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Wild Frontiers of Siberia & Russia’s Far East

July 22 to August 05, 2021

(Moscow-Irkutsk-Listvyanka-Lake Baikal-Olkhon Island- Irkutsk-Kyzyl- Samagaltai-Kyzyl-Turan-Shushenskoye-Abakan-Moscow)

Lake Baikal is one often called "the Pearl of Siberia". Surrounded by picturesque taiga and mountains, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world.
The first time the great Russian writer Anton Chekhov came to the shores of Lake Baikal, he realized that everything he had seen before was prose and that “everything afterward was poetry.” Explore South Siberia, a remote and atmospheric land where mounted Scythians thundered across the steppe long time ago, leaving behind burial mounds and golden ornaments. On this cross-cultural adventure, interact with local ethnic people: Russians, Tuvans, Buryats, and Khakass, learning about their history, cultures and traditions. We will begin in Irkutsk, founded by Cossacks in 1661. Continue by visiting the shores of deep, UNESCO-listed Lake Baikal, and explore its largest island, Olkhon, the place where the area’s indigenous Buryat people believed that the Gods of Baikal once lived there. From Irkutsk, fly to Kyzyl, Tuva’s remote capital. The heart of the journey is a stay in Tuva, a rarely visited rural region just north of the Mongolian border. Dine here with local people, and learn about the art of throat-singing. The journey through the Valley of the Czars to Abakan, capital of Khakassia, will captivate you with its abundance and history.

Led by Prof. Norman Jones

Tour cost (Land only): $ 7,550.00 per person sharing in double occupancy

Single Supplement: $ 700.00 per person

Price based on a minimum of 6 participants and maximum of 14 participants

Your tour does not include

  • One visa needed for RUSSIA. (Multiple)

  • International airfare or taxes/fuel surcharges.

  • Alcoholic beverages and any soft drinks.

  • Trip surcharge to operate below required minimum participants.

  • Transfers if not arriving/departing on scheduled dates

  • Dayroom or overnights necessitated by changes in airline schedules.

  • Items of a personal nature (laundry, phone calls, emails, excess luggage charges, etc.).

  • Travel insurance.

Your tour includes

  • Domestic Moscow-Irkutsk, Irkutsk-Kyzyl, Abakan -Moscow flights.

  • All transfers and transportation by A/C minibus

  • Accommodation in 4 to 3 star hotels as per itinerary.

  • Escort by lecturer throughout the trip

  • English speaking local guides throughout the trip.

  • Meals as in program (B: Breakfast, L: Lunch and D: dinner)

  • Mineral water during touring days on vehicle.

  • Entrance fees to the museums and historical sites.

  • Porterage of luggage at the hotels when available.

  • Gratuities to local guides, drivers and restaurant staff for included meals.

Trip Grade: II Active - Some hikes, slightly more demanding walks at or to sites, few elevations, comfortable but busy schedule and some long rides.

Lodging Level: *** Superior - Lodges and hotels with additional amenities, refined service and comfort level acceptable to western standards. (3 or 4 stars)

About your lecturer...Professor Norman Jones is Professor of History of Religious Studies at Utah State University. Holding a doctorate from Cambridge University, he specializes in the interplay of religion and culture, especially on the cultural fault lines where religions meet and national identities are shaped through religious allegiances, as in the Balkans. He teaches the history of Christianity, and his publications, focusing on the early modern world, include work on the relations between Christianity and Islam. He has been a visiting professor at Harvard, Oxford, the University of Geneva, the University of Hong Kong, and Cambridge, as well as the Huntington Library and the Folger Library. His expertise will deepen your understanding and enrich the experience.

