Winter is really terrifying, if you happen to be living far away from the tropics. We’re talking of freezing temperatures below zero degrees. Yes, that kind of cold, the ones that tropical inhabitants can’t survive. However, winter or not, there’s a Siberian village in Russia, (you guessed it) the coldest country in the world, both literally (and metaphorically). The average temperature is less than 46 degrees below zero Celsius (50 degrees below zero Fahrenheit). Now that’s freezing. Dear friends, welcome to Oymyakon — probably the coldest town on Earth.
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Welcome To The Coldest Town On Earth
Oymyakon is a rural locality in Oymyakonsky District of the Sakha Republic, Russia, located along the Indigirka River, 30 kilometers (19 miles) northwest of Tomtor on the Kolyma Highway. It’s just a few hundred miles away from the Arctic Circle; and more than 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) deep in the heart of Siberia. It’s one of the coldest permanently inhabited settlements on Earth.
It’s utterly dark for up to 21 hours a day during the winter with extremely freezing cold temperatures. No wonder Oymyakon earn it’s title as the coldest place on Earth in 1933. But there’s a huge difference between the known facts and experiencing the real effects. Here’s what to expect if you visit Oymyakon.
First of all, the weather is so nasty that airplanes can’t land during the winter, and could take you a couple of days to arrive by road transport from Yakutsk — the nearest major city roughly 927 kilometers (576 miles) away. That’s just the daunting trip. You’re welcome.
Amos Chapple, a traveling photographer based in New Zealand who visited Oymyakon had this to say: “I shoot travel photos aimed at the news sections of papers and need a headline to hang a story on, [and] ‘The coldest place on Earth’ is pretty irresistible.”
Chapple traveled thousands of kilometers to reach this remote village tucked away in Siberia of roughly 500 inhabitants. Considering it’s extreme temperatures, its nothing for the faint of heart, yet people live here all year round. He found it really hard to speak to the locals, as they all were in a hurry to keep themselves busy from the cool. But a few who spoke with him warned him about the rampant alcoholism during the festive seasons. (More on Chapple later).
The Life At Oymyakon
The local inhabitants have adapted to their surroundings and devised some variety of survival tactics. First, you’d wonder what do they even eat. Their meals are almost carnivorous diets — reindeer meat and blood, as well as horse meat and blood, raw flesh shaven fish known as stroganina, a type of frozen fish cut into long thin slices. And a lot of times, its either frozen or uncooked. There’s no such thing as fresh vegetables in Oymyakon because you sure can’t grow anything in Siberia.
Second, in such freezing conditions, its pretty much impossible to dig up the soil for anything. Due to this, there is no plumbing available — sewage lines would easily freeze up. So most people use outhouses. But here’s the biggest catch: If you ever want to dig up a hole in the soil, you’d have to first light up a giant bonfire to heat up and soften the ground a few centimeters deep, dig it up, then light another one, and so on till you’re done.
Now imagine, if you have to bury the dead, it sounds like a pretty Big Deal. Thinking of it, that bonfire could even save you that hard work in cremating the body. Like seriously! Vehicles are kept in heated garages, or if kept outside, engines are left running all the time. Yes, you’d have to run your engine 24 hours, else the battery will die. But here’s what actually happens to you: Your eyelashes freeze over, your saliva turns into icicles in your mouth if you shut them up. So you always speak up.
Oymyakon use to be a way station for reindeer herders, but as the region grew rapidly in the mid-20th century, it soon became known as “Stalin’s Death Ring.” Oh yeah! If you’re a ruthless dictator, you better have cold place for your cold deeds. During the reign of Joseph Stalin, political dissidents were exiled to Oymyakon, together with Verkhoyansk, another cold town. No wonder this happened in Russia. (No offense!)
Dark Past, Darker Days, Darkest Times
Now back to Chapple’s visit. So how on Earth in the frost cold of Siberia was he able to take shots? Mmmm! Impossible! He would wander around with his jacket half open, trying to keep the camera warm against his body and drawing it out only when he had a shot. He also had to hold his breath when snapping frames, as the steam from his mouth would “swirl around like cigar smoke” and ruin the images.
“There was a lot to learn, it took several days to figure out some tricks to be able to keep working,” he said. “From the moment I left the hotel in the morning the temperature of the camera would begin to drop. Once the guts of the camera froze, that was it for the day.”
Chapple really had a harsh feel of Oymyakon. In his attempt to take a shot of the village’s overview, he had to climb a radio mast in the center of the village that swung 15 meters (50 feet) above ground. Unable to to the shot, he took off his gloves just to get a click. This is what happened as he recounts:
“I could then shoot with some dexterity but by the time I got down to the ground my thumb had frozen,” Chapple said. “I had to make a dash for my guesthouse with my hand shoved down my trousers. For the next two weeks the skin on that thumb peeled like some kind of terrible sunburn.”
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Tue, Apr 30, 2019.