News / Europe

'Russia’s Tibet’ Opens to Jet-Age Tourism

James Brooke
The remote Altai Republic has long been seen as "Russia’s Tibet." Isolated by the tallest mountains in Siberia, Altai is located on the border with Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan. But now Altai is opening up to jet-age tourism.
 
Last year, workers at the region’s only commercial airport doubled the length of the landing strip and built a new terminal. In June, jets started bringing tourists directly from Moscow, Europe’s most populous city, to drink the milk of horses, contemplate clear, glacier-fed rivers and breathe the fresh air of Altai’s Golden Mountains. The range, with peaks of 4,500 meters, is one of Russia’s nine natural areas listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
 
  • The new air terminal at Gorno Altaisk, capital of the Altai Republic. Three months ago, regular jet flights started from Moscow, bringing affluent Russians and foreigners to a long isolated corner of the world's largest nation. (Vera Undritz for VOA)
  • A white ribbon, a good luck totem of the mountain people’s shamanistic faith, flutters from a larch tree overlooking a ridge of the Altai-Sayan mountains. (Vera Undritz for VOA)
  • Nadezhda Yegorova offers bowls of fresh mare’s milk to foreign visitors. Two years ago, after attending a class on eco-tourism offered by WWF, Yegorova decided to open to tourists her traditional family yurt in the village of Inya on the Chuiskii Track.
  • Mutton sausage, river fish, and sweetened cranberries are some of the delicacies that Altai hosts serve their guests. (Vera Undritz for VOA)
  • At Chui Oozi cultural center, also on the Chuiskii Track, rock etchings – thousands of years old – commemorate deer and elk hunts by prehistoric peoples of the Altai. (Vera Undritz for VOA)
  • At the Chui Oozi cultural center, a young woman shows off traditional native dress. In the background, Bolot Byiryshev, one of Altai’s most accomplished throat singers, rests after singing an epic ballad. (Vera Undritz for VOA)
  • A young Altai boy walks to school, where he will study in Russian and Altai, the region’s Turkic language. An Altai population boom means that within a generation, Altai people will probably displace Russians as the ethnic majority.
  • In a high mountain yurt, a woman elder from the Kun community burns juniper twigs in a shamanistic purification and blessing welcome ceremony for foreign visitors. (Vera Undritz for VOA)
  • By the fast flowing Bashkaus River, a man rides past Azalo, a family compound that opened last month for visitors, complete with a new cedar plank, ecologically friendly latrine. (Vera Undritz for VOA)
  • Muscovites ask visitors returning from the Altai: Did you see a Snow Leopard? No, but we bought little leopards fashioned out of felt, made from the pressed and matted wool of sheep raised in the Altai. (Vera Undritz for VOA)
  • A summer season of white prayer ribbons festoon a cedar tree on a mountainside. Following shamanistic beliefs of the White Faith, travelers tie white ribbons to tree branches for good luck. VOA Photo: Vera Undritz
  • On a cool autumn evening, a mountain lake carries the reflections of high mountain slopes where the first snows of winter have already fallen. These high altitudes are home to the snow leopard and its prey, the Argali sheep.

Visitors are also attracted by the Altai’s exotic traditional culture. Alexei Kaichi, for example, is a throat singer who voices the epic ballads of his native land.
 
“I truly stand for worshiping the hills, the mountain passes, and the water springs,” he says as he stands outside a yurt, a traditional circular dwelling of Altai’s semi-nomadic people. “Because, as I was taught, every part of the land is a deity.”
 
Galina Toptigina, who built the Chui Ooz Cultural Center near her ancestral village, emphasizes the importance of tourism revenue as foreign and Russian visitors bargain for locally made scarves and hats of silk and felt.
 
“With the new airport, we get different people, and we make money with this,” says Toptigina. “We have to keep tourism in our hands, offering our tourism, our services, our handicrafts.”
 
Selling hats, scarves and toy snow leopards made of felt, Olga Safanova says she was unemployed for three years until she took an eco-tourism course from the World Wildlife Fund nature group.
 
"Tourism here is just developing, and I think it is not bad because the local people have started to prepare souvenirs," she says. "And we have our traditions and customs that attract tourists and earn money.”
 
But some big city tourists do not share the mountain peoples’ reverence for land. At one stop, trash of picnickers and campers is piled between a mountain lake and a sacred pass where good luck strips of white cloth flutter from cedar trees.
 
Igor Kalmykov, who directs the Altai Biosphere Reserve, says the first step is to get local community leaders to see that local jobs depend on a pristine environment.
 
“We prepare local guides,” he says. “We try very hard to give them the possibilities to sell locally made souvenirs in places where they can sell.”
 
With unemployment high, nature tourism could provide jobs for the next generation growing up in Russia’s faraway Altai.

You May Like

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Video US Landmark Pushes Endangered Species

People gathered in streets, on rooftops in Manhattan to see image highlights that covered 33 floors of Empire State Building More

World’s Widest Suspension Bridge Being Built Over Bosphorus

Once built, Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge will span 2 kilometers with about 1.5 kilometers over water, and will be longest suspension bridge in world carrying rail system More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs