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Reindeer Migration with the Nenets in Yamal

Travel in time with indigenous Russia

Be a part of the ancient nomadic culture of the Siberian Arctic on this immersive experience, participating in massive reindeer migration and staying in the winter camps of Nenets – nomad people of Yamal.

As the world gets smaller, there’s a desire to travel further – and there are few places as enchantingly far away as Yamal Peninsula. This cultural tour transports you deep into Siberia’s isolated Arctic region. ‘Yamal’ means ‘edge of the world’ in the language of the indigenous Nenets. The Nenets of Yamal carve out a unique way of life, seemingly at the limits of human tolerance. Yamal Peninsula was considered so inhospitable that Stalin built his prison camps here. Yet a strikingly colourful, rich and resilient culture has been preserved and relatively unchanged here for some 2,000 years.

The Nenets of Yamal are the last remaining peoples to practice large-scale nomadic reindeer herding. Living in conical teepees known as ‘chums’, the reindeer herders of Yamal practice their own animistic religion with elements of shamanism. Each spring, the Nenets migrate from winter pastures on the Russian mainland to the summer pastures in the Arctic Circle, a one-way journey of up to 1,000km. On this trip to the Nenets winter camps, you’ll experience Yamal and everything it has to offer, including a rare glimpse into the ancient traditions of the Yamal's extraordinary people. Immersing yourself in their daily lives, you will live with a family of nomads, sleeping and eating in the camp, working with the reindeer and travelling from the pasture to the forest via reindeer-pulled wooden sleds. Reaching to the Nenets lands involves an adventurous overland journey from the Yamal capital of Salekhard along the frozen surface of the Ob River.

Arrival

Departure

Accomodation

Moscow

Moscow

Homestay with local families

Duration

Action rating

Group size

12 days / 11 nights

     

2-8 people

Itinerary View map

Day 1:Welcome to Moscow

Arrive in Moscow for a meet and greet with your guide. Transfer to the hotel, where we’ll spend a restful night before the long journey to Yamal in the morning.

Day 2:Flight to Salekhard

Transfer to the airport for a flight to the town of Salekhard (2h 30min). With a population of
around 43,000, Salekhard is the administrative centre of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous
Region. Here we board an all-terrain vehicle for a drive for up to six hours over the frozen
surface of the River Ob to Yar Sale village on the Yamal Peninsula. The river is the only way to
access the village – either by boat in summer or by driving the ice in winter.

Yar Sale was the first trading post built on the Yamal Peninsula by the Russians in 1927. Before
that, there were only nomadic Nenets, and no settlements at all. These days, over 50 percent of
Yamal’s Nenets are still nomadic, and most have relatives in small villages like Yar Sale who live
sedentary lives and provide accommodation to nomadic relatives during rare village visits.

At Yar Sale, we’ll spend the night in either a local Nenets guesthouse or a small private hotel.

Day 3:Yar-Sale village

Travel through the vast tundra in wooden box sledges attached to the back of a snowmobile to
an encampment of nomadic Nenets reindeer herders. Unlike many nomadic tribes in Russia
and the world-over, the Nenets are have largely retained their traditional way of life, and are
famed for having longest nomadic migration routes in the world.

They wear clothing made of reindeer fur, sewn using reindeer sinew as thread, and live in conical tents made of reindeer fur and known as chums. Across a single year, the Nenets may
migrate up to 2,000km, transporting their chums and all their possessions on home-made, wooden sledges, accompanied by herds of reindeer up to 10,000 strong. The Yamal Nenets speak a language completely unrelated to Russian and practice an animistic religion based on
deep reverence to nature, paying tribute to the spirits that inhabit the natural world through reindeer sacrifices and shamanistic rituals.

Day 4-8:A date with nomads

For the next 5 days, you’ll be living with the nomads, eating and sleeping in their
Chums (tepees). There will be no fixed itinerary for these days. Instead, this is a uniquely
immersive experience, where guests observe and take part in the daily lives of the nomads.
Assisted by the expert Nenets, your tasks could include herding reindeer and lassoing the
animals using rawhide lassoes. As one of the few sources of available food, reindeer are
butchered at the camp as needed. The meat is divided up and eaten (usually raw) and the
Nenets are also partial to drinking reindeer blood (partaking in this practice is optional!)
You’ll also have the chance to involve yourself in the preparations for making a new campsite,
sledding into the forest to cut trees for firewood, collecting ice or snow for water, helping to
build new sledges, sewing fur clothing and other activities essential for survival. It’s not all work
though. There will be plenty of time for relaxation and socialising within your hosts and other members of the community.
*the duration of the camp stay can be extended to seven days upon request.

Day 9:Back to Yar-Sale village

After saying farewell to our hosts in the Nenets campsite, we make the return journey to Yar
Sale, again travelling by a snowmobile-driven sledge. Back at Yar Sale, we’ll spend the night in a local Nenets guest house.

Day 10-11:Salekhard city tour and reindeer herders festival

Today, we’re back on board the all-terrain vehicle for the return drive along the solid ice of the Ob River. On our return to Salekhard, we’ll be put up in a comfortable hotel in town for the night.

Today we’ll enjoy a free day in Salekhard, a town founded by Russian settlers in 1595 after the
conquest of Siberia. Highly recommended is the Shemanovskiy Yamal-Nenets District museum,
which focuses on Yamal’s regional culture and natural history, including a fascinating exhibition
on mammoth remains discovered in the region. Visit the 16th century fortress of Obdursk, the
first Russian settlement built in the area, and wander the market square where the nomads come to sell meat, fish and furs.

We can also arrange a day trip to the abandoned village of Polyarniy in the Polar Ural
Mountains. *this is a free day, which we safe in case of bad weather and delaying with transfer from Yar Sale.

Day 12:Fligh to Moscow and departure back home

On our final day, we fly back to Moscow from Salekhard, ready for your departure back home or on to your next adventure.

Inclusions

Accommodation

  • Hotel accommodation in Moscow, Salekhard and Yar Sale
  • Homestay accommodation in chums (teepees) with local Nenets families

Meals

  • All meals during staying with nomads, prepared together with the hosts
  • Some meals during our stay in Salekhard and Yar Sale

Transportation

  • Internal flights (Moscow - Salekhard - Moscow)
  • Airport transfers
  • All transportation on tour (6wd truck, snowmobiles, sledges)

Guides

  • Experienced local English-speaking tour leader
  • Anthropologist guide, experienced drivers, local hosts

Activities and sights

Activities and experiences according to the tour program

Other

  • Rental of a full set of Nenets reindeer fur clothing (mittens, thigh high boots and knee-long jacket)
  • Arctic safety equipment
  • Tents, cooking equipment, first aid kit
  • All permits required for the region
  • Russian visa support document (invitation letter)

*Russian visa can be arranged by 56th Parallel for an additional cost (for Australian citizens only). Apply for comprehensive visa service here.

Not included

International flights, Russian tourist visa, travel insurance, individual clothing and equipment, tips.

If you have any urgent questions or enquiries, please give us a call +61 2 9388 9816