At just 450km south of the Arctic Circle, Yakutsk (Яакутск - Дьокуускай in Yakut) is pretty far north, it’s buildings are on stilts to keep them out of the permafrost, and it’s the coldest, most populated city in the World. It’s also where lots of relatively fresh remains of mammoths and other large mammals have been found over the years; some part of them, a tusk perhaps, poking up out of the snow. We decided to go there and, in quite a minor degree, follow in the footsteps of the Mammoth Hunters.
Listvyanka (Листвянка), or to be precise a place called Tyekh uchastok (Тех участок). We’ve arrived here on Friday by mini-bus from the provincial capital of Irkutsk (Иркутск) which is one of the largest cities in Siberia. We’re back to AirBnbing it and are staying in a flat overlooking the Angara River’s glorious exit into Lake Baikal; although it’s actually the other way around: Lake Baikal empties into the Angara River. Our host had advertised the place as being in Listvyanka, but it’s not really: It’s about half an hour’s walk from the outskirts of it. I’m quite glad about that, as this is a quiet non-place: no tourists; nobody trying to sell you stuff.
Nerd warning: this is a short post and it’s a little bit nerdy; read on if you’re interested in train timetables, or gain mildly autistic pleasure from such things; maybe skip this one if you don’t.
Back aboard a train. This time a Russian and not a Chinese train; thankfully. Nothing personal here, but after our experience of the Chinese-run Trans-Mongolian Express service, I’m very glad to be in the hands of the Ruskies once again. For one thing the wagon is clean; our cabin is spotless; the toilet is clean, and there’s plenty of toilet paper; the provodniks (cabin attendants) are stern yet efficient; the beds are more comfortable; and the set of bed linen and a hand towel we received was laundered to the point of being the paragon of what every housewife or husband in a washing powder advert dreams of achieving. I’m sure the Shanghai to Beijing bullet train and other services are exemplary, but the Moscow-Ulaanbaatar-Beijing service is pants.