Emblem of Tashtagol
( Герб Таштагола )
Flame, Frost and Flood
under Narrow Skies

огонь, вода и мороз
под низкими небесами

Русская версия находится здесь
Presented by:


Svetlana Davydova and Konstantin Yakovlev
( Светлана Давыдова и Константин Яковлев )
( USA , Maryland )
Impressions of :
Dec 26; Kemerovo
Dec 27; Kemerovo
Dec 28; Kemerovo
Dec 29; Road Kemerovo - Tashtagol
Dec 29; Our Tashtagol Residence
Dec 29; Tashtagol
Dec 30; Tashtagol
Dec 31; Sheregesh Ski Resort
Jan 1; Tashtagol
Jan 2; Tashtagol
          This site describes 2004/2005 New Year holidays we spent in Kuzbass: the region located in Southern Siberia. We stayed first 3 days ( Decemver 26th, 27th, 28th ) in the capital of Kuzbass: city of Kemerovo located on Tom river in the northern part of the region. On December 29th we moved to Tashtagol, the southernmost town of Kuzbass where we stayed 4 days more ( December 30th, 31st, January 1st, 2nd ) and had an unforgettable New Year party. We returned to Kemerovo on January 2nd night.



Here is the link to Kemerovo web-cam displaying Fountain Square with 10sec refresh:
Kemerovo web-cam

This site is an author project containing personal impressions only.
They do not necessarily meet the opinion of the officials and business owners of town of Tashtagol, city of Kemerovo and Region of Kuzbass.

Here are the links to formal sites:
Kuzbass Administration
City of Kemerovo
Business in Kuzbass

          Tashtagol ( about 30 thousand inhabitants ) is a town located in the very south of Kuzbass in 310km to the south from its capital: city of Kemerovo ( about 560 thousand inhabitants ) located on Tom river in 3482km from Moscow.
          There, in those mountains, there are some places where it is still possible to live hiding from the civilization for dozen of years. Thus, the family of Russian peasant Lykov who belonged to Russian Old Believer Orthodox Church hermited in the wilderness just in 150km south from the southernmost Kuzbass town of Tashtagol for more than 50 years ( to be precise, they resided not on the territory of Kuzbass, but on the territory of neighboring region of Khakasia ).
          The hermit Lykov family was uncovered in taiga in the end of 1970's. When uncovered, the hermits know nothing even about the World War II. They explained that they had fled the Communist regime and settled in the primitive mountain cabin almost never venturing outside it. The 60 years old Agafia Lykova, the last surviving member of that hermit family is still residing in her cabin in taiga although accepting some assistance providing by Kuzbass administration as well as leaving from time to time her residence to get the necessary medical help.
          Kuzbass or Kuznetsk Coal Basin ( the word Kuznetsk originates from Russian noun "kuznets" that means "a smith" ) is a home of about 3 millions inhabitants and located in Southern Siberia bordering Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan. It is the most populated, urbanized and industrial developed region of Siberia. Kuzbass is rich with natural resources; it possesses one of largest in the World stocks of coals and natural gas, deposits of iron, manganous, polymetallic and rare earths ores and also large stocks of bauxites and phosphorites.
          Kuzbass is the smallest Siberian region ( its area is about 95 thousand square kilometers ) though its territory exceeds such European countries as Switzerland, Austria, Portugal, Hungary as well as such USA states as Maryland, Indiana, South Carolina and West Virginia. Being a region focused on export, Kuzbass delivers in all economic regions of Russia, and also in 73 countries of the World products of heavy and chemical industry.
          The extent of Kuzbass from north to south is about 500km, from west to east about 300km.
          The region has been conquered and inhabited by Russians in the beginning of XVII century.
          The northern part of Kuzbass is mostly plain, while from the south Kuzbass is bordered by almost impassable ridges of wild Altai mountains.
          One of problems of Kuzbass is its ecology. The numerous industrial facilities have essential polluting effect on its atmosphere. Besides that, the spacecrafts launching from Russian space center "Baikonur" in Kazakhstan pass above Southern Siberia during the launch what doesn't help the improvement of the ecological situation in region. A friend of mine told me that he used to find the parts of spacecrafts in Altai mountains.
          Geographically, Kuzbass is located nearby the center of Eurasian continent and, thus, is one of the most distant from the seas corners of the world. The distance to nearest cold sea ( Kara Sea ) exceeds 2000km while the distance to nearest warm sea ( Black Sea ) exceeds 4500km.
          The climate of Kuzbass is severe continental: the winter is cold and long, the summer is warm and short. The average temperature of January is -19C ( -2F ), the average temperature of July is +19C ( +66F ). The average year temperature varies from -1C to +1C ( about +32F ). In the coldest times of the year the trees sometimes blow out with a loud sound reminding the explosion because the water completely freezes in their inside.
          The average population of Kuzbass is about 30 inhabitants for square kilometer what is approximately equal to average population of the United States, while the average population of Asian part of Russia varies from 2 to 3 inhabitants for square kilometer and the average population of European part of Russia varies from 26 to 27 inhabitants for square kilometer.
          Kuzbass is mostly inhabited with Russians ( 91-92% ), while in the southernmost part of the region there are some groups of Shors and Teleuts: the aborigines of Southern Siberia who lived there before Russians came. Shors are the small nation belonging to Turkic language group. Their traditional belief was the shamanism although in the process of conquering of the region by Russians they were forced to formally accept the Christianity.
          Kuzbass is located in 7th Time Zone ( along with Bangkok, Hanoi, Jakarta ). The time difference between Kuzbass and Moscow is +4h, while the time difference between Kuzbass and Eastern USA is +12h.

