Yakutia – weathering the extremes

­Life is tough in Yakutia – hardly surprising for a place which is arguably the coldest inhabited area on Earth. For the residents of this remote eastern Siberian region it means they need to turn the landscape's frozen features to their advantage.

Extreme weather conditions call for extreme modes of transportation, so for people living in this harsh climate, traveling by dogsled is nothing out of the ordinary.

The canines are remarkably adapted to local environment, being able to withstand winter temperatures ranging from -50 to -60 degrees Celsius with strong winds and very hot summer temperatures from +30 to +40 degrees Celsius.

“The dogs are all our Yakutian laikas,” says dog breeder Elena Sidorova. “The Yakutian laika is one of the oldest aboriginal breeds that exist on this planet. These dogs have been used for I don’t know how many thousand years as sledge and hunting animals. They are endemic to Kolyma and the polar area.”

Traveling by dogsled is necessary for those living in Yakutia, but there are many others who come from all over the world for the experience.

“It’s just you and the dogs and the forest… the white snow and the snow capped mountains!” tourist Joseph Macke shares his excitement.

If dogs are not your style, you can choose to go by reindeer, or there is even a special type of horse – the Yakutian horse, specific to this area – that can handle the temperatures. But whatever animal you choose you will be going by sleigh all the way.

“My ancestors were deer breeders and hunters, too,” says deer breeder Mikhail Kulbertinov. “My grandfather was a sniper in Germany during World War II. He was a Hero of the Soviet Union. He returned to deer-breeding after coming home from the war. In total, there have been about ten generations of deer breeders in our family.”

It is not only means of transportation that reflect the freezing temperatures. Even food in Yakutia has something to do with the ice. The local market ends the debate of fresh or frozen because there fresh is frozen.

One of Yakutia’s traditional dishes, Stroganina, is prepared by shaving frozen fish meat is shaved directly on to the plate.

Even milk in this region is sold in frozen blocks. And if you are looking for a quick afternoon snack there is colt meat.

“The colts are of the Yakutian breed. We slaughter them in autumn and freeze the meat. We eat it frozen because frozen meat preserves more vitamins than when you boil it. For convenience, we mince the meat in a meat grinder. Then it’s easier to pick up the hamburger patty and put it in your mouth,” explains local resident Svetlana Tarabukina.

The temperatures in this part of the world – sometimes as low as minus 62 – have shaped every aspect of people’s existence, from their pets to how they get around and the food they eat. Life in Yakutia is on the ice.
Sandy Higgs