Reindeer Herders’ Festival in Yamal 2019

Stay with nomads and immerse yourself in their way of life
© Photo by Aleksey Suloev
March is the best time of year for the travellers to visit Yamal and to witness the Reindeer Herder's festival.
The Reindeer Herder’s Festival is a one-day holiday, celebrated annually in the Salekhard and Aksarka, the two major towns within the Yamal-Nenets region in the Russian Arctic. In 2019, the festival will take place on 23rd March (Saturday) in Salekhard and 6th April (Saturday) in Aksarka village. For the nomadic Nenets people, a festival day is a major event, which offers a chance to meet with friends and compete in contests of physical skill and a variety of other competitions. It has also become an event in which the Nenets are able to share with the world a fascinating slice of their unique culture, which has remained relatively unchanged through the centuries. On this tour you not only will witness the Reindeer Herders' Festival in Yamal but also will stay with a Nenet family far from the city, giving you an amazing opportunity to fully immerse yourself in the nomadic way of life.

Trip Highlights:

  • Salekhard (population 43,000) is the only city in the world located right at the Polar Circle. Despite its remoteness, it harbours a great deal of wealth as the city at the centre of one of the world’s richest oil and gas regions
  • Reindeer Herder’s Festival Day: On the day of the festival, thousands of Nenets and Khanty descend on Salekhard. The day is a massive celebration, a huge social event for the usually isolated nomads and an incredible spectacle, with reindeer sleigh races, reindeer wrangling, wrestling competitions, a beauty contest for the women in their finest traditional dress
  • From Salekhard we’ll travel to a nomad camp to spend two days living with the Nenets and sleeping in their chums (tepee-style reindeer skin tents). The Nenets are one of the last surviving grounds of reindeer herding nomads, making this experience an extraordinary privilege
  • Take part in day-to-day activities around the camp, herding and lassoing reindeer, sledding into the forest to cut firewood and assisting in the erecting of new chums, with plenty of time in between to relax, socialise and just take in the atmosphere

This tour transports you deep into Siberia’s isolated Yamal Peninsula to experience the largest gathering of nomadic reindeer herders in the Arctic. ‘Yamal’ means ‘edge of the world’ in the language of the indigenous Nenets. Here, the Nenets carve out a unique way of life, seemingly at the limits of human tolerance. Yamal was considered so inhospitable that Stalin built his prison camps here. Yet a strikingly colourful, rich and resilient culture has been preserved here, relatively unchanged for some 2,000 years.

The Yamal peninsula is home to 15,000 reindeer herders. Unlike many nomadic tribes in Russia and the world-over, the Nenets and Khanty people have largely retained their traditional way of life, and are famed for having the 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 Reindeer Herder Festival is the most important event of the year for Yamal’s Nenets and Khanty. Herders from all over the tundra bring their families to Salekhard to sell their crafts and other wares, meet with friends and compete in rough-and-tumble contents of physical skill, including the day’s biggest Typically, the herders come with their “chums” (traditional tents) and reindeer, with small children wrapped tightly in furs to protect them from the frost.

Wandering the festival grounds, you’ll be able to pop inside the chums and taste unique Arctic delicacies such as “stroganina” (cloudberry jam) and of course, reindeer meet. The Nenets and Khanty women cut striking figures against the pure white snow, dressed in their brightly coloured traditional outfits.

This incredible one week tour is a journey of humanity, opening eyes, minds and hearts to the plight of one of the last surviving true nomadic cultures on the planet.

Arrival

Departure

Accomodation

Trip style

Moscow

Moscow

3* hotels, homestay

Culture, Nature

Duration

Action rating

Group size

Type of tour

7 days / 6 nights

     

2 - 6 people

Private

Itinerary

Day 1:Moscow

Arrive in Moscow and transfer to the hotel, where we’ll spend a restful night before the long journey to Yamal in the morning. Depending on the arrival time, a city tour can be arranged on this date upon request.

Day 2: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, the only city in the world located right at the Polar Circle.

On arrival, meet a guide and transfer to the hotel. Your guide will check your equipment and will answer your questions about the upcoming tour program.

Day 3:Reindeer Herders' Day

After breakfast at the hotel, we board an all-terrain vehicle, which will take us for an hour drive to the small village, located at the foot of the Polar Ural Mountains. Here we jump on the snowmobiles and wooden box sledges for travelling further north to the Nenets camp.

These days, over 50% of Yamal’s Nenets are still nomadic, and most have relatives in small villages, who live sedentary lives and provide accommodation to nomadic relatives during rare visits. 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”.

In a single year, the Nenets may migrate up to 2,000km, transporting their chums and all their possessions on homemade, wooden sledges, accompanied by herds of reindeer up to 10,000 strong.

The Yamal Nenets speak a language completely unrelated to Russian and some families practice an animistic religion based on deep reverence for nature, paying tribute to the spirits that inhabit the natural world through reindeer sacrifices and shamanistic rituals.

On arrival to Nenets camp (“stoybische”), meet our hosting family and enjoy a dinner and friendly chat with a Nenet family in their teepee called “chum”. If you are lucky enough this evening will spoil you with the magic show: look up for Aurora Borealis dancing in the starry sky.

Day 4:Transfer to the Nenets camp

For the next 2 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 be socialising with your hosts and other members of the community.

Day 5-6:Days with Nenets

The main spectacle is the incredible variety of reindeer races, including the trot, sledding races and even reindeer skiing. There are also competitions for national sports, such as sled jumping, lasso throwing, axe throwing and tug of war. Amid the vibrant atmosphere of the festival, you’ll find stalls selling handicrafts made of bones, fur and beads, as well as favourite regional dishes made of reindeer meat and frozen steak.

Based on the cultural and spiritual traditions of the northern indigenous peoples, all the activities that take place at the Reindeer Herders Festival are aimed at their support and preservation.

After lunch in the city, we’ll enjoy a short tour of Salekhard, a town founded by Russian settlers in 1595 after the conquest of Siberia. We will visit the Shemanovskiy museum, which focuses on Yamal’s regional culture and natural history, including a fascinating exhibition on mammoth remains discovered in the region and the 16th-century fortress of Obdursk, the first Russian settlement built in the area.

Day 7:Departure to Moscow

It's time to say goodbye to Russian Arctic. After breakfast at the hotel, you will embark on the comprehensive tour of Salekhard. After lunch you will be transferred to the airport for a flight back to Moscow.

Inclusions

Accommodation

3* hotel accommodation in Salekhard and Moscow

Homestay with Nenets (teepees)

Meals

Breakfasts in the hotel

All meals during stay with Nenets

Transportation

Airport transfers

All transportation on tour (car, 4wd cars, snowmobiles)

Guides

Professional local English-speaking tour leader

experienced drivers, local hosts

Activities and sights

Activities and experiences according to the tour program

Other

Internal flights

Arctic safety equipment

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, tips.

Dates & Prices

DatesAvailabilityPriceSingle sup. 
21 Mar - 27 Mar 2019
Private Tour
Available US $3,850 N/A Reserve

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