Kemerovo; December 26th

          Located in the Northern part of Kuzbass on Tom river, Kemerovo is a home of more than half of million inhabitants.
          What really surprised me in Kemerovo airport was how tightly the airport stuff was watching the passengers to pick their own luggage only. I guess the cases when somebody was taking something belonging not to him were not very rare there...
          The temperature in Kemerovo was -27..-30C ( -17..-22F ), but my friends provided me with the real mink hat, gloves made from the dogs down, and lately with the felt boots, so the three days ( December 26th, 27th and 28th ) filled up with exploring of sights of city and vicinity as well as breathtaking sights of real taiga passed so quickly that we almost didn't notice them...
Kemerovo; December 27th

Kemerovo; December 28th

Road Kemerovo - Tashtagol; December 29th

          Our trip from Kemerovo to Tashtagol, the southernmost town of Kuzbass, started in the early morning on December 29. We decided to take a private driver because the trip by a public bus or train promised from seven to eight hours of inconvenience, while the service offered by city taxi seemed to be too unreliable.
          The amount equivalent to 100 USD let us easily agree with one of private drivers offering their service next to city railroad station. He promised to deliver us to Tashtagol for 4-5 hours of relative comfort. It seemed the driving was the only income of that man owning a Toyota with automatic transmission and right steering wheel that causes him a lot of inconveniences in the conditions of Russian right-hand traffic.
          It was agreed that our way from Kemerovo to Tashtagol will pass through Novokuznetsk, the largest Kuzbass city ( about 650 thousand inhabitants ), where our driver transfers us to another one who delivers us to our destination, the town of Tashtagol. Alas, our second car was not a Toyota, but it was an extremely worn Soviet-made "Volga", driver of which was in need to leave the car and apply a hammer every time it was necessary to operate the locks of passenger doors. Nevertheless, he turned out to be much more social than our previous driver, and told us that he was a Shor aborigine ( the representative of a nationality that lived in Southern Siberia before Russians came ) and complained that in the present time the national identity of Shor people is mostly lost, and all Shor culture is being supported by exclusively Russian organizations and studios not meeting the desire of Shor aborigines to be involved in process of support of their traditional culture and religion.
          Telling about the trip from Kemerovo to Tashtagol, it is a good time to draw attention to the popular opinion that the Russian roads are featured with exremely poor quality. Well, I made more than 300km trip across Southern Siberia and I can say that it is a myth. Thus, the road connecting Kemerovo and Novokuznetsk is an ordinary divided freeway with multilevel intersections and from two to three lanes in each direction. Such road could have a status of Interstate Highway in the USA. Regarding the road connecting Novokuznetsk and Tashtagol, I can assure that it is a route with satisfactory pavement and a lane in each direction. Such road could have a status of State Road somewhere in the USA.
          The only thing that differs Russian roads from American roads is the poor infrastructure along roads in Russia ( there are much less point to get the gas, to rest, to eat and to drink than in America ).
          Due to the kindness of our Shor driver, we have the nice pictures of Novokuznetsk - Tashtagol road as well as breathtaking surrounding landscapes. While we proceded in the southern direction, the plains of northern Kuzbass replaced with more and more mountain landscapes. Approximately in one hour before the end of our trip we entered the real highland -- Mountain Shoria. In the environment of mountains and hills the capital Mountain Shoria, the southernmost city of Kuzbass - Tashtagol, had appeared.
          All way from Kemerovo to Tashtagol ( with change in Novokuznetsk and stops for photographing ) took about five hours. However, since the winter days are short in that area, it is getting dark rather early. So, we arrived to Tashtagol almost when the darkness fell. While we were looking for the people with whom it was previously agreed about one-bedroom apartment for four nights ( it cost us about 10 USD per night ) and moved-in to our new Tashtagol "residence", it became dark.
Our Tashtagol Residence; December 29th

