From Kultuk via Kyren to Munku Sardyk and into the valley of Oka

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Photo: Thomas Heidbüchel

Coming from Irkutsk or Ulan-Ude on the M 53, one branches off in the village Kultuk. The road leads to the Russian-Mongolian frontier town Mondy, which is 204 km away. The road is mostly asphalted. Even the sections in the vicinity of Mondy, which were strongly destructed during the flood in 2003, are repaired again.
Already after 18km one reaches the town Bystroe which is famous for its Lazurith deposits. The mineral deposits, which were discovered already in 1784 in the river Malaya Bystraya, are only interesting for leisure mineralogist today.

After 44km one reaches the entrance of the Tunka National Park, which was founded only in 1991. The continuation of the travel is easy for Russians, because they only have to pay few roubles for the national park fee. Foreigners are normally charged more. Up to 5 USD per day are quite usual. Those who come by car or by bike can pretend not to understand anything. If you are convincing, you get away with that. Otherwise you may try to bargain.
Two kilometres further on, the street branches off to Arshan. The turn-off is directly situated at the last reasonable gas station in the region.

4Wheel Drive
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Photo: Thomas Heidbüchel

31 km from that point you come to Kyren. The locality is the national park administration´s headquarter and at the same time the regional administration centre for approximately 6000 inhabitants. Famous and worth of visiting is a temple of the Buryats in the valley of Tunka. Furthermore, one has the opportunity to go grocery shopping one more time. The population almost consists only of Burytas and this way one really has the feeling of being almost in Mongolia.
After further 32km the street branches off into the health resort Nilova Pustyn. Shortly afterwards one passes the little village of Turan, where in its centre, an over life-sized hammer and sickle still tell stories of a former era.

A little bit later, you are passing a marvellous gorge. The newly built road, however, shows the power of the Irkut during thaw. During spring 2003, large parts of the road and the bridge were almost completely washed away. Mondy itself is a pretty idyllically situated frontier village. The gas station, however, only exceptionally offers petrol with more than 72 octanes. The journey ends here for foreigners, because the checkpoint is unfortunately only open for Russians and Mongolians. The only opportunity to have a look at the small brother (Russian view) or the mother of Lake Baikal (as the Mongolians claim) is to climb one of the peaks, which emerge on the horizon.

A turn-off of the road follows the river Irkut up to Orlik from here, which is situated another 156 km away Mondy. Under dry road conditions, the gravel road actually is pretty well for driving, even if one is not able to move faster than 20-50 km/h.
In return, you are offered breathtaking views on the snow covered peaks of the Eastern Sayan Mountian Range and of course up to its highest peak, the 3491m high Munku Sardyk, which is partly covered with glaciers. Directly at the mouth of the Byeli Irkut, you reach a GPS police station. Here is also an ideal starting point to climb the Munku Sardyk, especially in April/May when the river is still frozen.

Directly by the river as well as a few meters from the street, there are several Buddhist sacrificial places. Orlik itself is a godforsaken little place into which foreigners rarely come, although the place is a starting point for several very interesting excursions (Pik Topographov, volcanic lakes etc.). The valley is surrounded by mountain ranges from all sides. Their peaks rise more than 1000m above the valley and remind the globetrotter a little bit of Tibet.

For Buryats, this valley has a completely different mystic meaning. The area is also called Geser country, because the stories about their national hero of the epos Geser have their origins here.


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19 Mar 2006

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