This is one of my favourite photos. It was taken during my Altai Krai road trip. The autumn colours that day were warm and mellow and the broken down car seemed to add that perfect zing to the photo. The Altai Krai part of Siberia was (and still is) relatively unexplored. This along with popular stories of labour camps and snow-covered frozen tundra has made it pretty much an offbeat destination for foreign travelers in Russia. But there is more to Siberia, than just snow, sinister history, and myths. It is a gorgeous destination filled with cultural highs and some of the most kind-hearted people in Russia. Though I have visited many places in Siberia, while being temporarily stationed there, the wild Altai Krai region remains closest to my heart. The fact, that one of my closest friends live there, add more charm for me, and it is a naturally stunning place. Recently my Siberia posts raised a lot of travel interests among my friends. Many adventure lovers wanted to go there, and the lack of much first-hand information was kind of putting them off. So, I decided to compile this Siberia travel tips post and here, I am being partial to the fascinating Altai Krai region.
A bit of regional understanding of Altai Krai in Siberia
Altai Krai is huge, diverse, and expands over the center of Russia. Speckled with archaeological wonders, astronomy remnants, timeless villages, and mountains, it is one of the most stunning parts of Siberia. Blue-green rivers like Chemal snake through its valleys, and it is a land of mountains, bears, reindeer, and wild horses. Geographically, the city of Barnaul, the jumping off base for Altai Krai region, was about 400 kilometers from the Kazakhstan border while the Chinese and the Mongolian borders were 700 kilometers away either.
How to get to Altai Krai?
This is one of the most confusing parts of a Siberia travel plan. Exploring an off the beaten track is anyways not easy and Siberia covers a vast area. There are plenty of places to visit in Siberia and the most famous mode is the trans-Siberian Railway. I traveled to and from Barnaul by train and it took me exactly 36 hours to reach my destination (St Petersburg). The flight from Moscow/St Petersburg to Barnaul in Siberia is around another 4 hours and it is 4 time zones away from India. At Barnaul, I stayed overnight at a comfortable hotel and the next morning drove for another 6 hours to reach Seminsky village. This was in the heart of Altai Krai and it took me approximately 51 hours to reach there.
Facing the language barrier while traveling in Altai Krai
There is a very common notion that the Russians are unfriendly, dour people. The truth cannot be farthest from this assumption and I have met some of the loveliest people in this grand country. Yes, they do take some time to break the ice with foreign visitors, but I have experienced their warmth during my long trans-Siberian train journey. My fellow travelers were super nice, always willing to be helpful, chatty (as much as the language barrier permitted) and they never failed to share their food with their travel companions. Having said that, it is not easy to find English speakers in interior Russia and as a traveler, this may feel like a challenge. To minimalize this, download a translator app on your phone, in which you literally speak to your phone, to let the translation pop up on your screen right away. Of course, for this, buy a Russian travel sim card, immediately upon arrival in the country.
The four seasons of Altai Krai
It is high time, we forget the 12 months harsh Siberian winter myths. Some parts of Siberia, like Oymyakon has some of the coldest recorded temperatures, but the, Siberia is a huge place with diverse climatic conditions. Altai Krai and the Lake Baikal city of Irkutsk, however, has four distinct seasons and in summers, sometimes it gets hotter than 35 degrees. Winters, however, are uniformly bitterly and the Siberians lead a slower life during that time. I visited both Irkutsk and Altai Krai during autumn, and while the Altai region was spectacular in fall, Irkutsk was already ankle deep in snow.
How was the weather my Altai Krai trip at the end of September?
This one of the most frequently asked questions about my Siberia trips. I visited Altai Krai at the end of September. It started off as the perfect fall weather and at the end of my fortnight-long trip, all around me was a carpet of dazzling snow. The winter set in with mild snowfall and sudden drop in night temperatures and the visibility also got a bit reduced. At nights, we had to sleep with heaters on.
The cultural landscape of the Altai Krai region of Siberia
Altai Krai villages are straight out of the Russian fairy tales. They are as we imagine them to be: colourful wooden houses set in the middle of flower gardens and pumpkin patches. Mountains and meadows undulate all around them and forests creep at their edges. Most of the local people are farmers who have ranches or potato and sugar beet plantations. The population has an interesting mix of Asiatic Mongoloid faces along with the typical Russian features. This is because of the region’s Mongol and Chinese Qing dynasty rule in the 16th century and the 18th century respectively.
Types of accommodation available in Altai Krai
Accommodations in Altai Krai are generally good and even interior parts, you will find plenty of decent hotels, resorts, and guesthouses.
Things to do in Altai Krai, Siberia
River rafting, nature trails, mushroom picking, hiking, camping, and horse riding tours are great fun things to do in Altai in summer. Winters are severe, but there are plenty of sports which one can indulge in during that time. Snowmobiling, skiing, sleigh riding, mushing, tobogganing etc are a lot of fun. In early autumn or winter, make sure to try out the local pine nut wine. Archaeological remnants like prehistoric rock painting, kurgans etc are scattered all over Altai Krai and these can be easily explored on a road trip. Some places in Altai Krai require travel permits. Consult with a local tour guide or travel agent before embarking on your journey. I recommend my close friend and a professional tour guide, Alexandr Zotin for all your Altai Krai travel needs.
Interested in finding out more travel tips for an Altai Trai trip, check out this excellent post.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE