Saturday, 5 March 2011

Altai Mountains, Chuya Road and surroundings. Part 4

In the end of the previous part of my story
I said we were going to see the the Northern-Chuya mountain range. And we did it. We saw many other amazing sights too.
It's just unbelievable that all these things are less than 1000 km away from Novosibirsk. This distance is not large, if we remember the total dimensions of Russia.
But when one comes to those remote places, one feels as if one would be in another world or even on another planet.

Altai is full of waterfalls, small and big, narrow and wide. We saw one of them nearly at the road.

 A wonderful beginning of a wonderful day!
Soon after we had passed the villages Chibit and Aktash, we saw a stunning view!
It was a totally different landscape. Almost no forest, hardly any grass, no sign of river, but high mountain peaks in the distance!
Hardly any cars passing, almost complete silence. A strange feeling I experienced there is difficult to describe in words. A feeling of utter loneliness, though I was there with my family, some strange anxiety and restlessness, and total relaxation, calmness and peacefulness at the same time.
 We made a short drive up the hill and stayed there for about 2 hours just relaxing and enjoying the view and our loneliness.

From that place, which is about 814 km from Novosibirsk, it was just about 100 km till the settlement of Kosh-Agach, the district center and the last big settlement before the border with Mongolia. We decided not to miss a chance to see the place and drove further. The road was almost completely empty and straight. It was hot and sunny, a typical situation for that place. That region is called Chuya Steppe. It is almost a desert, with hardly any grass and other plants and very little water. In winter it may be as cold as -60 degrees C there, but the locals say one doesn't feel it as it is extremely dry and there is hardly any wind.
In summer the sun is shining so bright, that it's dangerous to stay there without a sun-screen and glasses. We had no and our faces were red by the end of that day. Our lips were dry and we didn't feel very well because of high air pressure.
The pictures around us were a shock for us. I've never thought people may live in such places where there is no grass, no plants, no water. We drove past a village called Ortolyk. And amazing place. Houses are surrounded with fences, but there is nothing inside. Just small stones. No flowers, no potatoes, no plants at all!
I felt sorry for the people living there, but then I thought I shouldn't because they manage to live here, they don't go away from here, they have children and bring them up somehow. It means perhaps that it's no so bad there, it's just very different from what I'm used to.

Kosh-Agach turned out to be a big business-like settlement. It also lies in the same steppe, surrounded by the same sad landscape, but there are shops, business-centers (mainly 1-storeyd buildings, as there is permafrost there, cafes. Women in mini-skirts and men in black jackets.
We had a very good lunch in one of the local cafes (the children were sad they didn't get potatoes, but potatoes are rare things there, and expensive) and hit the road again as there was no way to the border with Mongolia for us. Russians have to have visas to get there, and we didn't have one.
And our destination for that day was a camping on the road Aktash-Ulagan, 22 km from Aktash. I'd read about that camping, and wanted to visit it.
 So we went.
As it was very hot that day, we made a couple of stops in the 'forest' to have some shade. It cannot be called a real forest, as there are mostly some thorny plants in that region.
And there are rivers, but by August (and we were there in the middle of August)  they get narrow. In spring, when the snow melts high in the mountains, the rivers may be really speedy and deep, but what we saw was just a brook among the stones.
By the evening we went to the camping I chose as a destination and it was not a mistake to make all that long drive. The place was beautiful and serene.
It lies about 1900 m over the sea level, and it was windy and cold when we had arrived, but by late evening the wind calmed down.
It was not really a camping, but several wooden houses in a typically Russian style with stoves in them. A banya by a small lake, a forest of arbuscles with a lot of mushrooms under them. The children were happy! We too, as it was cheap, cozy and the master of the place was so nice and charming that we fell in love with the place at once.
The landscape is hard to describe in words, you'd better see it.

This place is located in Ulagan District of Altai Republic. The district center is The settlement of Ulagan, and this district is famous for the mountain pass Katu-Yaryk, which we were going to visit the next day of our travel.
To be continued...

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