          Our Tashtagol residence represented a one-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor of five-floor building made from the red brick. Looking pretty cozy after staying on -30C ( -22F ) frost, this apartment nevertheless drew our attention with a whole set of strange features : the sink was absent in the bathroom ( and, therefore, the only sink was in the kitchen ), the fridge was not working ( while we were supposed to keep the food in the special cell located underneath the window and connected with the outside with a hole in the wall ), and the electrical kitchen stove was heating so slowly that we got tired to wait until it would be hot enough to boil the water.
Tashtagol; December 29th

          Our very first Tashtagol impression was the weird feeling of the lack of space around. It was some strange feeling of narrowness of the environment. The feeling of pressing proximity of the skies. Or it was the feeling of transcendental pressure coming from somewhere above; feeling of strange pressure that was preventing from standing in full height. Presumably, it was a combined factor. May be, it was the effect of the mountains and hills tightly surrounding the town. May be, it was the affection of cold air ( -27..-30C, -17..-22F ). Or may be, it was the influence of smack of pollution exhausted by industrial facilities located nearby. But, may be, it was the feeling of back of beyond where the sky merges with the earth and, therefore, can easily hit one's head.

          This feeling was accompanying us when we ventured to experience the cuisine of "Altyn-Yurt" ( being translated from Shor language, it means "Golden House" ) -- the only restaurant in Tashtagol pretending to treat the clients to the national Shor meal.
          Actually, the last days of December are the time of corporate parties in Russia. The colleagues book restaurants to have fun and to celebrate the end of year in the informal environment. That was the event we encountered in "Altyn-Yurt". It is the usual practice that only the ticketed persons are admitted to the booked restaurants. However, the stuff of the restaurant appeared to be very nice people, so we were admitted and seated apart from the celebrating group.
          The interior of "Altyn-Yurt" looked quite usual for a restaurant in a small Kuzbass town: wooden finish of furniture, doors and walls was accompanied with a bear skin. The poster located above this skin was saying that the restaurant is a non-smoking place. Apparently, it was a hint on what could happen to those who dare to smoke in the restaurant.
          As far as the menu was concerned, the choice was really exciting: more than one thousand items of Russian and Shor national cuisine were listed there !

