In 1998, UNESCO declared the Altai territory a World Heritage Site. It is not surprising, because Altai today is one of the most ecologically clean places on Earth.
The region is located in southern Siberia and is officially divided into two parts: the Altai Territory and the Altai Republic.
The Altai Territory is mostly cozy and warm landscapes, green hills and steppes, yellow and red fields of sunflowers and buckwheat. A huge number of lakes are great for swimming.
The Altai Republic has high ridges of mountains (including Belukha Mountain – 4506 m – the highest point of all of Siberia) divided by narrow and deep river valleys and rare wide intermountain hollows. These places are meant for active tourists who are hungry for adventure.
The word “Altai” comes from the Mongolian “Altan”, which means “golden”. For more than a century this land attracts travelers, rock climbers, scientists, artists, photographers, as well as pilgrims (many of the Altai mountains are local shrines).
Nature of Altai
The most popular among tourists coming to Altai is Lake Teletskoe. This is the largest lake in Altai and one of the largest lakes in Russia, it is called the younger brother of Baikal. The maximum depth of the lake is about 330 m. It is also one of the most beautiful lakes in Russia. On the shores of the lake a large number of resorts, camp sites and campgrounds are located. Here are the best places for fishing, hiking, horse riding, water and bus tours.
There are not many places in the world with the same combination of contrasting landscapes in such a small space. All the natural areas of Central Asia are represented here: deserts, steppes, forest-steppe, mixed forests, mountain dark coniferous taiga, subalpine and alpine meadows.
Flora and fauna of Altai deserve special attention. The diverse landscape contributed to the appearance and preservation of endemics (plants and animals distributed only in certain areas). The wilderness of taiga, rich in game-birds, and the lakes full of fish, can be appreciated by enthusiastic fishermen and hunters. In Altai, you can find bears, wolves, hares, elks, lynxes, cranes, grouse, capercaillie, cranes, bream, roach, crucian carp, sturgeon, grayling, and sterlet. The amazing vegetation of the Altai is also distinguished by a rich variety of medicinal species.
On the territory of the region there are 13 thousand lakes, the largest of which is Kuldinskoye (728 sq.km). The largest rivers of the region – Biya and Katun – merge in one and form one of the main Siberian rivers Ob. These rivers will satisfy the most demanding lover of rafting and extreme tourism.
The cascade of Karakol lakes in the Chemal region is a unique nature reserve. The water in each of the seven lakes of the cascade is different in color and chemical composition.
A cascade of waterfalls on the Shinok River is the largest in the Altai Territory. The three-stage waterfall has a total height of about 70 meters.
In the mid-seventies, the waterfall on the Chulcha River became widely known. This largest waterfall in Altai has a total fall height of 160 meters and is a great spectacle.
Sightseeings of Altai
For many centuries, the Altai Territory has been a symbol of Russia’s ore wealth. Anyone who is interested in the history of the Russian State should definitely visit the city of Zmeinogorsk and the village of Kolyvan.
In the mountains there are a large number of caves. There the traces of the people of the Stone Age were found. In some places you can see petroglyphs dated more than a thousand years back. The complex of rock paintings Kalbak-Tash includes over five thousand drawings, as well as more than 30 runic inscriptions.
For many years, archaeological research has been conducted in the Denisova Cave: more than 20 cultural layers belonging to different epochs have been discovered there. The most ancient artifacts are about 300 thousand years old.
The remains of extinct animals were found in the Charysh caves: a mammoth, a woolly rhinoceros, a bison, a cave hyena, a fossil deer, as well as the bones of the now extinct animals that inhabited the Altai Mountains two centuries ago.
Most of the geographical discoveries in the Altai was made in the XIX century. However, even today many new things are found here. Scientists believe that Altai researches will make many new discoveries in the future.
