5 natural wonders in Russia along the Trans-Siberian Railway
In a recent post, we have told you all about the 5 must-stops cities along the Trans-Siberian Railway. That’s why this week we wanted to take it a somewhat different way. See, there are many wonderful cities all across the whole country, but, as a matter of fact, when you look out of the train window you’ll very quickly notice that actually most of the country is just green grassland, forests, mountains – in a nutshell: nature. That’s why in this post we’ll tackle five breath-taking natural wonders in Russia that allow you to become one with Mother Earth.
Kungur Ice Cave
Many Russian writers, scientists, and explorers have written about this natural wonder in Russia. Now it’s time you discover it yourself. The Kungur Ice Cave, situated around 100km from Perm or 290km from Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains is probably the most famous cave in Russia. With its rock and needle-like ice formations, it has been attracting adventurers for many years.
In 1914 the cave was opened to the public when Alexander Khlebnikov became the tenant of this cave (yes, they did rent it out to him!). He took it upon himself to turn the cave into a visitor-friendly place. In those days visitors were picked up from the railway station, taken to the cave and accompanied by their torch-carrying guides. Over the years, the torches have disappeared, but it was replaced by disco-funky lighting in rainbow colors (okay, that sounded turned out more sarcastic than it was supposed to; the lighting is actually quite nice!).
Just like anything else in the world, this cave is a changing ecosystem. Temperature fluctuations affect the cave and the ice formations in it quite a bit. That’s why the best time to visit the Kungur Ice Cave is from February to April when the ice needles put on their most beautiful dresses.
While you might not want to bring your swimming shorts, the 60 crystal clear lakes make for a remarkable picture. Fun fact: There are occasions when people go swimming there, for example for the Baptism of Jesus which is a bank holiday in Russia. Nowadays, there are travel agencies offering all kinds of weird services. I mean, who’d ever think of marrying in an ice cave?
Another place in the Ural area that is definitely worth the visit is the small village Maly Turysh. You might ask “What’s so special about such a little village in the middle of nowhere?”.
Maly Turysh is not your everyday cowtown, although until quite recently it was. It seemed like all the young people would move away, which is not so unusual in the Russian countryside. Bigger cities with their jobs and opportunities are simply more attractive to young people.
Now here’s what happened in Maly Turysh. Gusel, a young local entrepreneur, set out on her quest to make Maly Turysh great again (sorry for the predictable joke). She started producing cream honey with berries, thereby creating new jobs and a new-born feeling of belonging. All that was possible through the power of crowdfunding, i.e. raising money for a venture directly from users on the internet.
Maly Turysh is headed into a future where the local youth actually wants to contribute to the local community as opposed to moving to a big city that seems more promising and flashy. As a next project the town wants to create a public square where people can chat, catch up with each other and also brainstorm new ideas for the future.
The honey production site is very popular amongst people who carry sustainable travel in their hearts.
Read more how Family from Belgium is exploring a Russian village.
Stolby Nature Sanctuary
Over the millennia tectonic movements and climatic phenomena have turned Planet Earth into a museum of breath-taking mountain formations and natural wonders in Russia. One of those marvelous places can be found just 10km from Krasnoyarsk.
The Stolby Nature Reserve is a potential adrenaline treasure trove as well as a place for finding your inner peace and relaxation. The up to 96-metre high rock pillars are not only home to local rock-climbers and hikers (who, by the way, regularly win gold medals at national climbing competitions), but also to a variety of endangered Siberian animals and plants that have found entry to the Red Book of Russia, a collection of the rarest species native to the country.
The national park itself was founded by the initiative of locals who wanted to protect this picturesque area from people exploiting its natural resources. On top of that, conservation as a whole was a very important issue that the local population was fighting for.
Local people have always had a very special connection to Stolby. There’s even a phenomenon called stolbism. Stolbism is a cultural movement that emphasises the beauty of the nature reserve and promotes activities like rock-climbing and exploring new hiking tracks. For many decades people have been coming here in groups (literally translates as “companies”) to reunite with nature and live in a small hut in the midst of the Stolby Taiga. Every “company” had its own quirky name, each had their own hut. And not only the “companies” had weird names, also the people forming them were mostly known under their stolbist nickname (although this practice slowly disappearing). The main values of stolbism are hospitality, friendship and helping each other. Besides wide-spread practices like leaving food outside on the table so that other people can have a bite, people living in those small huts are always happy to host travelers.
Due to its remote location, the Stolby was a very popular meeting point for leftist groups in pre-revolutionary times.
Lake Baikal is not only the most famous natural wonder in Russia and the oldest lake in the world (20 – 25 million years old). But being the biggest freshwater lake in the world, it also contains almost a fourth of the world’s unfrozen freshwater. The lake’s surface is so big, it could easily fit a handful of European countries (like Macedonia, Albania, Slovenia and even Belgium).
Located in the heart of Siberia, Lake Baikal is home to a very rich fauna and flora. More than 3,000 different species call Baikal their home, 1,500 of which can’t be found anywhere else other than here and are exclusive to Lake Baikal.
Locals here consider themselves protectors of the lake. They don’t take lake for granted and do everything in their power to keep it as amazing as it is. They appreciate the beauty of the lake and its tremendously important role for the area’s ecosystem – those feelings only intensified when the local population was fighting against the pulp mill that has been polluting the lake for years (despite that Lake Baikal is still considered the world’s cleanest lake).
Around Lake Baikal the forces of nature are sometimes flexing their muscles in impressive ways. As Sylvain Tesson wrote in his article for The Guardian, winter ended basically within one day. When he spent 6 months living on Lake Baikal, there was a big storm on May 22nd that broke the lake’s thick ice, thereby bringing about spring.
People who live here feel a special connection to the lake and the Taiga. Many people still live in huts far from civilization, living off of fishing, making their own bread etc. They are basically self-reliant, and don’t really need public services in order to survive like most other people around the world do.
In addition to all that, Baikal is a great place for ice-skating, ice-diving, all kinds of water sports, and even enchants visitors with its hot springs.
Far East Nature Reserve
We’re ending our Trans-Siberian Railway Tour in the Far East natural wonder in Russia which you can visit during your stay in Vladivostok.
This place is one of the most diverse in the whole country. Because of its rich fauna and flora, it was made a natural reserve in 1978. This place is home to both tropical species and arctic species. Scientists research the area to figure out how they can protect endangered species and create the best environment possible for them. That’s also why there’s a big emphasis on sustainable tourism here.
Most of the area of the nature reserve is made up by the ocean. People here love going for boat rides visiting some of the beautiful bays here. The water around here is crystal clear, with a turquoise color that you normally only know from the beaches of Thailand.
If you are dreaming of making one of the most scenic railway rides in the world, then check our Essential guide for nsns-Siberian Railway trip for extra information and you will be inspired more!