Cross the desert

Zabaykalsky (Krai)

Russia Beyond
Russia Beyond
Hot air, endless spaces and lack of water: for most people, the word ‘desert’ is associated with an unfriendly dangerous place, where you definitely wouldn’t want to be left alone. But, in the very north of the Zabaykalsky Krai, there is a desert where getting lost is nothing scary and it’s called ‘Charskiye Peski’ (‘Chara Sands’).

⛰ People come here to see an ancient geological monument: sand dunes, surrounded by taiga and swampland; then, further at the horizon - the Kodar ridge, with its sharp peaks soaring upwards. Whichever way you look, you get breathtaking photo angles.

🚶 The area of ​​this desert is small - about 10 km long and 5 km wide, so you can walk the Chara Sands in just one day and there will still be time for impressive photos. 

🚚 Crossing the Chara Sands is possible with ATVs, but not necessary: the desert’s fragile ecosystem will suffer. Such transport here runs only along the very edge of the sand along the same route, delivering travelers to the place where they will set up a tent camp.

🏂 There is another very exotic way - sandboarding! It’s enough to find a steep descent and - uuuuh! - rush down it. True, you will have to climb the next dune with equipment, but “if you like to ride, love to drag a snowboard up a sandy mountain on a hot summer day”!

💪🏻 By the way, how did these sandy mountains appear in the first place? According to one version, millions of years ago, there used to be an ancient lake between the mountain ranges. What we see today as high dunes used to be the seabed. The reservoir became shallow after the end of one of the ice ages and then the wind and sun set to work, creating a landscape so atypical for Siberia. 

Sands that sing, bugs scurrying back and forth, fragile flowers opening in the dawn haze… Yes, it’s not deserted at all!

How to cross the desert?

It’s easy enough to realize this ambitious goal, you just need patience and preparation. And in the case of the Chara Sands - just follow our algorithm and you’ll succeed.

1️⃣ Get in touch with the Kodar National Park’s management. They will tell you when the next tourist group starts. Since the Chara Sands tract has the status of a specially protected natural area, you can’t just go there. And it’s almost impossible to find a way through the swampy Siberian swamps, taiga and rivers without a guide.

2️⃣ Prepare in advance: this means trekking boots, a sleeping bag and other essentials. Clothing should be taken for all occasions. For example, during the day in August, the air in the Chara Sands can calmly warm up to +30°C and, in the evening, you will have to fall asleep at +3°C. In winter, there are even extreme temperatures: it can reach -50°C!

3️⃣ What remains are minor details: taking the train from Krasnoyarsk to Novaya Chara station in Severobaikalsk, meeting your tour group or simply taking a small AN-24 plane from Chita right to the village of Chara.

Traversing the sands on foot or using snowboards or taking an SUV over the desert’s edge can be done any day of the week: the area is only 10 x 5 km. 

😎 But what’s the most fun way to cross the desert?

We chose, perhaps, the strangest option: snowboarding. And the idea worked!

🏂 No winter preparation for the winter board was necessary - you simply buckle in and go. Of course, the snowboard slides, or rather rolls down, on a pillow of a million small grains of sand-bearings, not at all as fast as on snow, and turning over is almost impossible, but falling into the sand is fun and does not hurt at all. By the way, the skidding did not damage the board: it’s ready for the mountains tomorrow, well, or in the dreams of the Chara Sands, at least!

☀️  There was one complication: climbing scalding hot sand dunes in snowboarding boots is really uncomfortable, but what can you do for the sake of a great photo! 📷

😃 We chose really steep dunes, otherwise it would have been difficult to accelerate. We took special care to plan the route around the fragile desert plant life, using the principle of “leave everything behind us as if we were not here”.

🌒 In the evening, two snowboards laid between two thick tree trunks, turned into an impromptu dining table for a tired film crew. Now that’s a “Zabaykalsky life hack”! 🤪


Russia Beyond thanks @strannik_che for assisting with filming and organizing the campsite for the cew. 🙏🏻

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