The Land of Contrasts: An Intro to Western Siberia
For the first time in my life Ded Moroz (the Russian Santa) got my letter and gave me lots of snow for New Year’s Eve and the Russian Orthodox Christmas (January 6th). Spending my winter holidays in Western Siberia may also have helped!
Untypically for this region, spreading from the Ural mountains in the West to the river Yenisey in the East, the weather has been rather mild, averaging -14C, which is nothing compared to the cold winters I remember from childhood (up to -56C in the year 2000).
The beauty of the Western Siberian climate is extremely cold (proper) winters and very hot summers. The two things I’m missing most in the UK.
I come from a small town on the Siberian marshland, called Nefteyugansk (Nefte- being ‘oil’, Yuganka – a tributary of the Ob river). To many, YUKOS and Khodorkovsky may spring to mind when they hear the name. Indeed, Nefteyugansk is the oil capital of the region and like almost any other major town/settlement for miles around.
Apart from being a spiritual Mecca for me, I can’t think of a reason to visit it, unless you are on a trip and passing through.
My little town is quite unique. It is situated on an island, almost a mini UK. It has a modern airport complex but nothing flies in or out. The nearest airport to Nefteyugansk is in the larger city of Surgut, 50 kilometres north-east. The nearest railway station is in a smaller town of Pytj-Yakh (an aboriginal name from the language of the Khanty and Mansy people) – 50 kilometres southwards. Transport links between towns in the region are good and reliable these days. But decades ago, living in Nefteyugansk was an exile.
I mentioned Surgut on purpose. The rivalry between the two cities has always been tough. They share a lot in common: both have river ports, plenty of oil and gas, almost maiden Taiga spots with all its treasures – top-quality fur, berries, herbs and a variety of tasty mushrooms. The larger Surgut is two years older (47) and more prosperous, yet Nefteyugansk is arguably more of a buzzword outside Russia, thanks to the Khodorkovsky rise-and-fall epic.
The longest-in-Siberia bridge over the Ob, also known as Surgut Bridge, connects the two cities. The bridge is 2,110 metres (6,920 ft) long and has only one tower. It became a local landmark so much so that it was perpetuated in an 8 Rub stamp.
Western Siberia is home to the aboriginal roving tribes of Khanty and Mansy, still found in deep Taiga, who have preserved their ways but are becoming more and more exposed to contemporary civilization. It is symbolic that the geopolitical capital of Western Siberia was named after them.
Khanty-Mansyisk(or in the local parlance - Khanty) is the main city of the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug-Ugra, a district of federal significance. Unlike Surgut and Nefteyugansk, it is more compact and cozy, and looks like a doll’s town. Winters are eventful there. Khanty regularly hosts the Biathlon World Championships. Another winter attraction is reindeer driving – a ride in a lightweight wooden sled harnessed to a teamof reindeer.
Your Western Siberia experience would largely depend on your destination. Tourism as such is not as elaborate there, as it is in other of the world’s more exotic places. It always helps to have a local guide, of course.ShareThis