          After we spent about fifteen minutes studying that list of masterpieces of local gastronomy, the waitress came up. To our surprise her badge was saying that she held a manager position. May be it was a usual practice in Tashtagol to combine the duties of waitress with the duties of administrator...
          As an evidence of high level of service in the restaurant, "Administrator the Waitress" told us that they always prepare the meal while the clients are waiting, but never serves refrigerated or kept any other way meal...
          Being pretty impressed by such level of service as well as the variety of choice, we ordered a lot of different dishes that attracted us with their exotic names. However, we were instantly discouraged by the statement that none of ordered items were available. The more so, the waitress explained that it is never physically possible to have all items listed in the menu available. Well, leaving open the question what was the purpose of our fifteen minutes studying of the menu, we kindly inquired what was actually available in the restaurant. "No soup and no meat" was the answer. Well, what they actually could offer was only the salads as well as Russian and Shor tortellini only.
          Since we had no choice, we ventured to order what was offered: Shor tortellini and the salad. By the way, to honor of the restaurant, everything appeared rather tolerable though not so exotic as we expected.
          Ordering the wine, we encountered one more surprise. To order a bottle of wine we were supposed to go to the bar, make our choice there, and then return to our table and wait until they bring the ordered drink.
          Such dinner cost about 30 USD for two persons while no gratitude is usually envisaged in Siberian restaurants.

          So, the low skies and the dinner in Shor restaurant were the main impressions of our first Tashtagol day. And there were still four Tashtagol days ahead: 30th and 31st of December as well as 1st and 2nd of January. The departure to Kemerovo was scheduled for the afternoon of 2nd of January.
Tashtagol; December 30th

          The morning of the new day, 30th of December, were marked by the real fireworks. It took place in our kitchen and was formed from the sparks of the melted metal.
          It turned out that it is extremely simple to make such a kitchen firework.
          I just went to the kitchen to boil the water on the electric stove, turned one switch, and in the following moment I heard a loud sneezing sound coming from the back of the stove ( as somebody had sneezed there ), and, a single moment later, a bright shower of sparks of melted metal came out from the back of the stove and scattered over the floor. In the next moment I clearly felt the smell of burnt wires ( no images of that, since in that moment the photographing was the last thing I was thinking of... ). With God's help, I trampled out the brightest sparks of the metal while the rest ones went out themselves. The fire was fortunately prevented, but it was beyond my ability to return to the life the stove that marked its decease by such spectacular show...
          The technician called by apartment owner had failed to repair it also. Nevertheless, instead of bringing the stove to the life, we were provided with a small electrically powered plate that worked autonomous from the wall outlet. Well, this plate didn't produce any fireworks, but let us prepare tolerable meal.
          But then, in the morning of December 30th, after the unsuccessful attempt to prepare the breakfast at home we decided to go to a restaurant again. Since we were kind of sick of "Altyn-Yurt" with its menu full of unrealistic dishes, we decided to try another restaurant named "Non-Stop" that was located just next to our building, but not in a few block as "Altyn-Yurt" was. However, this attempt was unsuccessful too: the restaurant was booked for another corporate party while the managers in "Non-Stop" were not as polite as the managers in "Altyn-Yurt" and we were not admitted. That's why we had no choice but return to "Altyn-Yurt".
          Actually, the surprised faces of "Altyn-Yurt" waitresses ( who were simultaneously the managers ) clearly showed that they didn't expect to see us there again. Since the weather outside had nothing to do with the summer ( it was about -25C, or -13F ) and we spent enough time exploring the town and vicinities, we didn't waste more time studying the list of unreal meals but asked directly for the available food and started our dinner from the hot tea with warm Armenian cognac. Both these things helped: we felt we started to melt down as well as the appetite appeared. Regarding the meal, the fish soap and chicken filet with mashed potato was also a good surprise.
          Before we leave the hospitable "Altyn-Yurt" we ordered a table for New Year Party as well as we made a preliminary order of some exotic meals including something named "Shor julienne". It is necessarily to note that this time we were the only guests in the restaurant. Only when leaving the restaurant we encountered another couple.

          Another amazing thing we encountered in Tashtagol food stores. Despite of absence of such ordinary goods as potato and vegetables ( because everybody in the town had their own locally grown ones ), such delicates as caviar, salami as well as expensive hard drinks were present plentifully.

          The following are the images we made wandering over the town:
Ski Resort; December 31st

          The day of December 31st we started from the trip to a ski mountain resort located in a half-of-hour driving from Tashtagol.