Trip Notes: We reserve the right to change the order of activities or places visited due to unforeseen schedule conflicts or in order to make the itinerary run smoothly. Please note that you will need to depart the U.S. at least one day prior to the tour start date due to airline flight schedules. Accommodations will vary from four star hotels to basic and clean lodges. We are traveling in some areas which, relatively speaking, have seen few travelers, and the infrastructure is not yet fully developed. To enjoy this adventure, travelers must be able to walk at least two-three miles a day including some hills and stairs, keeping up with other group members; and carry their own baggage when needed. Travel in remote Siberia often involves driving over rough terrain, dusty and unpaved roads in basic Russian vans or off-road vehicles. Services are improving in the region; however, you still may encounter problems with plumbing, bureaucratic service, rough road conditions, unpaved sidewalks, uneven surfaces and steps, availability and quality of public restrooms, and variety of locally available foods. Please note that for the Lake Baikal portion of the trip we travel by ferry boat and travelers should expect steep and potentially slick surfaces, the possibility of rough water, doorways with raised thresholds and steep stairwells within the boats. Although porterage is provided where possible, you may have to carry your baggage for short distances till your reach your vehicle. This tour maintains a focus on cultural interaction, and we will be visiting private homes and sharing meals with local people. It is therefore very important that tour members have a desire to involve themselves in the local culture in order to enjoy this unique trip. By signing up for this tour, participants are acknowledging their full understanding and acceptance of all terms and conditions and are admitting that they are in good physical and mental health and are equipped with open mind, a sense of adventure and patient spirit to cope up with the tour.

International airfare: You are always welcome to contact our office for international flight booking and our flight expert would love to assist you. There are two international airports in Moscow (SVO & VKO) and both can be used for arrival to Moscow but your next day flight from Moscow to Irkutsk will be probably from SVO airport. For your own convenience please contact us before booking your international flight so we can arrange your night in Moscow on July 23 accordingly.

Note on visas: It’s recommended that the US citizens apply for a 3-year multiple-entry tourist visa regardless of the dates of entry/exit, number of entries or period of stay. We cannot guarantee visa or permit approval by foreign governments, and cannot assume responsibility for incorrect or improperly issued visa, permit or passport documentation, nor for any costs associated with a traveler’s refused visa or accuracy Extensive pre-tour paperwork is necessary to apply for this visa, which requires Russian visa support letter to be issued prior to submission of your application materials to the Embassies/Consulates. A valid passport with six months validity from the end of the tour will be also required.

Weather: The most enjoyable time to visit Siberia is in the summer when temperatures are more or less reliable throughout the region and Lake Baikal is at its very best. Our route does not take you into any extreme weather areas; however, the weather at any time of year there could be unpredictable. Rain is not likely, but definitely possible. August temperatures are typically 75-95 degrees Fahrenheit. Closer to your departure date it is always important to check for current and upcoming weather conditions in the internet.

View Tour Itinerary

Thu- Fri, July 22-23

Depart your hometown arriving the next day in the morning or afternoon at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo (SVO) or Vnukovo (VKO) Airport on July 23. After passing through customs you will be met and transferred to the hotel near by the airport for rest after your Trans-Atlantic flight. Overnight at 4* hotel near by airport. Note: Hotel is available at 3:00 pm on July 23.

Sat, July 24
Moscow - Irkutsk

All participants will take morning flight from Sheremetyevo Airport (SVO) to Irkutsk. Upon Arrival to Irkutsk in the late afternoon you will meet your guide and driver, and transfer to hotel for dinner and overnight (B,D)

Sun, July 25

After breakfast we will explore Irkutsk which was founded in 1661 when the Russian Imperial Cossack troops established a fortress on the right bank of the Angara River to contral local Buryat tribe. From late 17th century, it was a political, economical and cultural center of Siberia. After the 1825 Decembrist Revolt, Irkutsk was filled with exiles from all over the Russian Empire. The city’s Russian classical architecture dates back to the period of the 1880s when the city boomed after gold was discovered in the area. Most of the brick mansions and grand public buildings varying in architectural styles were constructed in the late 19th – early 20th century. We will stop by the beautiful Russian Orthodox churches and a Polish Cathedral (the only Siberian Gothic-style building) located down-town Irkutsk. You will see many small one- and two-stored wooden houses or cabins that are decorated with “wooden laces”. Our day in Irkutsk will end by visit to the Museum of Regional Studies. Overnight at Marriott by Courtyard hotel or similar (B,L,D)

