Nguyen Anh Tuan
The Siberian village of Oymyakon is one of the world’s most extreme destinations for adventurous tourists.
Imagine a place where the temperature drops to -60 degrees Celsius in winter and stays below zero well into May, but in the summer soars up to 35 degrees. This is not on a faraway planet – it is the village of Oymyakon, the coldest continuously inhabited place on earth, located deep inside Siberia, Russia, just a few hundred kilometers from the Arctic Circle.
Surrounded by hills and situated on top of permanent ice, Oymyakon was founded by reindeer herders coming to its hot springs in the 1920s and has a population of several hundred full-time residents.
The village on the upper reaches of the Indigirka River claims the coldest temperature ever measured in winter at -71.2 degrees. A monument to the reading, which was taken in January 1924, stands in the town square.
Oymyakon has underground hot springs, meaning that the river that runs through the town is not frozen during the harsh winter. Water flowing through the frozen ground maintains the same temperature of 2 degrees in the summer or winter. The Yakuts, the local indigenous people, believe that the sacred water of the river can cleanse the body and the soul and many children here are taught to bathe among the glaciers in winter when the outside temperature drops below -50 degree Celsius. The feeling when the skin is exposed to that extremely cold air can be described as having thousands of needles piercing your body. Life in Oymyakon relies on hunting and the breeding of reindeer and other farm animals.
There are about 40 farms in the region, including one for experimental production, two agricultural cooperatives, 30 farms belonging to local people and seven nomadic tribes. They raise livestock, and produce milk, butter and other dairy products. Most tasks are made much more difficult by the climate, including burying the dead in meters-deep permafrost.
Throughout the ice-covered winter, visitors can take part in local recreational activities such as horse riding and reindeer sledding. Fishing is the most popular pastime in Siberia and visitors can join residents at the lake, who bring ice drills, tents, foldable chairs and tables, fishing equipment, hot water and food for their trips. The Yakuts honor the natural spirits before beginning to fish by building a fire, placing bread on it and praying for good fortune.
The local Yakutia breed of horse is suited for the harsh winter, able to survive in temperatures of -40 to -50 degrees for seven days straight. Yakutian horses have more fat in their bodies than other horses, with short legs and a rather cute appearance. Horse farms here are usually breeding farms, mainly for taking care of horses under two years old. Adult horses know how to find grass for feeding in the snow by digging with one hoof, but foals need more time to learn this survival skill; therefore, the horse farm operates as a sort of nursery school. The owner will place grass and nutritious food on the farm and herd the horses there to feed every day.
Oymyakon does not currently have any hotels. Visitors can opt for a homestay and experience the local flavors in full, from melting ice for tea to having chats with herders of horses and reindeers. Every year the village welcomes around 1,000 visitors, mostly in the winter to experience the extreme cold, an attraction for people who want to challenge and explore their own limits.