Altai is an astonishing and extraordinary place that fascinates you with its beauty, surprises you with original virginity of its nature, and keeps the secrets of ancient civilizations in its burial mounds, stone statues and magic signs. The nature itself has created the magnificence of the Siberian color! Altai scenery strikes you with its strength, power and wild energy coming from the snow-white mountain tops. The broad expanses of taiga, raging mountain rivers and endless streams of waterfalls, crystal clear lakes, picturesque edelweiss meadows, unique culture full of myths and mysteries – all that is Altai!
The mountains of Altai hold an abundance of mysteries; a plenty of legends and tales are told about these places. This is a home to so called 'places of power' and shamans (sorcerers), and the UFOs are often seen here, which is why the esoteric tourism is popular in Altai. Katunsky Biosphere Reserve, Altay Nature Reserve, National Nature Parks are located here as long as a huge number of other places, unique in their nature and energy. Altai is a cradle of nations and civilizations; Altai is a center between four oceans; Altai is where the three great doctrines meet: of Budda, Christ and Mohammed.
Altai is often called the 'Russian Tibet'.
In a very picturesque place, on Patmos Island of Katun river, nearby Chemal village there is a temple. The island itself was consecrated by bishop Parphentsiy in 1855. Now it is a home to a convent. The place is extremely popular among the tourists and travelers.
The way to the island is a narrow suspension bridge, just 10-15 meters above the roaring Katun and such a crossing gives a real thrill. The thrill gets even greater when you notice a caution board saying that not more than 8 people may cross the bridge simultaneously.
Getting here: Novosibirsk, Barnaul, Gorno-Altaisk
Teletskoe Lake is the largest lake in Altay. The name originates from the altaic tribe of teleuts and locals call it 'Altyn-Kol', which means 'golden lake'. An old legend says that long time ago there was a famine in Altay and one man had a huge golden ingot but he couldn't buy anything throughout entire Altay. Mad and angry, the 'rich' poor man has thrown the ingot into the lake and drowned himself. Since then the lake is called Altyn-Kol, a golden lake.
Teletskoe Lake is traditionally one of the major points of interest in Altay. It is 436 meters above the sea level and surrounded by the high mountain ridges. Teletskoe is one of 15 deepest lakes on Earth. Full with mountain water, this deep lake remains cold through the year and you hardly can swim in it. Even on hot summer days the upper part rarely gets warmer than 10°C (50°F).
Teletskoe Lake is often called the little brother of Baikal. Similar to Baikal, it is very deep, stretched along the mountains, its length is much greater then its width, and it has a plenty of rivers and creeks disgorging into it.
From a traveler's story, '...when we reached Katu-Yaryk, we were really stunned. Imagine a huge canyon, alive and covered with fresh greenery, with greenish rocks, fabulous waterfall on the other side, falling from a height of several hundred meters and a thread of Chulyshman river far below (600 meters), a perfectly clean large river with rapids up to 6 complexity. At the top of the pass there were recently arrived jeeps, cooling their engines. We inquired about the best spot to look at the pass before going down. A driver found out that it was our first visit there and advised descending at once, without looking down, in order not to get scared. Still, we did look down...
The pass is a lacet on a sidehill which (sidehill, not a lacet) has not less than 70 degrees inclination. I didn't measure the lacet inclination but I can say that while driving on a first low gear, I had to actively use the brake and our legs were bumping into the floor not to let us slide off the seats. The way down, 3.5 km long and 600 meters down took 15 minutes. At the turns, there is enough space to pass the oncoming vehicles. But in general that is a one-track road with a precipice on one side and a mountain on the other. Thank God, there was no oncoming cars.'
Kalbak Tash petroglyphs
On the right bank of Chuya River, between Inya and Iodro villages, the rocks along the 10 km road are covered with ancient rock paintings, petroglyphs. Totally there more than three thousand pictures of different time periods, from the Bronze Age to the Middle Ages, and twenty runic Old Turkic inscriptions. This place got the name of Kalbak Tash Tract. The exact translation is 'flat, extending, hanging stone, mountain'. But some maps call the place Bom Tash.
