Fear and Loathing in the Altai Mountains: Safety Tips

What to Beware of in Altai

Altai is quite virgin and distant from civilization. And of course there are things to be wary of. And very often the danger comes from people, not from wild animals, which are afraid of you.

Locals

When I was just exploring Altai, one of the local people told me: “There’s no scarier animal in Gorny than a drunken Altai man, even a bear is easier to settle with”. And I soon understood why he said that. The fact is that the representatives of the Mongoloid race lack some enzyme responsible for the breakdown of alcohol. That’s why even small doses of alcohol make them stupid.

While vacationing in the village of Cheposh, we saw a scene of an Altai man on horseback galloping through the village and firing his gun everywhere he could, while others were quickly closing their shutters to keep the windows open. It’s worth remembering the notorious case of locals shooting up a car in the south of the Teletskoye Lake. The thing is that the locals in remote areas of Altai consider themselves full masters of their territory and assume that you have to pay for everything, even for a ride on “their territory”.

This aggressive behavior comes from a lack of work and an overabundance of alcohol. Villages are dying out, and this is no secret. In those settlements, where the population can run after a bus with a rifle, knowledgeable drivers try to pass at top speed. In addition to the entire south of the Teletskoye, such places include the village of Inya on the Chuisky tract. There’s a large store by the road, and all the tourists want to buy water or something else there. But there are a lot of local drunks, who persistently demand money for a hangover. My advice is to pass by.

Ticks

There are a lot of ticks in Altai, and this is a fact. And they are very active until the autumn. The best way to reassure yourself and your fellow travelers is to get vaccinated. The vaccine is often absent in small villages, even if it is indicated on your insurance list. You will simply be told “no” and shut the door. And the nearest district center or Gorno-Altaisk itself, where there is any chance of getting the coveted immunoglobulin shot, may be very far away. Therefore, the most reliable and optimal option is vaccination. And you only have to give it once every three years.

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Ognjenovki, vipers and shieldmongers are found in abundance in the Altai. But the snake is not as scary as they say. It is not for nothing that these amphibians are considered the embodiment of wisdom. A snake will never attack a man. In sunny weather, they like to bask on pebbles, so the main thing is to look carefully under your feet. I once stepped on the tip of a small snake’s tail and it just stood up and hissed. After I gently removed my foot, it crawled away. The main rule is, don’t touch it with your hands. And don’t try to catch it by the neck (if you can even identify a snake’s neck), bragging that it won’t reach your hand. Believe me, it will. The only way she won’t succeed is if you’ve been trained by an Indian snake charmer.

Market Vendors.

This caste is not as dangerous for you as it is for your budget. You will be cheated all around: you will be sold a piece of plastic under the guise of mammoth tusk, fake beads, supposedly made of cedar, and “local” souvenirs marked “made in china”. Keep an eye out and be very careful. For starters, just turn on the logic. And don’t forget a few commonplace truths:

  • All mammoth tusks are in paleontological museums;
  • bamboo does not grow in Altai;
  • fangs and other teeth of any animal cannot be perfectly white and slightly transparent;
  • There are no pythons in Altai, and it is impossible to sew even a key chain from the skin of those snakes which are available.

If you follow these simple rules, you will bring home a truly original local souvenir, of which there are many in Altai.

This is a separate topic for conversation. This is a separate topic for a discussion, and Altaian honey is very delicious and healthy, but only if it’s really honey, not sugar syrup in a bottle. Do not buy honey by the road, go to the nearest apiary. And remember a few simple rules:

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– There is no such thing as “pure” honey. That is, you can, of course, identify one flower that is prevalent in these parts, but honey “from acacia” or “from rosemary” can not be in principle. Only if the beekeeper does not herd his bees, driving them away from unnecessary flowers.

– Honey should not be stored in the sun. A self-respecting apiarist doesn’t put his product out in the sun. He will get you a small jar from which you can taste the honey. And never take a container from a display case.

– This year’s honey does not appear until late July. All you see on the shelves before then is last year’s honey. That doesn’t mean it’s bad; honey doesn’t spoil at all. But this way you can check for the honesty of that vendor.

Fear and Loathing in the Altai Mountains: Safety Tips

mountain Altai tips tourists vacation wilderness

Our journey . We traveled by car for a month and a half in the Altai Mountains. The MAKE-TRIP.RU team has visited all the most interesting places from Manzherok to the border with Mongolia. We share with you our experience in the series of articles about rest in the Altai Mountains.

Mountain Altai: communication with the locals and mentality.

Not as devil as you might imagine. Before traveling to the Altai Mountains, we read a lot of reviews about the mentality of the locals and various horror stories. We ourselves were not in unpleasant situations, but we heard about them from the tourists and the Altai people.

On the basis of the reviews, our experience and warnings of the locals we collected a set of rules and advices to be followed during the vacation in Altai Mountains.

