The “White Water of Siberia” Rafting Forum gathers professional athletes, fans of extreme water sports, and journalists every year in Russia’s Altai. The delegates of the “New Generation” program also have an opportunity to attend the forum and spend 9 days exploring the most popular and picturesque local route named the “Golden Ring of Altai”. From the city of Barnaul to the Katun river - here are five main sights that make this “ring” worth a visit.
Founded in the 1730s, the city of Barnaul is located at the confluence of the Barnaulka and Ob Rivers in the West Siberian Plain. Its name comes from the Ket language and means “wolf river” because there have always been many wolves in the nearby forests.
The city was historically a place of attraction for many Russians who sought work and adventure in Altai and it was here where the first steam engine in the country was built. And even though it’s one of the country’s industrial and mining centers, there is something else that makes it special - its stunning natural landscapes.
Furthermore, taking a walk within the city, one can trace all the major milestones of Barnaul’s history - from its heyday as an industrial center in the 19th century to the constructivist boom of the 1930s. The city is the starting point for any traveller coming to Altai and it’s here where the participants of the “White Water of Siberia” Rafting Forum begin their adventure.
2. Chuysky Trakt (Chuya Highway)
The so-called “Mungal Trakt” route which ran roughly along the current Chuya Highway was a road so ancient that historians cannot agree on the date it was first mentioned, as if it had always existed. This was the route local Altai tribes would follow making their annual religious processions to their holy places.
Up until the 19th century, this road was just a narrow mountain trail and had its own rules. For instance, scouts of passing caravans would go ahead and leave signs to indicate an approaching caravan because in some places it was impossible to go back and let it through.
Since the Chuya Highway served as an important trade route, in early 20th century, Russian merchants initiated its reconstruction to make it more suitable for caravans and carts. It was quite difficult to do - the road got destroyed many times. It was only in the 1920s when first cars passed here and, in 1935, it was finally reconstructed and officially put into operation. Today, the path along the Chuya Highway is one of the most beautiful in the world - the height and surrounding scenery are breathtaking.
3. Gorno-Altaisk and the ‘Princess of Ukok’
The Chuya Highway leads to the capital of the Altai Republic - the city of Gorno-Altaisk.
Previously a site of a small settlement of nomadic Turkic Teleut people, in 1824, it saw first Russian settlers who founded a village here. It was called “Ulala” and gradually grew into a city. In 1948, it got its current name and, in the 1960s, historians discovered that people started to live here thousands of years ago.
Gorno-Altaisk is famous for the so-called “Princess of Ukok”, a mummy of a young woman dating back to the 5th century BC. She died being around 30 years old and was discovered in 1993 in a subterranean burial chamber, on the Ukok Plateau. The mummy was a representative of the Pazyryk culture that thrived between the 6th and 2nd centuries BC in the Siberian steppe.
As indicated by the form of her burial (she was buried with six horses and luxurious clothes), the mummy could have been a very noble person and probably a priest because she had tattoos. Buried in a block of ice, her body preserved very well. Some believe that the “princess” was an occult guardian protecting the world from the evil buried underground. The Council of Elders of the Altai Republic regularly demands to return the mummy to its burial place but up until now the body can still be seen in the Anokhin National Museum in Gorno-Altaisk.
4. Teletskoye Lake
The Teletskoye (Telesskoye) Lake derives its name from the Teles tribe who used to live on its banks. It’s one of the natural symbols of Russia, but its exact age is unknown. Experts believe that it’s relatively young (from 15,000 years old or younger) and most likely emerged in the postglacial period. The lake is very popular among tourists coming to Altai - all due to its amazing beauty, clear waters, and warm climate. It’s the warmest place in Southern Siberia.
5. ‘Turquoise’ Katun river
One of the great Altai rivers, Katun, flows into the Biya River, thus, forming another great river of Eurasia, Ob. During autumn and winter (when ice water doesn’t come down from the mountains), the waters of Katun have a rich turquoise color. It feeds of underground springs, passing through green sandstones.
The river can even be seen from the Chuya Highway and all tourists who visit Altai in autumn and winter admit that Katun leaves a lasting impression. The “Water Water of Siberia” Forum takes place in summer, when the turquoise color is not yet visible but it offers something else for rafting enthusiasts. It’s known for the strong rapids and curves that can be a real challenge even for most experienced sportsmen. Rafting the Katun river is an unforgettable and exciting experience.