The petroglyphs complex is on the cliffs of the greenish-brown shale near the road, on the left side. Surprising that in addition to the symbolic figures of animals and people, many images show objects shaped like modern spaceships with the capsule attached to the housing at the top and the big flames at the bottom! It makes you think that our ancestors frequently witnessed the spaceflights. Drawings of the 'spaceships' are larger than the images of animals and people. They are located on the horizontal plates and therefore are more blurred - due to the larger impact of nature and to the permanent rubbing with the shoes of people that have been walking here for many centuries. This makes it difficult to show the images on photographs, but when you see them alive they really dazzle you!
About 2 km away from the rock paintings a stone statue of a warrior is standing, with a clearly drawn face and a sword in its hand. This makes it difficult to transfer these pictures using photographs , but by visual inspection they literally dazzle ! Approximately 2 km from the cave paintings worth stone statue of a warrior with a clear image face and hand clutching a sword. Behind the statue, in a small cleavage 200-300 meters away from the road, there is another set of drawings. The statues and the paintings are several thousand years old!
Arzhan-Suu Sacred spring
The Arzhan-Suu spring is 7 km from Manzherok, at the 477th km of Chui Tract. The water of the spring is saturated with silver, copper and other minerals, which is beneficial for the human body metabolism and for the storage time of the water itself. It also contains a large amount of ferrous iron, much more than in the bottled mineral water you can buy in a supermarket! Altaian people consider Arzhan-Suu a sacred spring. For a tasty lunch you can go to a cafe close to the spring, it is built of stone and looks like an old castle and it is also called 'Arzhan-Suu'. Another interesting thing that you can see here in abundance is so-called 'shaman trees', decorated with white ribbons from top to bottom. Arzhan-Suu is a popular tourist spot. Along the road you can find lots of sellers offering various Altai souvenirs - items made of wood, bark and stone, as well as the books and CDs about Altai.
Karakol lakes are the system of 7 lakes in the upper reaches of Karakol River, a tributary of the Elikmanar River. The absolute altitude of the lowest lake is 1820 meters, the top one is 2097 meters. The maximum depth is 10 meters. The total area of the natural monument is 5 sq. km. The basic parameters of Karakol Lakes climate are slightly different from those of the nearby valleys. The average summer temperature is 4-5 degrees lower, with July average about 10-11 degrees C (50-51 F), and in winter, due to the temperature inversion, the air is slightly warmer. Comparing to the lower part of Elikmanar River valley, for example, it is 3-4 degrees C warmer here. Karakol lakes are among the most visited recreational facilities of Altai, but one shouldn't forget that this is a specially protected natural area.
Chuyskiy Trakt route
The road Novosibirsk - Biysk - Tashanta is the main traffic artery of the Altai. The part from Biysk to Tashanta is called Chuyskiy Trakt. Officially it starts from the bridge over the Biya River in Biysk and finishes at the Mongolian border. It crosses a lot of Altay rivers, valleys and mountain passes. Chuyskiy Trakt provides the connection from Russia to Mongolia; it is also the major road linking the Gorny Altai (Altai Republic) to Biysk, with its railway station and river port.
Along the Chuyskiy Trakt (mostly the part that starts from the fork to Aya Lake and finishes at Ust-Sema village) there is a plenty of tourist camps, campings and hotels, as this is the route that most of the travelers choose when going for vacation in Altay. The entire way along the Chuyskiy Trakt is incredibly picturesque, with beautiful sites changing rapidly through all the way to the Mongolian border.
The Chike-Taman Pass is on the Chuyskiy Trakt. The altitude of the pass is 1460 meters, but due to its steepness its seems to be considerably higher. For those who drive through this pass for the first time it is really breathtaking, with all its steep rises, sharply winding roads, deep cliffs on both sides and astonishing mountain views! Photos do not convey even a hundredth part of your feeling when you move along the mountain serpentine. In the early spring the southern side of the pass is blossoming with yellow Altay tulips, and the sight is stunningly beautiful!
But despite all its beauty, Chike-Taman is translated from Altay language as 'flat sole'.
