The world’s allure for this northern Russian realm, half of which is located above the Arctic Circle, has remained consistent since the 9th Century when merchants from Novogorod established the first trading links with the Nenets and Khanty indigenous groups living in the present day Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. Although outside economic interest in the Yamalo-Nenets region has since shifted from the trading of mammoth bone, fur, and boats, to the production of oil and gas, the travelling world is enamoured by romantic notions of blistering Siberian cold, endless expanse of tundra, and the iconic Nenets reindeer herders who have skilfully inhabited this unforgiving environment for millennia.
The name of this island translates in to “alluvial shore” from Nenets. And up until the 19th Century, this island was an important shrine for the residents of this far northerly land and at one point Nenets people from all across the Peninsula would have made a pilgrimage to the island, especially in early spring when it would be possible to travel across the sea ice. Whilst it is much less visited these days (mostly due to their conversion to Orthodox Christianity), ancient wooden idols and sacrificial piles of drift wood, polar bear skulls and reindeer horns can still be found.
Once a place of exile in the Tsarist and Soviet eras, and the temporary home of Leon Trotsky, the Arctic town of Salekhard has now become the capital of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, so it’s a natural base for any sojourns into the surrounding wilderness. Despite a population of 42,000, the nearest railway station is at Labytnangi, across the Ob river. In summer time you can take a ferry across the river to Salekhard, but come winter, which lasts for 6 months, your only option is a taxi across the frozen river.
Letter of invitation and visa required for most nationalities. Must be applied for in advance at a Russian embassy or consulate.
January temperature range: -13 °C to −30 °C. July temperature range: +1°C to +15 °C.
Russian rouble. ATMs are available in all cities and over-the-counter bank withdrawals are also possible in smaller areas. USD also accepted for large payments in many areas.
For up to date exchange rates please have a look at www.xe.com
Two prong European style systems (types C and F).
Reliable wifi in Yamal’s capital, Salekhard. No internet connection outside of main towns.
Typical of Russia: Dill. Dill. And more dill. Lots of potatoes, beetroot and root vegetables. Meat and fish centre in most dishes. Bulgar wheat is a popular grain. Berries, mushrooms, fowl, reindeer and dried/raw fish also heavily feature in northern Siberian cuisines.
Alcohol is permitted and is widely available
Russian. Tundra Nenets and Forest Nenets (Uralic languages)
Russian Orthodox Christianity. Shamanism. Animism.
No special dress code.
SAFTEY & SECURITY
The FCO considers Yamal to be a low risk region to travel.
The Shaman’s Coat: A Native History of Siberia by Anna Reid
Siberia: A History of the People by Janet M. Hartley