Mon, July 26
Irkutsk - Listvyanka

After breakfast departure to Listvyanka which is a small settlement located on the shores of Lake Baikal. En route to Listvyanka you will also stop for a guided tour of Taltsy - an open air Museum of Siberian Wooden Architecture. This outdoor museum is a 166-acre collection of authentic Russian and native Buryat, Evenki, and Tafalar houses and community buildings from the 17th to the early 20th century. The wooden structures were moved here from various Siberian locations and reassembled into little hamlets and nomadic camps that demonstrate how people actually lived. The gate to a 17th century fort, a working chapel built in 1679, and a potter’s workshop give you a feel for the people who spent their lives here. The museum´s oldest buildings are the Spass Tower of the Ilimsk Fortress (1667) and the still active Kazan Chapel (1679). As you arrive in Listvyanka, you will proceed to the headwaters of the Angara River to see the famous Shaman Rock and hear local legends about this sacred site. You will then have lunch at a local restaurant serving Baikal fish specialties. After lunch, you will have a tour around the Listvyanka settlement: you will visit the Church of St. Nicolas the Wonderworker and a local fish market to see the variety of lake fish, go to the Baikal Ecological Museum to see the lake's flora and fauna. You will also take a trip by cable car to the Chersky Rock observation platform to enjoy a spectacular view of the Lake Baikal. If it is clear enough you will also see the Khamar-Daban mountain range on the opposite shore of the lake. Overnight at Mayak hotel or similar (B,L,D)

Tue, July 27
Listvyanka – Olkhon Island

Today after breakfast we will depart overland to the Sakhyurta village, and from there board on ferry boat which will take you on a 30 minutes ride to Olkhon Island. Upon arrival you will be taken on Russian military 4x4 vans to Khuzhir village. This village is the largest settlement on Olkhon, with about 1,500 people. It is located in the center of the island on the western side. Khuzhir has some shops, cafés, and a local market, as well as a museum. UNESCO-listed Lake Baikal is called the “Sacred Sea” by the indigenous people who have lived along its shores and known as the most ancient lake in the world. Formed in a rift in the earth’s surface nearly 25 million years ago, the lake basin today holds about 20 percent of the World’s unfrozen fresh water. Olkhon Island is considered to be one of the world’s most important shamanistic centers by the Buryat people, the native inhabitants of the island. Locals often consult shaman for medical and social problems. It is believed that spirits of the Buryat pantheon live in cliffs of the island. A lot of legends about Olkhon and its sacred places are passed down from generation to generation. One of the legends says that Genghis Khan –whose tomb has never been found- was buried here. The island and its flora and fauna have been protected as a part of Pribaikalsky National Park since 1986. Enjoy the sunset at the Shaman Cape. Overnight – Baikal View hotel or similar (B,L,D)

Wed, July 28
Olkhon Island

After breakfast we will start to explore this remote Island. Start with a shaman ceremony at Olkhon’s best known spot, Shaman Rock. Near the village of Khuzhir is Burkhan Cape, a horseshoe-shaped cove with the sacred rock at its tip. The gods of Baikal are said to have lived here, and both Buddhists and shamanists have acknowledged its power. Next, head to the north end of the island and Khoboi Cape. Khoboi is the northernmost cape on Olkhon, a sharp and narrow outcropping that gave it the name, meaning “fang.” If the weather is clear, you can see all the way north to the Ushkaniye Islands and the Holy Nose peninsula; sometimes nerpa, Baikal’s freshwater seals, can be seen. On the left is Maloye More, the Lesser Sea, and on the right is Bolshoye More, the Greater Sea and the deepest part of Baikal. After lunch, continue touring through the Olkhon Island portion of Pribaikalsky National Park. Over 70 percent of the park is forested, and five rivers flow through the park into Lake Baikal. This is an area of great beauty and diversity, set aside to preserve the region’s many unique species of plants and animals. Return to the village by way of the western shore. Visit the Olkhon Nature and History Museum which displays costumes and household items used by island people in years past. Overnight – Baikal View hotel or similar (B,L,D)