          Here is a good place to mention the plenty of private drivers offering their service on Tashtagol streets. Usually ( of course, if you have money ), it was easily to take a private driver than to look for a taxi or to await the public bus. That's why we used to take a private driver each time we needed to get somewhere inside Tashtagol or around the town. The income of people in Tashtagol is very low, so for many of them the driving is a good support.

          Despite my expectations based on the popular belief in bad conditions of ski resorts in Russia, what we encountered looked rather good and civil. Besides that, there was a pretty good infrastructure there: cafe, locker rooms, rental shops, gift shops and hotels. One of cafes was located right on top of the mountain.
          Although there were no machines for making the artificial snow, there was actually no need to have them in Siberia.
          Regarding the system of admission to ski lifts, it was organized quite reasonable. First, you obtain a plastic card and deposit some money. When you board the ski lift, the gate automatically withdraws the proper amount from your card. The card is valid for a few days. Unused money can be cashed at any time. So, you pay for the number of rides, but not for the total time ( may be, spent in the line to ski lift ). The price of one ride was also very acceptable: about one and half USD.
          Perhaps, the only lack was the absence of lights. That's why the resort was open till sunset only.
          Regarding the hotel prices, they appeared unexpectedly high: about 100 USD per night and higher.
          However, the thing that I really disliked was the number of unsober people skiing at the resort. The more so, such "skiing under the influence" appeared to be the subject of complete indulgence of the resort administration. Another drawback was the ugly restroom: the only public restroom for the whole resort...

          The following are the images we made skiing:

          Full of adventures experienced on the ski resort, we took a rest, and by 10PM, December 31st, we were again in our familiar "Altyn-Yurt" ready for New Year Party.
          To our great surprise, this time the tables were served exactly with what was ordered.

          Another surprise was the place of manufacturing of the champagne that we had on our table. The label said it was Russia, the town of Beslan. Yes, yes... It was exactly that notoriously known Russian town experienced the horrifying school siege in September of 2004. The word saying "Beslan" is marked on the image. Actually, we didn't expect to see such a reminder celebrating the New Year...

          Meanwhile, the costume show began.

          Firstly, in accordance with Russian tradition, we were thrice supposed to call Grandfather the Frost ( Russian analog of Santa Claus ) and Snowgirl ( who is considered to be his granddaughter ). Well, they came dressed as ordinary Grandfather the Frost and Snowgirl though one little girl in the restaurant happily exclaimed : "Wow! Grandmother is here!". Perhaps, she recognized her own grandmother in that "Snowgirl"...

          The second part of the show was the story about a Shor hunter who hunted in the winter taiga constantly encountering the obstacles made by a monkey: symbol of expiring year. He was complaining that all traps he prepared for the animals had been broken, all marks he left on the trees not to lose his way in taiga had been erased, etc, etc. Eventually that poor guy got too tired of monkey's diversions and fell asleep in the forest watching the dreams. Nobody informed us whether he ever awaked or just died because of the frost, but his dreams showed a band of nice Shor girls performing the national songs accompanying with a shaman drum...

          Later, when the time approached the midnight, everybody was called to go outside to execute a shaman rite. There were two fires outside: the first was a "bad" one, and the second was a "good" one.
          Everybody was supposed to take a black ribbon and make three knots on it. We were explained that the first knot means illness and the second knot means misfortune. No definite explanations regarding the third knot had followed, but everybody made this knot just in case also.

          According to the rite, in a few minutes before the midnight everybody had to throw the black ribbon into the "bad" fire eliminating all three things straightway: illness, misfortune and nobody knew what.
          The next step was feeding the spirit of "good" fire. Everybody was expected to take a special cookie ( it was like a ball about 1cm in diameter and made from I didn't recognize what ) and bite off a little piece of it. The main part of the cookie had to go to the fire as a food for a "good" spirit while the little piece was supposed to be eaten.
          All ceremony was accompanied by shaman dances and music performed on a drum.

          Of course, we understood that the show was prepared and performed not by real Shors ( who, as we already knew, didn't care about their cultural heritage ), but by the members of a Russian studio. However, we just had fun...

          Meanwhile, the midnight approached.