There are also cultural objects in Altai, such as the memorial house-museum of the famous Russian artist Nicholas Roerich. In the village of Polkovnikovo there is a modern Museum of Cosmonautics named after the German Titov. In the Ethno-Ecological Museum, which was created in the traditional dwelling of Altaians – the octagonal log ail, you can get acquainted with the customs and history of the Altai indigenous population.
The skete of Ioann the Divine, located on a separate island of Patmos and surrounded by rivers from all sides, is one of the holy places of Altai. The only way to reach it is a narrow wooden bridge which hangs over the mighty Katun river.
Population of Altai
It is believed that the first settlements in Altai appeared almost a million years ago.
The indigenous population of the Altai Mountains – the Altaians – migrated to Altai in ancient times from the headwaters of the Yenisei. Their close relatives are the Kyrgyz in Central Asia. They speak Altai language belonging to the family of Turkic languages. In addition to the Altaians, Russians and Kazakhs live in the Altai Mountains.
The traditional Altaian belief is shamanism. In their view, the Universe consists of three worlds: the Upper world, inhabited by celestials and headed by the supreme deity – Ulgen; the Middle world (lunar-solar), inhabited by people and spirits of mountains, rivers, passes, etc.; and Lower world – the afterlife world, headed by Erlik.
Kam (shaman) is a kind of mediator between people and deities. The Kamlanie, the ritual of addressing Ulgen or Erlik, is performed mainly with the help of a tungur (tambourine), which for the shaman is the riding animal (the one from whose skin it is made) during his wanderings in the Upper and Lower worlds.
The people living in these mountains, their life and history is a real fount for the traveler. After all, Altai is a place of contact and interpenetration of different religions: Christianity, Islam, Lamaism and Buddhism.
Tourism in Altai
Tourism in the Altai is one of the main sectors of the regional economy, as well as an important source of income. Up to 1 million tourists come to Altai annually. Among the active types of recreation, the bulk of the activities are summer ecological and cultural and educational trips and excursions by automobile, foot, equestrian, water, mountaineering, hunting, fishing, speleological and other routes with visits to natural and cultural historical sites and territories.
Tourists come to Altai for the clear sky and lots of sunny days, clear ionized air, clear mountain rivers, healing springs and mud, a huge number of caves to explore, an incredible number of lakes for fishing, swimming and everything else. The new tourist areas can also now offer a full-fledged beach holiday with all the appropriate infrastructure. A traveler gets the best mix that a tourist can wish for: unique local specifics plus familiar home comforts. Every year more and more funds are invested in the development of the tourist infrastructure of the region.
Altai is a great place for mountaineering tourism and outdoor activities. Swiss people say that only here one can imagine what the Alps were like before the tourist invasion. Paragliding and hang gliding are offered to tourists in numerous tourist bases.
Travel agencies offer amazing travels in the Altai Territory and the Altai Republic. For example, climbing Aktru is one of the most wonderful tours. This trip provides an opportunity to explore almost all the natural areas of Altai from the Mongol-like dry-steppe landscapes of the Kurai Basin to the glaciers of the North-Chuya Range. Tourists see an unusual combination of history, life in nature and have short meetings with the local population.
In winter, you can go skiing on animal trails of snowy Siberian taiga. Such tours are not extreme, but require determination to go until the end of the path.
Numerous campgrounds, bases, tourist complexes, hotels will offer you a wide variety of services: chambers and dormitories, outdoor pools, saunas and antler baths, show programs and ethnic ceremonies.
Altai is an amazing example of how a person’s life depends on nature and is determined by the land on which he lives. Just as hundreds of years ago, cattle are grazed here, wild animals are hunted, homespun carpets are weaved.
The vast space of these mountains was not subjected to industrial development, and therefore the food obtained mainly by the old-fashioned methods is ecologically clean. Many natural products have exceptional healing properties.
Having chosen Altai for your holiday, you will get maximum pleasure and impressions. Altai will also appeal to lovers of quiet eco-tourism, and extreme seekers, and those who crave new experiences.