Solitude travel in the heart of Southern Siberia

Ivan Dementievsky
The high altitude lake Dzhulukul (which is about 7000 feet above sea level) can be found right in the center of the Altai National Park. The small valley, in which the lake is located, is called the Dzhulukul Basin. It is a truly unique place - a so-called “nature’s laboratory”. If you spend some time observing it you can easily learn the history of Altai’s glacier covering process.

It’s rather hard to get there. The road is located several tens of kilometers away from the border of the national park, and you can’t enter it by car. To be let inside you have to have a special license. However, there is a much easier (but more expensive) way to reach the lake – by helicopter.

In July, when the sun is shinning over the Altai, all the valleys and hills are blooming, but up top, just an hour’s flight away from the Ministry of Emergency Situations’ base it is as if it’s deep winter. Only the full-flowing streams point to the fact that it is indeed summer, although a short summer. The weather here is completely unpredictable. If the sun is shining, you can get a sunburn in under thirty minutes, whereas if a cloud comes floating over from a nearby mountain you can easily find yourself in a snowstorm with hail showers. At night the temperature is usually below zero, and in the morning all the streams turn shallow, some even freeze.

Dzhulukul is not an ordinary lake – many rare fish can be found there. Not only do the local fishermen like to illegally fish here, but the birds do too. If summer hits Altai early and the ice cracks at the beginning of June, then whole colonies of birds can be seen here. But this does not happen often. This year winter-weather continued for a bit too long and all the birds flew to other regions in search of food. Local biologists say that it was so cold that the fish didn’t even go out for spawning.

The lake is located right on the Chulishmansky plateau, which is also interesting because it acts as a gigantic observation deck – a wonderful panorama of the Altai Mountains can be seen from it. Deep river valleys form grand canyons with mountain walls three thousand feet high! This wildlife sanctuary, the land near the Chalyshman River attracts tourists from all over Russia.

You have to be extremely careful as this lake is protected by law and people are rarely found here. The birds feel rather “at ease” and you can always find a bird’s nest with several eggs right under your feet – the future descendants of this “light-minded” mother.

Each summer the members of the national park perform a thorough inspection of the nearby territory – their responsibilities include controlling the birds, they have to be on their lookout and at the same time do test fishing. The second important mission includes the protection of the environment from unauthorized entry and illegal fishing from the lake. The inspectors work throughout the whole summer, sometimes leaving their campgrounds for a few days to check the lake and nearby mountains. Right in the beginning of summer it is especially difficult due to the fact that the whole valley is covered in hill torrents and it is impossible to cross them – the hummocky marsh changes to swamps and snow patches.

Around Dzhulukul you can find more than 300 shallow lakes with squashy shelving shores, which are covered in sedge. This territory is regarded as tundra steppe – an ancient landform, which used to extend all throughout Siberia.

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