The Altay Mountains can be found in the Altay ecoregion. The Altay ecoregion covers a vast 845,000 square kilometer area at the junction of four countries: Russia (largest part), Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China. Novosibirsk, the city through which the Trans-Siberian route goes, is about 600 km away, which is not very far at Siberian scales.
Altay is a land where myths and legends are incarnated into reality. It’s one of those rare corners on the Earth where Nature decided to show everything it was capable of. Broad and boundless views of steppes, luxuriant varieties of taiga thickets, modest charm of deserts, severe splendor of snowy peaks, laconic beauty of tundra – the diversity of landscapes here is so rich, it is as if you are turning over pages of a geographical atlas!
Area: Western Siberia, south, Altai mountains (3.5 hours from Moscow by plane, 48 hours by train).
Nearest cities: Gorno-Altaysk, Barnaul (300km), Novosibirsk (600km).
Activities: trekking, rafting, hiking, climbing, horse riding
The name “Altay” (or “Altai”) comes from Mongolian “Altan”, which means “golden”. Altay mountains are truly one of the nature’s most marvelous gems, amazing with its diversity and beauty.
Three major factors make the Altay Mountains a recreational domain of great value: amazing natural diversity (various landscapes, climates, abundance of wildlife); small population, historically nomadic (Mongolian and Kazakh ethnos), who have a very natural way of life; and remoteness from any industries (the region lives only for tourism and agriculture). All this has ensured that Altay region stayed untouched by industrial development and is still a very natural place. Besides, such diversity makes it possible to involve in almost any possible activity: from rafting to trekking, from speleo to skiing.
Stretching for nearly 2000 km from north-west to south-east, the Altai Mountains form a natural border between the arid steppes of Mongolia and the rich taiga of Southern Siberia. Both climatic zones create the landscapes of striking diversity, ranging from the Mongolia-like steppes (at the area of Kosh-Agach village, south east) to those of the Swiss Alps (along Chuysky Trakt).
During the Soviet times, Altay was a mecca for adventure tourism, especially rafting. The Altai Mountains have a lot of rivers, Katun, Biya, and Chuya being the longest of them. There are also myriads of smaller mountain rivers that are fed by Altay’s glaciers. Along all these rivers there’s a lot of places for recreation and fishing. You can easily put a tent anywhere you want.
The wildlife vary from big mammals (bear, lynx, glutton, Siberian stag, even reindeer and snow leopard above the tree line) to small birds (230 species) and fish (20 species – umber, loach, white fish among them). There are also many species of plants that are really unique.
Camel and yak add a good Mongolian touch to the picture of the Russian Altai. Another very pleasing touch is no mosquitoes making life miserable in Northern Siberia. Cedar is a very common tree in the rich mountain forests as well as pine, birch, spruce, fir, larch. Berries and mushrooms are abundant in the season.
There are four main plants that grow in the Altay Mountains and are widely used by local people. On the photo below, from right to left are:
Cedar (Kedr) is a pine-like tree, its pines contain a lot of little nuts. You can cook the whole pine in fire or boil it and then take out the nuts, they are very tasty and nutritious.
Badan is a plant that usually grows on heights starting from 1000 m and its dry (brown) leaves are used to make tea.
Kuril is another nice plant to make tea with and has many positive effects also.
Cannabis selvia is also quite widely spread