A young entrepreneur Tumen Kyrerba long wanted to organize a tour in Oymyakonsky district in the North-East of Yakutia — the coldest inhabited place in Russia, where winter temperatures get to -60°C. And he was right: many—not only Russians, but also foreigners – want to test their bodies in -60°C and experience the culture of the Northern peoples
Most tourists come to the small village of Tomtor — the coldest permanently inhabited place in the world. In 1933, the absolute minimum temperature was recorded in the village: -67.7°C. Due to this, Oymyakon is now called the Pole of Cold.
Tumen was born and raised in Oymyakonye, in the small village of Orto-Balagan. He was not afraid of mountains and went there since childhood – first nearby and then further.
Perhaps that was when he had the dream to share the beauty and grandeur of the mountains with someone else. He did not have a choice after graduating from the University with a degree in ecology and nature management because of the mountains either.
Being in your place
"In Yakutsk, I feel a little out of place. It's like I'm standing still and time is running out," he explains.
At first, the young man arranged tours for friends and acquaintances. He was very nervous before meeting his first foreign tourists. "You never know what kind of people will come and how to communicate with them," the entrepreneur admits.
Now he is the director of the company "Oymyakon-tour", although for now it is more of a hobby that brings a small income for him.
The business is mainly focused on foreign tourists from Asia and Europe. A young entrepreneur meets up to 50-60 tourists a year, and the total annual tourist flow to the area is estimated at 800-900 tourists. At the same time, there are about 20 entrepreneurs who provide tourist services in Oymyakon.
An extreme tour
"They don't need comfort, they come for extreme sports. They immediately go either to the taiga or to the reindeer husbandry," he says about his tourists.
Tumen thinks that all guests should be prepared to withstand the extreme conditions of the North. The first thing that anyone going to the Pole of Cold must do is to go to a cardiologist.
After that, you need to stock up on really warm clothes: high-quality thermal underwear, unty — boots made of deer skin, and a fur coat, best of all deer, or a very warm down jacket. You can buy all this both at home and in Yakutsk, where both markets and stores sell warm clothes.
Tumen says that tourists’ way is not easy: first they travel by car from Yakutsk to Oymyakonsky district. The distance is about 1000 kilometers. In winter, the entire journey takes 16-18 hours, in summer – a day. If there is a delay in ferries, the journey may take up to 30 hours.
“There were also unforeseen situations. Fortunately, everything went well,” Tumen recalls. “Sometimes, when climbing a mountain, a tourist is not ready to overcome the route. Their heart can't take it.”
Doctors are not provided for three-day tours with climbing up to 2100 meters, but of course there are always medicines. If a tourist doesn’t feel well, the group stops for rest, after which their things are distributed among other expedition participants.
Troubles in extreme traveling can occur any time. "Once we went with a tourist from Moscow by “Buran” (dual-track snowmobile - TASS), got in aufeis, half of the “Buran” went under the water, and it took a long time to pull it out. All this was at -55°C, it took a long time to hollow ice out of chassis. Then the same tourist fell out of the trailer, and we noticed it only after driving 100 meters. It's good that we noticed quickly; he was already on his way to us."
Fortunately, there were no cases of frostbite — tourists are always accompanied by local guides.
"I recently had tourists from Australia and Kazakhstan. I took them on hunting trails to check traps. It was very cold, -63°C. They initially refused to keep going, but then they warmed up in a hunting hut and asked to go back."
The emotions that Tumen sees in tourists are difficult to express in words, they are mostly in their eyes and enthusiastic exclamations. It was these emotions after the first tour that convinced Tumen that he had done everything right. "After my first clients, I was sure that I chose the right direction,” the man states.
For the most part, there are no problems with tourists who booked organized trips. "But there can be some problems with “self-organized” tourists. Sometimes a tourist books several travel agencies. Everyone thinks that they will have a client, and in the end, the guest chooses the one who offered the lowest price without warning the others. My tours aren’t cheap, but I work them out at 100%," Tumen is sure.
Mountain adventurers come in spring. There is the Tas-Kystabyt mountain system in Oymyakonsky district. Tumen says that this is a sacred and mysterious place. After reaching the peak of Mount Algystaakh, you get a chain of rocks going in different directions. You can build routes of different complexity — for the prepared and not so prepared.
Tumen advises to come for mountain trips in March: it is warmer, and the light day is longer.
The Gulag, Northern cuisine, and hunting
Still, tourists mainly come in January-February. Guests visit the residence of the Yakut Father Frost – Chyskhan. They also take part in the sacred ritual of purification at the sacred Mount Ebe-Khaya.
Tourists are not only interested in the cold, but also in the culture. There is a local history museum in the village of Tomtor. They are also interested in horse breeding. "We have a unique Yakut breed of horses that are able to get food from under a large amount of snow by tebenevka even in winter," Tumen says (tebenevka is a winter pasture where horses independently get food from under the snow, TASS).
In the neighboring village of Yuchyugey, you can literally dive into the traditional way of life of reindeer herders. If you wish, you can stay in a real yurt instead of a guest house.
According to Tumen, almost every step brings tourists delight. Gourmets might appreciate the peculiarities of the local cuisine: stroganina made of Northern fish, boiled deer tongue, black pudding, and stroganina made of foal.
Sometimes tourists want very comfortable conditions that local travel agencies cannot offer yet. "I'm honest about what they’ll get," Tumen says.
Many people are concerned about safety – whether there are chances of meeting wild animals, bears, and wolves along the way. "That never happened to me, there are no large predators there, they live below. Nevertheless, we always have a gun with us, mostly to set tourists at ease,” he warns.
Not so long ago, Tumen issued a lease of land that he wants to use for a tourist base. He also plans to develop a new route – to the Gulag places on the Starokolymskaya highway, where there are still old buildings of those years. This is about 300 kilometers away.
Tumen loves hunting and fishing. In spring, he hunts ducks, in autumn – hares and capercaillie. He also wants to use these skills in organizing tours for hunters.
"There are enough fans of fishing in Yakutia. But snow sheep, deer, and elk are hunted by already experienced tourists from the mainland or from abroad," he said.
Life in the North
Tumen considers agriculture another promising area, namely, cattle and horse breeding. First, he will open a small farm, and then increase the number of livestock. He says that Northern animal husbandry in extreme conditions will also be interesting to tourists.
Tumen is happy with life in Oymyakon. In his free time, he plays music and goes to the gym.
"I can't live long without the nature of Oymyakon," our interlocutor admits. “I always need the energy of the mountains. In the summer, I often go hiking far. I love sleeping in a tourist tent. I like hunting ducks in spring and hares and capercaillie in autumn. I haven’t hunted for even-toed ungulates yet. I believe that to do this you need to grow up mentally to be equals with nature. Therefore, I postpone this.”
Today, Tumen has a permanent job, but soon he plans to devote himself completely to his favorite hobby, because he is sure that interest in the coldest inhabited place in the world will only grow.
By Dmitry Osipov
Tumen Erilik-Kyrerba’s personal photos