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Siberia is rather an image than a geographical concept. Everywhere reaching to the East beyond the Ural Mountains, the whole northern part of the Asian continent is considered by most people -especially foreigners - as Siberia. For those who have never been there, all this huge space - the cities, forests, seas, rivers, lakes and bogs -merge into one stereotype: snow, frost, huge distances, wildness …
And actually Siberia is various and many-sided. To divide it into regions is rather arbitrary. Western and East Siberia, Altai, Tuva and Khakassia, the Sayans and Transbaikalia, Yakutia… The most northern part of Asia is also related to Siberia although it might be included into the Far North region together with its western, European sector. 7 thousand kilometers from west to east, 3.5 thousand kilometers from north to south. 10 thousand square kilometers, almost 20 Frances by its area - that is Siberia!
The first Europeans to reach Siberia were Russian coast-dwellers from the White Sea. The first Russian cities there became Obdorsk, Tyumen and Tobolsk, evolved from the fortresses built after expeditions of the Cossack ataman Yermak in the second half of 16th century.
The territory is very rich and in many respects not yet mastered by man. Three centuries ago the Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov foretold that "Russian power with Siberia will increase". There are plentiful reserves of gas and petroleum here, gold and diamonds, wood, furs, wildlife, fish, and cleanest fresh water; on the mighty rivers, largest in the world power stations were constructed. In general, everything is huge in Siberia: the rivers - Ob', Irtysh, Yenisei, Angara, Lena; the mountains - Altai and Sayany; the lakes - Baikal and Teletskoe. Through Siberia runs a significant part of the Trans-Siberian Railway constructed in the end of 19th - beginning of 20th centuries, whose length is 9332 kilometers.
The Siberian frosts also are an object of note in a sense. At times they reach 40-50 degrees. And "just" 25-30 degrees is quite a normal winter temperature for the local inhabitants, they do not notice it. But summer in the south of Siberia is rather hot, up to +30. It is possible to swim, though the water in reservoirs frequently remains cool: even in July it gets warmed only to 17-18 degrees. But there are artificial "seas" here - storage ponds of numerous hydroelectric power stations. The large cities - Omsk, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk - are in the southern part of Siberia.
The main sight of Krasnoyarsk Region - Poles, a unique reserve in the spurs of the East Sayan. The outcrops of volcanic rocks here have formed about 80 groups of cliffs up to 100 meters heigh. Some have names according to their outlines - Old Man, Old Woman, Golden Eagle, Feathers, Fortress. Mountain- and rock-climbers are fond of this place. And here in Krasnoyarsk, a fascinating boat route starts - down the Yenisei, to the Far North, up to Dudinka and Dixon.
Mountain Altai is particularly attractive. Its main reference point is Lake Teletskoe. The local people call it Gold Lake. This area is very popular with all sorts of tourists: ramblers, rafters, skiers, climbers, fans of horse-riding. Some difficult water routes where you can check your endurance and courage go down the rivers Katun', Bashkaus, Chuya, Chulymshan. Climbing the highest point of the Altai, mountain Belukha(4056 meters) is considered very prestigious. In Mountain Shoria, near to the town of Mezhdurechensk (Between-the-rivers), mountain-skiing slopes are equipped.
Amidst the vast spaces of taiga, the mysterious plateau Putorana is hidden - the highest part of the Central-Siberian Upland Region. "Putorana" in the language of the local inhabitants - Evenks - means "the country of lakes with abrupt coasts". The plateau is dissected by deep valleys, up to 1000 meters, forming lakes. From the highest point - the mountain called Kamen' (Rock)- the view opens for hundreds of kilometers. The water streams rush down the steep sides of valleys in chains of waterfalls. Certainly, there are no roads here so tourists get to this place only by helicopters, flying over hundreds of kilometers.
The reindeer has been and remains the greatest worth for the natives of the North. It is ridden and harnessed into sledge, from its fell clothes and footwear are sewed and yarangas (tent-houses) built, and meat of the deer remains the basic food for the northern people as it was hundreds of years ago.
In Southern Siberia, on the banks of the river Yenisei and its confluents, the small peoples live: Khakases, Tuvinians, Buryats. There are about 80 thousand Khakases and less than 200 thousand Tuvinians. Some representatives of these peoples are masters of the unique art of throat singing. The singers do not utter any words, but in the sounds they produce by their throats you can hear now the whole orchestra music, now the clatter of horses hooves, now some hoarse groans of an animal. This art is taught since childhood, and not everybody can master it. It is interesting that the throat singing is performed only by men.
Buryatiya, located to the south and east of Lake Baikal, is the centre of Buddhism in Russia. There are about thirty temples - datsans. As any steppe nomadic people, the Buryats have always had a real cult of the horse. The owner of a herd always knows each horse "by sight". A steed-friend is the main character of Buryat tales and legends. Highly appreciated is the healing power of mare milk - koumiss.
In the neighbour Tuva, there is the geographical centre of Asia designated with a specific mark. There are few roads here and they are rather rough. But the fantastic nature of the region attracts travelers.
Lake Baikal is a gem of the East Siberia. Nearly a quarter of the global fresh water stock is concentrated in it, and the water is most transparent and clean. A white disk of 30 centimeters in diameter is seen through the Baikal water even on the depth of 40 meters! The lake is at the height of almost 500 meters above the sea level, it is 636 kilometers long and has the width from 20 up to 80 kilometers. There are 1850 species of animals and 850 ones of plants in Baikal, and many of them are met only here. The most famous Baikal fishes are sturgeon, umber, white-fish, viviparous golom'anka… But the delicious omul is prized higher than any of them.
There is plenty of sunny days on Baikal, more than on the resorts of the southern seas. But in autumn storms are frequent, with vigorous winds. The lake gets freezed only in the second half of January, and completely free of ice only in May. The Baikal ice is extremely clean, as well as the water; it forms huge transparent fields so that on the shoal you can see the bottom and the underwater inhabitants of the lake.
More than three hundred rivers run into Baikal, and only one flows out of it - the Angara. On the spot of its source - at the settlement of Listv'anka in 70 kilometers from the large city of Irkutsk - a rock raises above the water, to which a beautiful legend is related: Father-Baykal has thrown a fragment of a rock at his disobedient daughter - the beautiful Angara - who despite his interdictions had moved apart the mountains surrounding the lake and left to join her fiance the Yenisei.
Baikal is a real magnet for tourists. The majority come in summer which is pretty warm here. At the end of July - beginning of August, the water at the coast gets warm as well. It is best to travel on Baikal on a small ship, having the opportunity to change the route at one's own discretion, to call into picturesque bays and straits, to do fishing or sunbathing. Such travels keep becoming more and more popular recently.
Not so long ago, one more kind of exotic tourism originated in Russia - travel to the Northern Pole. A group is taken from Moscow by plane to the Spitsbergen Archipelago, and then by helicopters to a camp on the ice at the very Northern Pole. Here the tourists will spend some days, and they have no time to get bored: they ride dog-sledges or snow-scooters, ramble across the ice hummocks, rise above the boundless white lfields on a balloon. There is even a polar sauna and some amusements in the camp. And as soon as suitable weather occurs, a short rush by helicopter is performed to the spot with geographical coordinates 90'00'' and 00'00''. Happy travellers have the opportunity of calling their relatives and friends through the satellite phone and the pleasure of getting photographed on the most northern point of the Earth.
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