When you think of Russia, cold weather is one of the very first things which comes to mind, right next to Putin, bears and vodka. While in most of the country this is largely exaggerated, there are places where it gets really frosty. Here’s everything you need to know about Oymyakon, the coldest inhabited place on Earth.
Oymyakon, a village in the Sakha Republic in Siberia, does get very brief summers: the average high temperature in July reaches 23°C (73°F) and the day lasts for about 21 hours. In winter, however, going into the minus fifties and minus sixties (around -58 to -90°F) is by no means out of the ordinary. It’s a temperature at which boiling water immediately turns into a cloud of snow, and a naked human freezes to death in less than a minute. Despite all that, the 500 inhabitants of Oymyakon manage to make those conditions hospitable.
At -60°C (-76°F), everything works differently. Battery life drops dramatically, cars don’t start, electronic equipment becomes useless. Mercury in thermometers freezes, most cars don’t start at all and the ones which do start need to be heated up with open flame torches. Ink in the pens freezes, and so do pipes unused for longer than five hours.
The gruelling weather conditions determine every aspect of the locals’ lives. With the vegetative period lasting no longer than two months, they are unable to grow any crops. The local diet consists mostly of horsemeat, fish and dairy products, complemented by berries gathered in the summer. The traditional dish that locals are proud of is stroganina: it consists of shavings of raw frozen fish. The fish for stroganina is frozen out in the open right after being caught, with the fisherman holding and readjusting it constantly so that it freezes in a position enabling the shaving of thin slices later.
One of the most difficult tasks faced by the locals is the burial of their dead. It is is a long and gruesome process, as the ground is permanently frozen. Digging a grave consists of thawing a thin layer of soil with bonfires, digging a shallow hole and lighting bonfires again to thaw a bit more soil. The process is repeated until the hole is deep enough to fit the coffin.
Despite such extreme conditions, or maybe because of them, Oymyakon is a popular tourist destination. Here you can experience cold like you have never felt before and then soak it off in the hot springs. It’s the place to fish in a river that never freezes (because the frozen soil pushes the water out from its very low layers), and to watch how domesticated animals adapt to the excruciating cold. So buckle up, put on all the layers you possibly can, and off you go to Oymyakon!