Thu, July 29
Olkhon Island - Irkutsk

This morning after breakfast, depart to the ferry terminal for the short ride back across the strait. From here, drive to Irkutsk. Enjoy a lunch of traditional Buryat cuisine. If the time permits after lunch we will visit the Decembrist House Museum. The Decembrists were a group of young officers who had served abroad during the War of 1812 and become advocates of political reform. In December 1825, they, along with some 3,000 followers, refused to swear allegiance to the new czar, Nicholas I. Their uprising was quickly put down, and five of the leaders hanged and many were exiled. Under the Soviets, many thousands more were sentenced to gulags and ended their days in Irkutsk. Many of these exiles worked to build the Trans-Siberian Railway, which passes through Irkutsk and has helped the city remain a commercial force. Check into the centrally located hotel for dinner and overnight. Overnight at Marriott by Courtyard hotel or similar (B,L,D)

Fri, July 30
Irkutsk- Kyzyl (Tuva)

Depart Irkutsk today, transferring to the airport for the flight to Kyzyl, Tuva. Kyzyl is the capital of the Republic of Tuva, an autonomous region of the Russian Federation. Tuva’s history dates back to the Paleolithic Era. From the 6th to the 8th century, the Tuva region was part of the Turkic Khanate. During the Middle Ages, portions of the Silk Road crossed through Tuva. Locals still tend herds of yaks, goats, sheep, cows, and reindeer, and live in yurts during the summer months as the animals migrate through summer pastures. The Tuvan language is Turkic, not Mongolian, and their ancestral religions are Tibetan Buddhism and shamanism. The days spent in Tuva are the centerpiece of the journey. Upon arrival at the Kyzyl airport, enjoy a brief afternoon tour of Kyzyl and the surrounding area. The city tour includes a visit to the monument marking the Geographic Center of Asia and the bronze statue of the Tuvan cowboy on top of the hill overlooking the city. Dinner tonight will be at the restaurant. Overnight – Azimut hotel (B,L,D)

Sat, July 31

After breakfast we’ll depart from the hotel to visit “ Khuree Tzechenling” which is Buddhist Temple consecrated by his Majesty Bogdo-Gegen the IX-th. It combines traditional oriental architecture with modern construction techniques. Here we may have informal conversation with local monks. We will stop to see a soapstone carver in his studio as well, and learn about this ancient art passed down through generations. Meet an expert bead maker who will give you a presentation on local jewelry-making, and pay a visit to Kundustug, or “Seven Beavers,” a mineral spring long regarded as a sacred site. Visit the yurt camp which is located on the bank of the river and taste lunch of Tuvan national cuisine. After lunch here we will witness Shaman ritual known as “Kamlaniye”. We will have great opportunity to ask various questions to Shaman. Tuvan shamanism is based on an animistic spiritual belief that used to be an integral part of Tuvan life and, to some extent, still is. Shamans intercede for people with the spirit world, the unseen world that pervades the Tuvan’s environment. Shamanism was deliberately suppressed by the Soviets, and Tuvans who discovered they had shamanic abilities were forced to hide them from anyone except close friends and relatives. Drive back to Kyzyl for dinner and enjoy this evening a performance of Tuvan throat-singing. Throat-singing is practiced in both Tuva and Mongolia. This unique musical technique is more than an exotic novelty; it is part of a rich tradition. It is believed that throat-singing evolved from human efforts to duplicate natural sounds such as wind blowing across the steppe or a rushing river. In throat-singing, a single vocalist produces two, and sometimes three distinct tones, or overtones, simultaneously. Overnight – Azimut hotel (B,L,D)

Sun, August 01
Kyzyl - Samagaltai -Kyzyl

After breakfast at the hotel this morning, visit the National Museum of Tuva which contains rich and exciting display of archeological finds and ethnographical exhibits. The museum was founded in 1929. Scythian discoveries from the kurgan of the Valley of the Czars in Turan, originally sent to the Hermitage, have been returned and displayed here as well. After lunch in a local café, drive to Samagaltai, former capital of Tuva. The drive is through the breathtaking vistas of the Tuvan countryside. Stop to visit a nomadic family, and take some time to learn about their unique way of life. Observe the art of making Tuvan cheese, and perhaps get a private throat singing lesson. Dinner tonight will be at the city cafe in Kyzyl. Overnight – Azimut hotel (B,L,D)

