Siberia is known more commonly as a desolate wasteland where Russian dissidents were sent under the Stalin regime, but now the country has begun promoting itself as a winter ecotourism destination.
The promotion is centered on the 53,000km sq Vasyugan Mire, the largest swamp in the northern hemisphere, which is home to a huge range of unique flora and fauna.
Recently the Russian Geographical Society’s Tomsk branch organized a six person, 120 kilometer expedition through the area to test drive plans for such trips for tourists and to compile a comprehensive list of what the swamp’s ecosystem contains, to be used as a lure for eco-tourists.
The “expedition” despite encountering freezing conditions was heralded a success by the Professional Expeditions Tourist Center which bankrolled the inaugural trek.
A documentary shot during the week-long trip will be premiered later this year.
Twenty five year old Danil Barashkov, a biologist from Tomsk described the trip as a “great adventure.”
“There were lots of interesting things.’I remember a chance encounter with wood grouse that jumped in front of us on the path and flew away.Most of all I remember the stunning sunsets. They were an indescribable sight – the play of light, clouds, the tops of miniature pine trees and snow expanses merged into a single breath-taking picture,” he said.
Formed 10,000 years ago, Vasyugan Mire is home to large numbers of endangered species like the fish hawk and the white-tailed eagle.
The only female member of the trip Svetlana Pakhomenko said she felt “a real sense of infinity.”
“Everywhere we went there was a fantastic sun. Never have I seen such a beautiful setting sun. It gave us a cosmic feeling.” she enthused.
However the trip wasn’t all rosy and by the descriptions of overall conditions, only the most hardy of eco-tourists would list the it on their must see bucket-list.
Barashkov said deep snow slowed the group down at times and progress was not helped by having to carry heavy backpacks filled with all the equipment needed to enable the trekkers to be 100 percent self-sufficient.
He said at temperatures at night dropped to -40 degrees fahrenheit.
“It was very hard psychologically to get out of the sleeping bag in the morning because of the cold. We had ordinary tents and the temperature inside them was almost equal to the temperature outside,” said Barashkov.
“As a rule, in such circumstances you need to become laid back to some extent. And you can’t have a sense of fear in such an expedition. The imagination loves to play with a person, and if you give it a reason to, you can see a lot of silhouettes of people or human-like creatures, especially in the evening at dusk. Still, we never saw anything supernatural – except the indescribable beauty of the sunsets.”