Itinerary Yamal Explorer

This is the long, cold way to cross the Asia-Europe divide. Spot gulags (prison camps), oil fields and Nenets herders as you edge closer to the Yamal tundra, then bolt south again towards Moscow.

The rural Yamal region is interesting for its Nenets reindeer-herding culture, although it's well hidden behind a veil of Soviet oil and mining settlements. For independent travellers the basic loop offers an opportunity to explore the Russian Arctic without a lengthy backtrack. Start with multiday steamer or hydrofoil rides down the Ob River between petro-boom towns Khanty-Mansiysk and Salekhard (you could even start further south in delightful Tobolsk). Having visited as much of the Yamal Peninsula as permits

BARENTS SEA Yamal

SEA Peninsula

BARENTS SEA Yamal

SEA Peninsula

FAST FACTS

Access for independent travellers

Good in summer

Best time to travel June to September for the river boats, winter to meet Nenets herders

Difficulty level High, due to permit requirements and linguistic challenges

Don't forget Phrasebook, midge repellent, permits (not needed for Salekhard but very much required for Nadym and the Yamal Peninsula), plenty of patience Don't miss The attractive north Urals, even if only viewed from the train window

Gateway city Khanty-Mansiysk Length of basic route 3350km to Moscow (4200km if starting in Tobolsk)

Modes of travel River ferry, plane, train, dogsled in the Yamal Recommended map Yamal peninsula map downloadable from www.geo cities.com/benselig/, Pti Fyute guidebooks (in Russian) for Yugra, Komi and Nenets AO

Time needed Khanty-Mansiysk to Salekhard, two to three days once the boat finally arrives; Yamal Peninsula, as long as possible; Salekhard to Labyt-nangi, V/i hours; Labytnangi to Vorkuta, 12 to 15 hours; Vorkuta to Moscow, two to 2% days

Time zones Moscow time +2 (GMT +5) Khanty-Mansiysk to Salekhard, Moscow time (GMT +3) Vorkuta, Pechora and Naryan-Mar and contacts allow, take the train from Labytnangi and wind picturesquely across the northern Urals. The gulag tragedy of Vorkuta makes a moving contrast to the optimism of Salekhard. Direct trains follow the main oil pipeline back to Moscow from both Labytnangi and Vorkuta. With more time you could try a rarely attempted side trip to Naryan-Mar, an alternative reindeer-herding area.

Although the route could be done in reverse, boat journeys are considerably quicker northbound thanks to the Ob Riv er's strong currents. Some photos of the loop appear on www.hansrossel.com/fotos /fotografie/rusland.

One obvious problem is that while river boats run only in summer, the Nenets herders are much easier to encounter in winter.

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