          In the exact moment of the midnight the new character appeared on the roof of the restaurant. It was a guy dressed in the costume of a cock. He declared the beginning of the New Year. At that moment the spectacular firework started.

          Chilled really through, but joyful, everybody was invited to get inside the restaurant again where the eating, drinking and dancing continued the party.

          Well, everything has the end. But when everything was looking to be going to a rather ordinary end, the fate prepared the really expressive final for that unforgettable night.

          It was the flood !

          The whole streams of water have rushed unexpectedly from the ceiling. The water-pipes had broken somewhere above, and the streams rushed to flood everything around.

          The restaurant employees ( waitresses, managers... who cared?.. ) rushed to bring the containers to collect the water coming from the ceiling as well as the brushes to collect the water from the floor. Many were dressed nicely. Nevertheless, somebody was helping under the streams. Somebody was eating under the streams. Somebody was drinking under the streams. Somebody was dancing under the streams. The water was coming. Everybody was happy. Ultimate fun.
          Partially wet, partially sweat and partially dirty we left the hospitable "Altyn-Yurt" about 1AM. Walking home, we noticed a crowd around the Christmas Tree located on the square not far from our building. We believe it was the largest Christmas Tree in Tashtagol, and we guess all residents of the town who was not still in "Altyn-Yurt" was on that square. At least, we encountered the owner of the apartment we rented...
Tashtagol; January 1st

          The next day, on the 1st of January, the city looked deserted.
          A very few people on the streets, a very few open stores. There was the problem even to buy a newspaper.
          Nevertheless, I had successfully withdrawn some cash in ATM. There were two or three ATMs in the town. They accepted my VISA credit card issued by American bank located on the opposite side of the World. They worked fine though the fee of $2 was applied to each transaction.
          So, it was actually nothing to do in the town on the first day of New Year. We just wandered about, recollected our yesterday's adventures and made images. Our try to get to the museum of Shor national culture was unsuccessful. It was closed in observation of New Year holiday. By the way, it was closed on January 2nd too, but that time because it was Sunday.

          Here are the images of "deserted" town we made on the first day of 2005 :

Yes... It looks like everybody was very celebrating the New Year night...

Tashtagol; January 2nd

          Leaving Tashtagol on January 2nd we decided not to take a private driver to Kemerovo, but travel by the public bus since we were still eager to experience as many features of local service as it was possible. For the same purposes, we decided not to take a private driver even to get to the bus station, but order the taxi in advance. The lady who took our order affirmed that the taxi will come on time, and the driver will call us in twenty minutes before he comes.
          Being really encouraged with the service that looked so reliable, we patiently waited for the taxi.
          Nobody called us in 20 minutes before the agreed time.
          Nobody called us in 15 minutes before the agreed time.
          Nobody called us in 10 minutes before the agreed time.
          Nobody called us in 5 minutes before the agreed time.
          Nobody called us in the agreed time.
          We went to the street and revealed no taxi there.
          Nothing appeared in 5 minutes after the agreed time.
          Nothing appeared in 10 minutes after the agreed time.
          Nothing appeared in 15 after the agreed time.
          We tried to call the taxi company, but nobody replied this time.
          We realized that we were missing our bus !
          Fortunately, the help came from the owner of our apartment. She generously called her friend who promptly appeared with his private car and gave us a ride to the bus station where we arrived just in the last moment: the bus was about to leave...
          Actually, it was our last Tashtagol adventure. Nothing worth the description happened on our trip from Tashtagol to Kemerovo. It took 8 hours with one half-of-hour stop in Novokuznetsk where we had a fair lunch in a restaurant located next to the bus station.

          Thank you ! See you later, Tashtagol !

This poster is saying: "Along with the town of our love... In the new centure"


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Back to impressions of :
Dec 26; Kemerovo
Dec 27; Kemerovo
Dec 28; Kemerovo
Dec 29; Road Kemerovo - Tashtagol
Dec 29; Our Tashtagol Residence
Dec 29; Tashtagol
Dec 30; Tashtagol
Dec 31; Sheregesh Ski Resort
Jan 1; Tashtagol
Jan 2; Tashtagol