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6 inspiring facts about Altai Mountains

a close up of a hillside next to a body of water

Start packing your luggage! We present 6 facts about Altai Mountains, after which one can not but wish to explore these places. Of course, we could just post the photos of Altai and who once saw them could not remain indifferent and start planning the tour to Altai Mountains. But we would like to share some more exciting information about one of the most beautiful and mysterious places on our planet.

Altai Mountains

1. “Higher than mountains only mountains can be”

The Altai Mountains, or call it simply Altai (from the Mongolian “altan” means “golden”), is one of the most significant mountain systems in Central Asia and Southern Siberia. They are located on the territory of four countries – Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China – they occupy more than 2000 km stretching from the north-west to the south-east.

Russian Altai is located in the south of the Western Siberia. It covers the territory of the Altai Republic, the Altai Territory, the Republic of Tuva and the Republic of Khakassia. The geological history of the region is almost two billion years, it experienced two glacial epochs, and this is reflected in the modern relief.

The highest point of Altai is Belukha Mountain (4506 m). It looks more like a powerful ice wall rather than a classic triangle. Belukha is located exactly in the “center of the four oceans” – the Indian, the Arctic, the Pacific, and Atlantic oceans are equally spaced from it.

Altai in Mountains

2. Power Place

Traditional rites and beliefs, Shamanism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity (Old Believers and Orthodoxy), various spiritual practices all these can be found here in Altai Mountains. One of the most powerful places is the Uymon valley and the surrounding of Belukha mountain.

This territory is the one, where in the early XX century Nicholas Roerich was looking for an entrance to Shambhala. For the Altaians Belukha is a sacred place, they believe that it is prohibited by spirits to climb on it. But the mature mountain climbers regularly try to conquer it. The most popular route has the category of difficulty 3B, but there are also more complicated options. They say that when you get to the top of the mountain the sensation of flight comes as if some force raises you up. However, the sacred mountain does not allow everyone to win the mountain top. Some get injured while climbing some start feeling horror and return.

There is a legend that Belukha keeps an entrance to the afterlife where the half-lion half-griffon lives. Anyway each year more and more people wish to feel the powerful energy of these places and to try their fate in finding the gates of Shambhala.

Shamans in Altai are conductors between the world of the living and those moved to the better world, between the world of people and the world of nature. Shamans practice divination and healing entering into a trance state during special rituals.

It is interesting that the canons, rules of this phenomenon are not fixed anywhere. This knowledge traditions and rituals are handed out from parents to children.

So Altai is called a “Power Place” with the things happening that are impossible to explain in scientific terms. Tourists who have visited such places tell mysterious stories. Some claim that they saw strange shadows in the night and heard moans, some tell that they met the legendary Yeti.

Altai Steppe

3. In Altai Mountains, you can see almost all natural zones of Russia: steppe, forest-steppe, taiga, and mountains

There are two Altais from the point of view of territorial division, the Altai Territory and the Altai Republic. Each of them is beautiful in its own way.

The Altai Territory is “cozy and warm” landscapes, green hills and at the same time giant green steppes, as well as kilometers of sunflower fields and red fields of buckwheat. It’s also a land of thousands of lakes, comfortable for bathing, including medicinal ones. There are 35 nature reserves that attract tourists all over the world.

The Altai Republic is a grand mountain system, turbulent rivers, and wild untouched nature. These places are simply created for active tourists, eager for adventure and for those who want to escape from hustle and bustle of big cities and be alone with nature.

Altai mountains cat

4. Altai is one of the most ecologically clean places on our planet

In 1998, UNESCO included several natural sites of Altai Mountains to the World Heritage List under the common name “Altai – the Golden Mountains” including the Altai Reserve with the Water Protection Zone of Lake Teletskoye, the Katun Nature Reserve with the Belukha Nature Park and the Ukok Plateau.

Altai is a giant nature reserve, where 2000 plant species grow, 200 of which can be found only here – and nowhere else. 70 species of mammals and more than 300 species of birds live here. Among them – a black stork, Altaian ular, peregrine falcon, golden eagle, and others. Altai is famous for being the home of snow leopards, which are endangered species of cats. The snow leopard is one of the most secretive cats on the planet. It lives in harsh rocks at an altitude of up to 5000 meters above sea level. Until now, no one knows exactly how many species remain on earth, but it is known that they live only in 12 countries of the world, and 1-2% live in Russia.

Altai mountains crossroads

5. Altai is a real crossroads of civilizations, each with a rich heritage

The land of Altai Mountains remembers galloping hordes of Genghis Khan and ancient Scythians. There are sites of the Paleolithic epoch, petroglyphs and stone sculptures, Scythian kurgans (the name for barrow mounds), and the most mysterious place in Altai, the Plateau Ukok, which recently opened the mummy of the “Altai Princess”.

The Plateau Ukok is a small plateau in the south of the Altai Republic. The harsh, almost deserted region is hidden in the heart of Eurasia. For Altaians, the name “Ukok” means “the end of everything”. On the south side the Plateau Ukok is surrounded by Tavan Bogd which in Mongolian means “five saints”. According to the legend when the great Genghis Khan was passing by the mountain massif he saw “heavenly radiance” and ordered to name the mountains “Five sacred peaks”. Tavan Bogd is the largest center of glaciation in Altai Mountains, there are more than 60 glaciers on its slopes.

The Plateau Ukok became world famous not only due to its unique nature but also because of the archaeological findings. In 1993 when excavating one of the kurgans, scientists discovered a mummy of a woman. The mummified body is dated back to the 5 century BC, which means that the body spent about 2,500 years in the earth.  It was perfectly preserved – thanks to the ice filling the burial chamber. The age of the woman did not exceed 25 years and apparently, she belonged to the noble family. There was a hat with gold details on her head, and there were tattoos of the Altai griffin on her arms.

Locals said that the woman was the White Lady – the “keeper of Ak-Kadyn”, which is guarding the underworld and does not allow the evil to come out to the surface. They assured that the relics should not have been disturbed and accused scientists of fires, floods, earthquakes and other troubles that have occurred in the region since the excavation. As a result, the conflict came to the federal level. So the mummy of the “Altai Princess” was placed in a special mausoleum at the Republican National Museum by Anokhin in Gorno-Altaisk. Archaeological excavations are forbidden in the region, and the Plateau Ukok was declared a rest zone.

Altai camping in the mountains

6. The true silence of Altai Mountains

Altai is the exact opposite of the noisy cities with round-the-clock illumination and supermarkets at every step. The local way of life almost has not been changing for decades. Here the herds of horses are still grazing, people believe in spirits, and mobile communication appears from time to time not to tell about Wi-Fi. There are villages that one can not reach by car for most of the year. The local people carry water with a shoulder-yoke and eat home-made bread. It is an ideal place for everybody who wants to escape from the world of progress and find themselves in a wild environment. The water in the streams is purer than in taps and if you want to see stars you just raise your head. You may hear the true silence here.

To be honest it is almost impossible to list all the wonders of Altai Mountains as well as to speak about the colors, smells and sounds of this place. As for us, ExploRussia team and our friends and relatives, we can’t stop visiting and exploring Altai. Once you have made a trip to Altai Mountains, you will be attracted here like with a magnet. We are generous and want more and more people to experience Altai themselves. We hope that inspiration to visit Altai Mountains is already here!