Mon, August 02
Kyzyl - Turan - Shushenskoye

Following breakfast, set off for Shushenskoye, stopping en route to visit Turan, located in a region known locally as the Valley of the Czars because of the number and richness of the Scythian burial mounds located here. The Scythians were nomads and mounted warriors who dominated the Eurasian steppes from Central Asia to southern Russia and Germany, disappearing in the early years of Christianity. During the tour, visit some of these excavated kurgans, which are burial mounds covering wooden burial chambers. The Scythian culture was one of the earliest and most successful equestrian cultures. The remains of many highly prized horses have been found in the excavated graves in the Valley of the Czars, some of them still in their ceremonial bridles. Important personages had their horses sacrificed and buried near them to bear them into the afterlife. A 2001 expedition found 44 pounds of Scythian gold near Turan in a 7th century BC kurgan called Arzhan II. The 5,700 pieces were beautifully designed and executed ornaments for clothing, shields, quivers, and equestrian armor. Inspect the Arzhan II archaeological site where this major discovery was unearthed. While in Turan, visit the Museum of Russian Colonists to learn about the Russians who migrated to Siberia. Continue to the village of Tanzibei for a traditional home-cooked meal. Continue to Shushenskoye village. This obscure town south of Krasnoyarsk region on the Yenesei River is remembered mainly because Lenin was exiled here for publishing illegal revolutionary literature. Over 2,000 miles away from St. Petersburg, where he was arrested, Lenin spent his time writing more illegal revolutionary literature and living with his wife and fellow revolutionary, Nadezhda Krupskaya, who followed him out from the capital. Upon arrival in Shushenskoye, check into the hotel for overnight. – New village hotel (B,L,D)

Tue, August 03
Shushenskoye - Abakan

Breakfast is at the hotel and we will enjoy some touring in Shushenskoye before departure to Abakan. Visit the State Ethnographic Museum recreating traditional Siberian village of the 19th century. After continue drive to Abakan via Minusinsk. It was founded in 1739 at the convergence of the Yenesei and the Minusa rivers. A regional agricultural and trade center, Minusinsk is famous for its wonderful heirloom tomatoes, whose seeds have been passed down through many generations. Next is lunch at a local café before heading down the road to Abakan. Abakan is Khakassia’s capital. Khakassia is a small republic within the Russian Federation, located in southwest Siberia. Encompassing the valleys of the Abakan and Yenesei Rivers and the mountains surrounding them, Khakassia has been inhabited since the Stone Age. There are thousands of ancient archaeological sites here, including Scythian grave mounds dating from the 5th century BC. Turkic-speaking tribes, now called the Yenesei Kyrgyz,established the Khakassian state here in the 8th century AD. The Mongol invasions of the 13th to 15th centuries destroyed much of their culture, and many Khakassians migrated south to what is now Kyrgyzstan. The Russians founded a fort at Abakan in the early 18th century. Today a town of about 200,000, Abakan is the most important city in a region rich in natural resources and natural beauty. Local marble is used in many of the buildings here, and the Khakassia Local Studies Museum displays a forest of limestone burial totems, one of which is 3,000 years old. Enjoy dinner at a local restaurant before overnighting at Asia hotel or similar (B,L,D)

Wed, August 04

Enjoy an independent morning today before heading out after lunch to explore the Great Salbyk Mound. About 37 miles north of Abakan, the Great Salbyk Mound emerges from the steppe in a vaguely pyramidal shape. A remnant of the burial kurgans of the Bronze Age Tagar culture, the mound sits among 56 scattered mounds, some of them fenced with stone plaques. Excavated in the 1950s, the Great Salbyk Mound today is nearly 100 feet tall. Back in Abakan, enjoy a folk performance of Khakassia music. Toast your Siberian adventure at a farewell dinner, and get some rest before your early flight to Moscow tomorrow. Overnight – Asia hotel (B,L,D)

Thu, August 05
Abakan – Moscow-US

Take an early transfer to the airport this morning for the flight back to Moscow’s SVO Airport (Sheremetyevo) and connect for your international flight back to US. (B) Note: Hotel night in Moscow for August 06 is not included. Please inquire separately.

We (STS) reserve the right to change hotels, restaurants or the order of activities if/as needed