In the world there are many tourist spots associated with the word “gold”, from the triangle and the waterfall, to the ring. In Russia, there is a mountainous region called Altai, whose name, in Turkic, means “gold mount”. However, the main value of this distant place is not the precious metal produced there but its unspoilt nature.
Most people will say that the favorite tourist spots for mountain lovers are the Alps, with their beautiful snowy peaks both in the summer and in the winter. However, the experts will prefer the most mountainous region of Siberia, Altai. This is not surprising, since the four kilometer high slopes are steeper then the alpine ones, there are enough lakes for every taste and the glaciers, and wild rivers will impress the most experienced athletes.
Just like anyone, Altai has important dates in its history. It was born half a billion years ago but grew up only about 3 million years ago when the mountains experienced a second birth. As a result of tectonic collisions, formed the major peaks, including the highest summit of the range, the double-headed Belukha. A massive study of the region began in 1828, when the Altai region was infected with “gold fever”. Today, the wealth of this land belongs to 4 countries: Mongolia, Russia, China and Kazakhstan. In the south of the Russian Altai Mountains, where the heights reach their peak, the boundaries of the three other countries converge at one point.
The distance from Moscow to Altai is greater than to Madrid. The official gateway to this mountainous region is considered to be the small town of Chemal, located at the entrance to the “core” of Altai. Due to transport accessibility and the proximity to the “civilization” of the nearest city of Gorno-Altaisk, it houses one of the largest recreation centers in the region. The main federal highway – the Chui Tract passes through the town of Chemal. Its length is about 600 kilometers from the town of Biysk to the Mongolian border. This road was talked about in the Chinese chronicles thousands of years ago and, today, attracts tourists with its Seminskii and Chike-Taman passes, which are recognized as natural monuments of national importance.
It was said that the herds of sheep and goats, wandering on the future site of the village, looked like ants from the top, hence came the name Chemal. The strange name of this place didn’t confuse anyone and already in the 1930s the first government resort was established. Mild climate and abundant sunshine in Chemal attracted many eminent scholars and intellectuals. Among them was the famous Russian historian and painter, Nicholas Roerich, who painted many of the Altai landscapes. For its development, the village owes much to the wife of one of the leaders of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Ivanovich Kalinin. Ekaterina Ivanovna was exiled to Siberia during Stalin’s repressions. Perhaps due to her status she was sent to one of the least horrible places of exile. This remote village even had electricity, which was provided by one of the first hydroelectric plants in the region. Built in 1935 by the prisoners, the Chemal hydroelectric plant today serves as a hallmark of the region. Next to it, you can buy souvenirs and try Altai honey at a local coffee shop or rent a bike, a horse or a motor boat.
The locals joke that there are no tourists in Chemal. Foreigners go there to “rest” in a comfortable tourist infrastructure. In the summer, especially on the weekends, there are a lot of auto tourists coming from the nearest cities of Novosibirsk and Barnaul. They are attracted by the spa resorts and recreation centers, which in recent years actively developed various activities such as horseback riding, rafting on the mountain rivers of Katun and Chemalu, and biking tours.
When visiting Altai, it is a sin not to stop by the “little brother” of Lake Baikal, the largest lake out the thousand in the region and one of the deepest in the world – Lake Teletskoe. According to the legends, in ancient times, people suffered from hunger. One Altaian owned a huge gold bar, but still could not buy himself anything edible. From despair, this wealthy man threw the gold into the lake and followed it. Since then, in the Altaic language, this pond is called Altyn Kol, which means the “Golden Lake”.
Do not forget to visit another famous pond which bears the laconic name – Aya. It attracts tourists not only with its beautiful scenery but also with the opportunity to swim in it during the summer, which is more of an exception to the rules for the cold lakes of Altai. In summer, its water’s temperature reaches 20°C because no river starts or ends in it. Also, you should go hiking to the impressive Dead Lake, which is well known for its deadly waters in which no living creature can survive – neither fish, nor plants. It was long thought that this is caused by the mercury compounds in the water but after examination, it became clear that the living creatures could not settle there because of the steep rapids and rivers taking their sources from the lake.
The Altai interestingness is inexhaustible. Just a few steps away from Chemal you will find the deep caves with its mysterious figures of ancient people (petroglyphs) or the valley of glaciers. You will also see the highest peak of Siberia, Belukha (4506 m) which, like Mont Blanc, beckons mountain fans to stand on the top of the world. Just do not forget to bring along an experienced guide, with whom you will not get lost!
After all, my European friends compare the Altai Mountains to the Alps, before their human exploration. The mountainous landscapes of Europe are very similar; however, on the other side of the river there will always be a road crossing the forest, a farm with peacefully grazing cows and a store not too far away. In Altai, in a 100 kilometer radius, there is nothing but pure nature! A vacation here is more of a camping adventure on the shore of a mountain stream with your breakfast, lunch and dinner swimming in it. With enough patience you might even find some gold in the water. It is not surprising that the UNESCO added the Golden Mountains of Altai in the World Heritage List.