

Our first morning in Russia begins with exploring the beautiful halls of the Hermitage. This is one of the largest and oldest museums in the world, first established by Catherine the Great in mid-17th century. Early afternon we head out of town, to Peterhof Palace, also referred to as the Russian Versailles. These lavish palaces, grounds and gardens are a true example of the excessive life led by the Russian royals, which triggered a series of revolutions ending up with the 1917 revolution, making Russia the first ever communist nation, and the center of communism for most of the 20th century. We roam the vast gardens, and marvel at the Grand Cascade and extravagant palace. We then leave Peterhof Palace and enjoy a boat trip back to St Petersburg, and board our night train towards Medvezhyegorsk. With vivid images of St. Petersburg’s glorious monuments still fresh in our minds, which are in stark contrast to the wide spread poverty of much of early 20th century Russia, we begin to realize and understand the socio-economic background to the communist revolution of 1917, and thus, begin to set a solid foundation to the sights, events and situations we will witness in the days to come. We overnight on the train.

Note: No meals shall be provided during train rides. We will stop in supermarkets in the cities prior to our train rides, so we can purchase some supplies for simple meals. There is also a restaurant car on the train, providing basic Russian traditional food.

Day 3. 03 September- Medvezhyegorsk – Pyalma

  • Lunch
  • Dinner

Early in the morning we arrive in the small town of Medvezhyegorsk. One of many centers for logging, this town, similar to most of western Karelia, was occupied by the Finnish Army during World War II. We disembark the train, and meet our drivers who take us to the village of Pyalma. Once a thriving fishing community on the shores of Lake Onega, Europe’s second largest lake, today Pyalma is nearly deserted. It collapsed, like many other communities, when subsidies and support from the central government ceased to exist. With its old wooden houses, some more than 100 years old, the village feels like a ghost town. It's in these surroundings we meet Peter, who was born here, and has dedicated his life, as have his family, to restoring the village into its old glory. Peter will escort us around the village to show us his remarkable restoration works, and tell us of its history. We'll then take a walk to the lake's shores, and deep into the forests surrounding the village, enjoying the remarkable countryside. Afterwards we enjoy a meal made by Peter’s wife and daughter, and stay the night in some of the restored wooden houses, with very basic amenities.

Day 4. 04 September- Pyalma – Kenozero National Park

  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner

After breakfast we say our goodbyes to Peter and his family, and take a ride on Karelia’s run-down roads towards the remote Kenozero National Park in the neighboring Arkhangelskaya Province. A UNSECO Biosphere Reserve, the national park features beautiful thick forests, and chain of inter-connected lakes. After checking into the simple and cozy guesthouse on the shores of Lekshmozero Lake, we take an easy hike through the picturesque forest just outside of the village of Morshchikhinskaya. Overnight is in the guesthouse in Kenozero.

Day 5. 05 September- Kenozero National Park

  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner

We begin the day very early in the morning, joining a local fisherman as he pulls his nets out of Leshmozero Lake. After breakfast we embark on a full day exploring the natural beauty of Kenozero by foot and by boat. We drive from Morshchikhinskaya to the village of Maselga, where we board small rowing boats for a cruise going from one small lake to the next, through a system of naturally made channels. We stop for lunch by a 19th century watermill, before retracing our footsteps back to our guesthouse. Overnight in Kenozero.

Day 6. 06 September- Kenozero – Kargopol – Nyandoma

  • Breakfast
  • Lunch

We leave Kenozero, and keep on driving east heading towards the town of Kargopol. From the 13th to the early 18th century Kargopol was one of the biggest and richest trading towns in all Russia, many of its merchants even actively explored Siberia in search of new trade routes and sources for various goods. They went so far east, that a Kargopol merchant became the first governor of Russian America, or as it known today, Alaska. On our way to Kargopol we stop at some classic Russian wooden churches in villages along the way. Some of these amazing structures are hundreds of years old.

Arriving in Kargopol in time for lunch in a local restaurant. In the afternoon we take a walk around the city center, climbing to the top of the 18th century stone bell tower and enjoy the view across the city and the Onega river. We then travel on through the city’s street to the ensemble of three stone churches- the Annunciation Church, the Saint Nicholas Church, and the Church of the Nativity of the Thotokos. In past times due to Kargopols location between Moscow and Arkhangelsk (the only Russian port at the time) it grew very rich through horse and carriage services passing through. The union of transportation then refused to let the railway through Kargopol, leading it to be bypassed, and eventually crumble without the regular passing trade.

We then visit a local workshop which produces the Kargopol Toys, small, simple clay figures painted in a traditional style. These toys are inspired by similar ancient clay figures used in traditional religious ceremonies, prior to the time of Christianity in the region. After an early dinner in Kargopol we drive to the city of Nyandoma, where we board our train for the very long journey into Arctic Siberia. Overnight aboard the night train.

Note: again, no meals are provided during train journeys. We stop at a supermarket in Kargopol prior to our journey by train, so we can buy supplies for simple meals.

Days 7-8: 07-08 September- Train ride to Labytnangi

For the next two days, we shall be riding the train. Through the train windows we'll see the stunning Russian Taiga at its best, thick forests, with little roads cutting through them, and from time to time, a vague silhouette of a village hardly seen between the tree trunks. Along the railroad we will also see the region’s main source of income, massive logging operations that send their logs over the railroad network into Finland for processing. On the last leg of our journey we cross the invisible border between the European and the Asian continents. After 2 nights and 2 days on the train, we finally arrive in the Arctic Siberian town of Labytnangi. Overnight in a hotel.

Day 9. 09 September- To Yamal

  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner

At 10am we head out of Labytnangi in Trekol all-terrain vehicles. We travel 20km to the village of Obskaya, the start of a private 550km railway built by Russia’s gas giant Gazprom, and running up to the north of the Yamal Peninsula to serve the gas fields. We drive north on a dirt track following the railway for around 80km, before leaving the track and heading completely off-road. The rest of the trip will be spend navigating barren tundra, swamp and the Polar Ural Mountains to reach our destination, a nature reserve for wild musk-ox. We arrive in the late evening (18:00 – 20:00) depending on the conditions we've driven through. Overnight spent camping in tents.

Days 10-11. 10-11 September- In the Polar Urals

  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner

After breakfast we search for musk-ox. After lunch we head on to Bolshoe Shchuchye Lake, the “Pearl of the Polar Urals.” On the way we stop for a short hike to a sacred stone where nomads and other locals leave offerings. The stone is a giant rock, so enormous that it looks completely out of place amongst the tundra vegetation.

The next day we have an all-day hike up to a mountain glacier, located just across the border in the easternmost point in Europe. We have lunch there before hiking back down to the lake in the afternoon.

Overnights in a guest house or tents at the lake, depending on whether the guest house is open at the time of our visit.

Day 12. 12 September- Caves

  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner

Today we take a trip to “The Caves of the Sikhirtya”, named after the legendary tiny people who are said to have inhabited Yamal before the Nenets. These caves are said to have been their homes, and they were thought to have been nocturnal, sleeping only during the day. Their appearance was meant to be more similar to the Slavic people, with blond hair and blue eyes. It is also thought that they possessed magical powers, some stories say that anyone who met them would die shortly after, others that they would be happy for the rest of their lives. As with most legends, this one seems to hold at least a grain of truth, with archaeological evidence showing that there was a people living there that weren't the Nenets.

Day 13-14. 13-14 September- With the Nomads

  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner

On the first day we travel to an encampment of nomadic reindeer herders, who could be of the Nenets, Khanty or Komi indigenous groups. All three groups lead the same nomadic lifestyle but have different languages, completely unrelated to Russian. They migrate thousands of kilometres every year on hand-made, wooden, reindeer-drawn sledges in search of new pastures for their herds. They live in conical teepee-like tents known as chums, which along with all their possessions gets packed onto the sledges upto three times a week for their migrations.

During our stay at their camp there will be no fixed itinerary, as these are real life working nomads and have no time to put on a show for visitors. Instead we will merely partake in, and observe their daily life, which could include migrating, herding and lassoing reindeer, making sledges, sewing fur clothing, cutting firewood, collecting water, etc.

We spend two days and nights at the camp, sleeping in tents.

Day 15. 15 September- Back to Salekhard

  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner

After a last breakfast and hearty farewell to our hosts we head back on the long road down from Yamal to Labytnangi. We then take a ferry across the mighty River Ob to Salekhard, the capital of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Region. Overnight in a hotel.

Day 16. 16 September- Around Salekhard

  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner

Today we have a city tour of Salekhard. In the morning we will visit the excellent local museum, which has huge amounts of information on the region’s nomadic ethnic minorities, the ancient history of Yamal, the story of the Russian conquest of Siberia, mammoths found in the region and other flora and fauna.

After lunch we will visit Obdursk Fortress, a life size reconstruction of the first Russian settlement built on the site in 1595, before which only nomads inhabited the area. After that we will visit a few of the city’s many monuments, such as the giant mammoth statue, the Arctic Circle monument (Salekhard is the only city in the world through which the line of the Arctic Circle passes), Yamal and the reindeer monument.

This tour day may be missed in cases of bad weather or anything else having prevented us from arriving in Salekhard on time after our long off-road journey through the swampy tundra of the Polar Ural Mountains’ foothills.

After an early dinner we will retire to our hotel to pack our bags for the early morning flight the next day.

Day 17. 17 September- Selekhard ✈ Moscow (Domodedovo)

  • Breakfast

After early breakfast, we drive to Selekhard airport, for the flight to Moscow's Domodedovo, where we connect to our international flight out of Russia.

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Dates & Pricing

Trip rates valid for two confirmed travelers and above. If you are booking this trip for a party of four travelers or more, please contact us for our special rates.

[email protected] reserves the right to change tour prices and programs due to changes in flight schedule, changes in airfares, and other local circumstances.

Prices are based on twin share occupancy.

Discounted rates for groups of 4 travelers and above:
4 travelers- US$9614/ person
6 travelers- US$7811/ person
8 travelers- US$6610/ person

  • Applicable only for travel groups of 4 people or more booking their trip together.

1st September, 2017–17th September, 2017

  • $11,704 Per Person (From 2 people)
  • $345 Single Room Supplement

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