Yakutia (Russian: Яку́тия, yah-KOO-tee-yuh), also known as the Republic of Sakha, is located in the Russian Far East, and is notable for being the largest sub-national governing body by area. Yakutia covers an area of more than three million square kilometres, representing about eighteen (18%) percent of the Russian Federation, and making it roughly the size of India, despite having a population smaller than that of the US state of Rhode Island. The Republic's capital is Yakutsk.
Yakutia, or Sakha as it’s known to its indigenous locals, is named after the Yakut (Sakha) people who are remotely related to Turks. While most of Sakhas are, at least nominally, Orthodox Christians there are still many remnants of their ancient religion, Tengriism (a type of sun-worship with shamanistic practices). Other aspects of indigenous Sakha culture have recently started going through a revival.
Yakutsk and a couple of other towns have flights to other parts of Russia. Yakutsk has several flights a day to Moscow. Yakutsk also has international flights to Seoul and Beijing.
There are several options for arriving in Yakutia overland:
1. By road from Tynda in the south.
2. By road from Magadan in the east.
3. By boat along the River Lena from Ust Kut, or by driving on the ice in winter.
4. By extremely bad dirt track from Bodaybo (Irkutsk Province) - Olekminsk.
5. By boat (or by driving on the ice in winter) from Anyuysk (Bilibino District of Chukotka) to Cherskiy.
6. By ice road or snowmobile from Khatanga / Popigay / Novorybnaya / Syndassko (Taymyr Peninsula) to Yuryung-Khaya.
In summer there are 3 main dirt tracks in Yakutia:
1. From Tynda to Yakutsk
2. From Yakutsk to Udachniy
3. From Yakutsk to Magadan.
The rest of Yakutia, in summer, can only be accessed by flying or by river boat.
In winter, however, a network of zimniks (temporary winter roads on frozen river surfaces) opens up, providing access to many of Yakutia's most isolated regions.
Public transport on all these roads in almost non-existent and is mostly limited to shared taxis that depart when they have enough passengers.
Shamanic site at Lena Pillars
Lena River rock paintings
Sacred kisilyakh rock pillars
Kestyor gulag camp
Underground ice tunnels used for meat and fish storage in Yakutian villages
Colony of 1 million nesting birds (mostly gulls and guillemot on Preobrazheniya Island of Anabar District
Large walrus colony on Preopbrazheniya Island of Anabar District
Polar bears on Preobrazheniya Island of Anabar District
Kolyma Highway (Road of Bones). A 2200km dirt track leading from Yakutsk to the city of Magadan on the Pacific Ocean coast. It was built entirely by gulag concentration camp victims and built on their bones. Despite having a reputation for being a particularly hardcore road trip, it is now in extremely good condition, passable year round and is fairly easy.
Overland to Chukotka This is a SERIOUSY hardcore overland trip on one of Russia's hardest zimniks (a temporary winter road built on frozen river surfaces). This zimnik runs through some 2000km of Yakutia's wildest, remotest areas and ends up in Bilibino District of Chukotka. Warning: 1. Some of the Arctic regions it passes through are completely closed to outsiders. Getting a temporary access permit from Russia's security services takes 2 months minimum. Without it you will be deported and refused Russian visas in future. 2. The road is extremely dangerous, and should be attempted on nothing less than a vakhtovka all-terrain vehicle. Doing it by jeep (even for an experienced driver who knew the road well) would be extremely dangerous, as the road is rough, there is very little traffic and distances between villages can be up to 500km. Winter temperatures can easily hit -60 Centigrade.
Visit the permafrost museum in Yakutsk, laid out in underground tunnels hacked into the permafrost and containing ice sculptures of many of the Yakut gods and legends.
Visit the outdoor fish market in Yakutsk.
Visit ice sculpture parks in Yakutsk.
Visit indigenous Yakut horse herders near Sinsk village, Khangalas District
Visit mammoth graveyards in Verkhoyansk District
Visit extremely traditional nomadic Dolgan reindeer herders in Anabar District
Visit nomadic Evenki reindeer herders in Aldan District
Do a multi-day dog sledding trip on the River Lena, visiting Lena Pillars and Yakut horse herders on the way
Fish from the Yakutian Arctic. The best type is chir, which can easily be found on sale in Yakutsk. It can be eaten raw and slightly salted (malosolka) or raw, frozen and cut up into tiny cubes and served as a salad with salt, pepper and onion (indigirka).
Horse meat, considered the best type of meat among the Yakut, who are traditionally horse herders. It is usually cooked, although can also be eaten raw among horse herders when they are out in the forest. A pate can also be made from raw frozen horse liver mixed with garlic.
Yakutian blood sausage.
Yakutian oladushki pancakes, also used as the most common offering to spirits and gods.
Kumis, a mildly alcoholic drink made of fermented horse milk. Very popular but surprisingly hard to find, other than at special occasions.
Podlyodka, one of the better locally made vodkas.
Yakutia is the coldest inhabited part of the world. If you want to spend long periods of time outdoors in winter it is possible, but you will need to invest in some serious winter clothing, especially if you plan on taking part in activities such as dog sledding, snowmobiling and so on. -50 Centigrade can be a nightmare (and potentially dangerous) if you are not adequately dressed, or great fun if you come with the right clothing. Do plenty of research on what clothing you need and, if it is your first time in such extreme temperatures, make sure you are accompanied by someone more experienced.