Thursday, 10 December 2015

Altai Mountains, Chemal District


Chemal District is central in Altai Republic. It is spread over the Lower Katun valley and a bunch of smaller rivers flowing into it. The district starts in Ust-Sema village. A drive along the Chemal Tract brings you to Chemal, the administrative center. 

Chemal District is the most touristy one in Altai Republic. It is easily accessible by public transportation; it has mild and pleasant climate, dry and sunny in summer and not too frosty in winter, its landscapes are beautiful and diverse, and it has a large number of cultural, historical and natural sights.


While the annual number of tourists coming here is 20-30 times more than the local population, the tourism potential of the district is far from being exhausted. It offers loads of opportunities for all kinds of recreation including extra comfortable stay in luxury hotels with perfect infrastructure and delicious food in cozy restaurants, simple but comfortable lodging in numerous guest houses, middle-range hotels and private houses or rooms up to low-budget dwelling in campings where you take water from rivers and springs, cook with a fire and sleep in tents you are supposed to bring on your own.



Some campings offer banyas, well-equipped toilets, kitchens with cooking possibilities, guided tours and some other services, while others offer nothing but sites for tents and parking opportunities.
There are so many places to stay here that you don't even have to book anything in advance, especially if you are not too pretentious, still it might be a good idea to book a lodging, if you travel during a 'high season', which is July and August. These two months are considered to be the best for Altai travel, as nights are not cold, days can be really hot and sunny, there are nearly no ticks, and the first local vegetables, fruit and berries are already ripe!
There is a lot to do in the area and it is easy to find the service you want, as the offer is vast! You can select one of numerous automobile, trekking, rafting and horse-back tours along with herbs and berry picking, swimming in natural and artificial ponds and lakes, zorbing, visiting caves, museums and archaeological objects.


A newly opened covered water amusement park in the small village Katun is a good idea for a rainy and cool day, which is typical in this mountain area.
If you drive through Chemal in the direction of the villages Yelanda and Kuyus, you can see and visit a lot of archaeological monuments and sites including ancient burial mounds and rock paintings, as well as small caves, easily accessible even for small kids. Not far from Yelanda the gorge Chechkysh with the waterfall of the same name is situated. One more picturesque waterfall, Balyktuyul, is situated 3 km away from the village Kuyus.


One of the most famous settlements in the district is the village Askat known as the 'village of craftsmen'. Unlike most settlements in Altai inhabited by the Altai people mostly, only Russians live here, the majority of whom are painters and other artists working with wood, stone, clay, metal and other materials, as well as herbalists, honey makers and spiritual figures. In 2002 the Buddhist retreat center lead by Lama Ole Nidal was founded here. You can come and meditate or speak to any of the traveling buddhists or other visitors. Close to the center a beautiful wooden mansion is situated, which belongs to the Golovan family, all of whom are painters.



The most prominent of the family is Darya Golovan who paints with water colours on silk. In the next house the family of herbalists lives, who will tell you a lot about the local herbs and their healing properties. At the village entrance there are three art galleries offering hand-made objects for sale. You can also visit a workshop and a bow shooting site.



A pearl of the district are the Karakolskye lakes lying appr. 2000 meters above the sea level. It is the system of 7 interconnected mountain lakes with crystal-clear water, the highest of which is formed by a stream of water coming out of the glacier. You can get to the lower lake by a powerful off-road vehicle, but a trekking, though more challenging, is much more enjoyable. There is a camping off the 6th lake, and it is recommended to plan at least 3 days for the lakes, so that you could enjoy all the highlights and beauties of the area.
After visiting all the main attractions of the area you can just drive along the roads connecting Chemal and the Chemal Tract with smaller remote villages. It can be a really great experience for urban people who just can't imagine life without the usual features and conveniences. Some things may be a shock.



Staying in one of many guest houses, hotels or campings of Chemal District you can easily have a lot of day trips to other areas. You can even undertake a drive to the border with Mongolia and back within one day, though this might be somewhat stressfull. In any case a visit and a stay in Chemal District is a must during any Altai travel, no matter if you spend the whole holiday or just a couple of days here.  



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