  1. Means of self-defense must always be with you. Pepper spray and penknife will do. At night it’s better to keep an axe handy in a tent.
  2. Travel in company.
  3. Be polite and friendly, since you are visiting.
  4. Stay in safe places – we’ve always settled on secured bases, where you can pitch a tent, or in hotels. Learn about the best places to stay with children in Altai.
  5. If you decide to have a wild rest, don’t attract attention: don’t make a fire (use a burner), don’t make noise. The tent put further 10 km from settlements and roads, in a secluded place.
  6. Do not “light” valuable things and do not announce their value. Do not leave unattended.
  7. Do not desecrate sacred sites. Behave and dress modestly. Do not litter, because Altai people respect the nature.
  8. Avoid communicating with drunk people and try to leave quickly.
  9. According to the tourists’ feedback, never drink with the locals! When asked if there is any alcohol, answer in the negative. Do not mention alcohol at all.
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safety in the Altai Mountains

What to do if you pitch your tent in a secluded place, but uninvited guests come and threaten you, demanding to pay or leave? As Uch-Enmek Nature Park ranger Uchural explained to us, in the Altai Mountains, almost all territory is private property. Many of the lands in the reserves are leased. Therefore, the “uninvited guest” is likely to be the owner. He is not likely to like that you are making a fire on his glade. In this case, act peacefully: leave quietly or ask the host to tell you where to pitch your tent. If the “guest” demands money and looks suspicious, ask him to show you the documents with the land title. And if they threaten you with a rifle, you’d better pay and take your leave.

At the Dzhumalinskie Keys, a Kazakh from Kosh-Agach, who was resting in a neighboring cabin, warned that gasoline dumping is a common practice in Altai. Also in Ulagan District, he said, there are attacks on tourists with guns: they smash car windows and extort money.

We have never had any clashes with the locals, all the Altai people we talked to were polite and tolerant. Probably because we never interacted with anyone closely. According to what tourists say, the Altai people consider themselves masters of the land (a typical “come and go”). Locals are annoyed that tourists spoil nature and land and behave unculturally. Many are jealous of the wealth of tourists.

Wilderness in the Altai Mountains

What we encountered during our vacation in the Altai Mountains:

  • Laziness and ignoring requests, postponing for a long time (for example, promised firewood or linens can wait very long – you have to remind several times);
  • untidiness (it is better to walk in hotel rooms with shoes on);
  • disrespectfulness of workers of camping sites (what worth only “I’m tired of your questions” from the administrator of one resort!).
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How to get to Altai: all ways

In the center of Aktash a drunken beggar was asking for money, and in Ulagan we faced the close attention of local drunkards (one of them even came on a bit) and we caught the Airborne Troops Day – the whole village was partying. By the way, Ulagan District used to be considered criminal.

safety in the Altai Mountains locals

Wild and domestic animals, poisonous snakes

We were also worried about wild animals and snakes (especially our companions, who were in the mountains for the first time). But we had never seen anything as frightening as squirrels, chipmunks, gophers, marmots and various birds, even though we lived in the taiga at an altitude of 1500-2000 meters on the Ulagan Lakes and in the Uch-Enmek reserve. We were especially afraid of bears, which live at such an altitude, where cedars grow. The ranger explained that we must be afraid of the bear with her offspring – it immediately shows aggression. If you see a baby bear, go away immediately, and do not attract attention.

Snakes like to rest on the rocks, so look under your feet and avoid the stones. By the way, the locals advise to beware of snakes, because mammalian predators avoid meeting with humans themselves.

Another danger in the Altai Mountains is cattle on the road, especially at night. Be careful when making turns. Oncoming drivers usually warn you of animals on the road with their headlights flashing. Once we saw a cow hit on the side of the road.

Wild vacations in the Altai Mountains

Ticks in the Altai Mountains

Ticks are probably the scariest thing to encounter in Altai – it’s an endemic region. In various places we have seen signs that say “Beware of ticks”.

How to be safe from ticks:

  1. Get a tick-borne encephalitis vaccination in advance (we did an express course a month before departure).
  2. Wear tight clothing that covers the whole body tightly. Tuck your pants into socks or boots, wear long-sleeved shirts, and wear a hat. Do not leave any loophole for ticks.
  3. Treat clothes with special repellents, if you are going to the forest.
  4. Try not to walk on high grass and bushes, walk on paths.
  5. Examine yourself regularly. The tick needs time to suck itself. It will crawl on your body for a long time, until it finds a spot.
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Rest in the Altai Mountains - 2022. Tips, prices, reviews.

If the tick does sucked, it is important to remove it correctly, pack it in a jar, and give it alive for examination (within 72 hours). We found in the Internet the address where you can take it: Gorno-Altaisk, 17, Kommunisticheskiy prospect. We didn’t check the address, because nobody picked up a tick. Even if you are vaccinated against encephalitis consult a doctor, as ticks also carry Lyme disease.

There is an opinion, that after mid-June ticks do not exist in Altai any more. Other information says that they are there till the end of autumn. Ticks do not live at an altitude of over 2000 meters.

If you are going on holiday to Altai mountains be sure to have a kit for hiking (our recommendations are at the link). Planning a trip by car in Altai? Take a look at our recommendations for independent travelling by car.

The plague in the Altai Mountains

We only learned that the Kosh-Agachsky district of the Altai Mountains has been a hotbed of bubonic plague since some dreary year in Ongudai. There was an outbreak of the disease there in 2016. It is spread by cute and harmless-looking gophers and marmots. Local residents who are engaged in hunting (which, by the way, is banned) fall ill – the meat of gophers and marmots is considered a delicacy. Tourists are not in danger, besides, plague can be treated, but just in case it is better to avoid contact with animals. Also, you should not touch the bones, corpses of animals and remains of the table of birds of prey.

travel to Altai

Conclusions

Despite of all difficulties and possible dangers you must go to Altai Mountains. Gather a good team (preferably with several cars), prepare yourself properly for your long trip and your life away from civilization, have necessary vaccinations, collect first-aid kit. If you are going to organize your trip wisely you will be fine!

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