Trip to Arshan

September 20, 2011


This past weekend, we as a group traveled to Arshan, a small town four hours to the west of Irkutsk, in the Buryatia Republic. The area is famous for the healthfulness of its spring water, which seems to spout out of the ground just about everywhere. After arriving in mid-afternoon on Saturday, we quickly found ourselves a place to stay with a local couple (our coordinator Will is a great haggler. We paid 380 rubles ($12) per person; the Russians next door paid 400).

The house where we stayed. The banya and outhouses are separate, and there is no running water.

Rid of our things, we spent the next few hours scoping out the town, rummaging our way through the stalls selling cashmere sweaters and pine seeds and making our way to a Buddhist monastery just about a kilometer away. Set in the plains directly below white-capped mountains, it seemed a perfect place for religious study and retreat while the sun was shining and the trees on the mountainsides turned a deep fiery yellow. With no electricity and no running water to be found, however, spending a Siberian winter there seemed to be a true test of ones’ will.

We returned to Arshan hungry, and ordered ourselves pozy, a type of large, meat-filled dumpling that gushes surprisingly large amounts of liquid onto your plate with the first bite. They say that Arshan has the best pozy around, but I can’t claim to have noticed a significant difference from those that we ate on Lake Baikal.

Ben at the water pump with our buckets.

When we came back to our rented home, we three students took a short nap, only to be woken up by the hostess and handed empty metal buckets. With our eyes still drooping, we listened to her explain that, if we wanted to use the banya (sauna) tonight, we had to get the water ourselves. With that, Ben, Mark and I spent the next hour our so lugging dozens of gallons of water from the pump on the main road (Mark, with a five-gallon container on wheels, undoubtedly hauled much more than we by volume).

Around this time, Will and his girlfriend Nona came back with beef, and with the water successfully transported we began to prepare shashlyki, traditional Russia shish kabob. I do have to say that by “we,” I really do mean Nona; she cut and prepared all of the meat while Will figured out the grill. That is not to say I did nothing; twenty minutes of slicing and preparing raw onion had me bawling like I was watching the end of Titanic.

The meal was delicious, and made better by the time in the banya. Having spent a number of minutes in the dry heat and with sweat dripping off of our noses and fingertips, we each took turns running out into the Siberian night and dumping a bucket of the frigid water we had carried from the pump over our heads. An icy shock to the system, to be sure, but a great feeling. Once we were dry, we turned in for bed.

The next day was spent hiking through the mountains in search of the areas many waterfalls. Despite this being the highlight of the trip, I find it hard to come up with words to describe how beautiful the land there is. Thank goodness I took pictures.

What I can say, though, is that from the lookout points along our way up, and from the tops of the waterfalls, I was reminded of one of the reasons I chose to come all the way out to Siberia.

The land is vast, and unlike the Midwestern plains that I call home, the majority of it is untouched by human hands. The grandeur of the views are stunning in their sheer immensity, and with the steep mountains alight with fall, I found myself feeling as though I had landed in some deviant American landscape, where the Rocky Mountains and Vermont exist in one and the same place. This, the Buddhist monastery, the Asiatic Buryat locals whistling to each other at the market stands: this is the Russia that we don’t hear about in America.

Other milestones that I feel I have accomplished: When my Czech language teacher asked if I could record myself reading a section of a book in English, I felt, for the first time, that my native language is a scarce resource. For those of you who have never felt like your ability to speak was worth anything to anyone, it feels really nice, especially when most days are spent struggling with new, unfamiliar words. Also I have read Pushkin and Gogol in the original.



8 Responses to “Trip to Arshan”

  1. HOLLAmasta5000 said


  2. HOLLAmasta5000 said

    hahahahaha Nate if u give away my identity, how will we spy on these dirty dirty Russians?

  3. Charles said

    When I saw all of the pictures on Facebook, I thought to myself how strikingly similar the landscape of this area of Siberia is to where I call home in Southwest Montana. The colors are a bit more yellow, possibly, and the grass looks a bit less lush, but I could easily be fooled if you had labelled them Montana instead! Haha. And more power to you for the buckets of cold water. I once tried a cold immersion pool, post-spa, and just about came unglued within myself. Looking forward to your next post, as always.

    • nateinsiberia said

      Yes I agree, that part of Montana is the perfect aesthetic (and geographic) middle ground between the soaring Rockies and the green expanse of Vermont. Glad to see you’re keeping up with my and the others’ adventures here on the blog, Charles! Thanks for the support!

  4. BKingstone said

    I look so out of place with my buckets there.

  5. Kathleen Miller said

    Stay safe and warm, my friend, You have a lot to accomplish! Miller

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