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article imageHolidays That Make You Suffer

By Stefan Voss     May 12, 2001 in Lifestyle
MOSCOW (dpa) - To Russian lovers of extreme sports, the Paris-Dakar rally might seem a comfortable alternative to what they have to offer.
Once a year motoring fanatics hold a two-week race in the icy depths of Siberia to Oimyakon, where winter frosts of minus 68 degrees Centigrade make it the coldest place on Earth.
"Test your limits," urges the tourist association in East Siberia as it advertises the event to allcomers.
For those seeking wild vacation experiences a range of opportunities in the vast playground of post-Soviet Russia will assure they get their money's worth.
Sparse comfort, a semi-frozen nose and a coveted glimpse of the top of the world is the package offered by Moscow-based organizers of tours to the North Pole.
Every April a group flies from the capital via relay points in northern Siberia and the Arctic islands in the Kara Sea to a Russian Polar base. From there team members make the final 100 kilometres stretch to the North Pole on skis. That stage of the trip lasts seven days and participants are whisked back by helicopter.
Those in a hurry can fly direct to the North Pole, landing on specially prepared ice strips. Once there, the intrepid heroes are awarded a souvenir certificate to show the folks back home. The trip costs a minimum of 1,500 U.S. dollars, excluding visa and travel costs to Moscow.
If that seems too tame, it is possible to make a parachute jump onto the Pole. And because the organizers heard that rich travellers like a round of golf, a Polar golf tournament is also in preparation. Needless to say the balls are coloured.
And the Polar trips are literally just the tip of the iceberg of the range of adventure sport possible in Russia, travel operators point out.
"Russia is still very underrated as a destination for adventure holidays," tour operator Alexander Smychkovich said at a recent travel fair in Moscow.
The mountainous Urals region or the vast reaches of Siberia through to Lake Baikal and the Russian Far East may offer little in the way of comfort for the traveller, but compensate with much untouched natural beauty, clean rivers and an astonishing variety of wildlife.
The traditional tourist destinations of Moscow and St. Petersburg and steamer trips down the Volga river continue to draw the crowds in what industry pundits hope will grow into a springboard effect.
"Those who have seen the Kremlin in Moscow and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg one year may decide to travel further to Siberia the next," says Smychkovich.
The process of making contact with the Russian tour operators can also be an adventure in itself. Few Western companies offer reindeer-drawn sleigh expeditions in the Siberian republic of Sakha (Yakutia) in Siberia, ice-sailing holidays on Lake Baikal or bear hunting in the taiga forests.
But the number of Russian firms with English-language webpages continues to grow as operators try to meet the craving in the West for a taste of the few genuinely wild frontiers left in the world.
A survival training course in Siberia will be remembered by one German tourist for a long time to come. After being set down in the wilderness the man managed to burn down his log cabin on the first day and used his entire stock of rifle cartridges in a fruitless hunting foray, Russian newspapers reported.
When a helicopter arrived a few days later as arranged to pick him up, the crew found him half-starved and hiding up a tree in fear of marauding bears.
In the Magadan region in the Far East, the barren expanses are now also drawing adventurers with a keen interest in the grimmer chapters of modern Russian history.
In this huge area 6,000 kilometres east of Moscow, the rotting Gulag labour camps built by victims of Stalin's wave of terror are now open to visitors for inspection.
More about Moscow, Russia, Sports, Rally, North pole
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