Back in the past this part of Chuyskiy Trakt was extremely difficult and dangerous for horses. On the saddle of the pass you can see a larch with the white ribbons tied on its branches. This is so-called 'shaman tree'. You can find similar ones at other passes, close to the creeks and springs and in many other places. The travelers used to tie these ribbons as a gratitude to the spirits of the place and in memory of those stayed at home and of those waiting ahead. The new road that we use today was built only recently and now it is hard to imagine that only few decades ago this pass was one of the most difficult and dangerous challenges for the travellers. Today from the top of Chike-Taman you can enjoy a magnificent view of the mountain ranges, the rocks and the winding old road below.
Trout Lakes (Uykaratash Lakes) are situated in the upper reaches of Uykaratash River near the Teletskoe Lake. The tourists usually get there by horses. A path to the lakes runs through the extremely picturesque places, which adds an extra beauty to such a ride.
The lakes are stocked with trout, and the lucky fishermen can catch enough fish pretty soon.
The group of Trout Lakes consists of three lakes that are cascaded and surrounded by mountains. But the top one is probably the most beautiful, though only the most persistent and inquisitive tourists manage to reach it.
Denisova Cave is a cave in the valley of Anui River, 4 km from Chorny Anui village. The cave is 600 meters above the sea level. It reflects the different ages of human history. The cave is named after the hermit Dionysy (old for Denis), who lived there in the second half of the 18th century. The Altaians call this cave 'Ayu-Tash', which means 'bear rock'. Ancient legend says there lived a black shaman, who once got angry at the locals and sent a black rain on them and it lasted for several years without stopping. The people, disturbed and frustrated, went to the good white shaman for help and he expelled the villain, rolled all the rains into one lump, turned the lump into a stone and hid it in the rock mass of the Denisova cave.Members of the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk have been exploring the place since long ago. The oldest findings from Denisova Cave are 300 thousand years old (about 15-20 artifacts). Most of the items found during excavations (with total of about 50.000 pcs!) are stored in museum vaults in Novosibirsk, while a minor part of the collection is in Biysk Local History Museum.
At the top of the cave an observation window was made, that also provided for the natural light inside (today the most courageous travellers can climb up and enjoy the view), the cave also had a chimney, so it was possible to build a fire and heat the place without worrying about ventilation. Also the fragments of Neanderthal body were found in the cave, though some believe those are the fragments of Yeti's or Bigfoot's body.
Stone stelae near the Inya village
On the Chuysky Trakt, near Inya village, there is a set of stone stelae, with some of them over 2 meters high (and roughly the same size granite slab goes into the ground), and others slightly shorter. The researchers believe that the stelae were used as a fencing of an ancient Turkic memorial complex. A few meters away from the complex is an excavated mound. It is noteworthy that the stelae are in a huge empty field, with no rocks around that could be used as a basis for the construction of the mound. It remains a mystery, where the stones for the mound actually came from. It is also not clear how the stelae boulders appeared here.
Each stele has its 'face' set to the north and stands motionless for thousands of years as if protecting someone's peace.
Kalbak Tash Stone sculptures
The Stone Warriors, or Kezer Tash, as they are called by the Altaians, according to the ancient Turkic tradition were installed near the graves and sacrificial mounds. The Turks believed that the soul of the dead could be enclosed by shaman into a stone. More than 30 statues were found in Kurai steppe along the Chuysky Trakt in Gorny Altai.
A part of the sculptures was taken to the museums of Tomsk, Gorno-Altaysk, Novosibirsk, Moscow and St-Petersburg. Another part is still in place.
These stone statues are the embodiment of the image of an ancient warrior. They are very individual and look like the ancient people who were living here over a thousand years ago. As a rule, they depict a man with high cheekbones, slanted eyes, a mustache and a beard. Some of them also wear earrings and smooth torcs and necklaces. The later figures of Turkic warriors wear the ceremonial vestments with weapons (a sword and a dagger) on their belts, decorated with curly buckles. Quantity and composition of the buckles were their rank insignia. A depiction of clothes is found on some statues - hats, gowns with lapels and wide cuffs. A warrior holds a bowl or a cup in his right hand, while the left hand is resting on a grip of a sword. It is believed that the decorations emphasized the warrior's nobility and glory, and the vessels in their hands were associated with the idea that the soul of the dead participated in the funeral feast.