Manpupuner – at the Europe-Asia Border high in the Urals





We rented a VW Tiguan 4×4 from Avis at Moscow Domodedovo Airport and drove on a slightly northern route 3.000 km towards the Ural …


… crossing from the European to the Asian continent at this monument between Perm and Ivdel. The end of the road, Vizhay, is a ghost town, ever since the apocalyptic wildfires that destroyed many Russian forests and villages in 2010. Only 3 houses have been rebuilt, without running water or permanent electricity. They now serve as a base camp for Ural expeditions.




Entrance to the Base Camp


Inside the Base Camp with the shy babushka owner


The dormitory on the first floor


A wall map gives details of Sverdlovsk Oblast and the track ahead of us (approximate markings as of Ivdel are mine)


My German buddy Michi (right) and me (left), both in red jackets: the calm before the storm.


Our Russian friend Misha (left, ex-paratrooper, North Pole pioneer, operator of Road Trips Across Russia ) and our local guide Vadim (right).


First challenge:



a river crossing (all other rivers further north were frozen)


After 40 km on a wide forest road, the next ghost town, Uxma (sign on the right), a former Gulag.


Uxma is still inhabited by 2 or 3 native Mansi people. The so-called northern tribes get good protection and support from Putin’s central government. Nevertheless, Vadim dropped some supplies for them, as he requires their help from time to time.


Michi, a professional foto artist, taking pictures of some of the burnt-down houses in Uxma


After a total of 80 km on the first day, we reached a lonely hut, that is occasionally frequented by the local Mansi – and travellers like us. Every passer-by cuts wood to feed the stove and takes water from the river (after hitting a hole in the ice). Winter 2015 was warm in Russia. We had -20 °C on one night, but around 0 °C during most of the days in late March.


Carrying all our supplies with us on 3 trailers, including 300 liters of petrol


Snowmobiling can be quite a strenuous activity


Our team sleeping inside the hut


The next morning we were greeted by beautiful weather again.


After 20 km …


… we reached a small Mansi outpost …


… and were introduced to their traditional village life.


Three generations of Mansi …


… hunting …


… fur tanning …


— dog breeding …


… and ski building.




The track then led us onto a sacred Mansi lake …


… where Russians nevertheless drive with offroad vehicles from the Khantiy-Mansiysk side …


… and practice ice fishing …


… with visible success …


… today’s tourist special:


… pike !


Our only encounters en-route: two hunter-snowmobilers from Yekaterinburg …


… and one brave musher from Tolyatti with his 8 beautiful malamute sled dogs.


Riding high-speed on the long icy rivers between the sacred lake and the mountains was the most joyful part of the trip



Conditions became more alpine and challenging towards the end of day 2 and another 120 km …


… where we crossed the Asian-European border line (again). There is also a nearby marker for the source of the Pechora River.


We were quite exhausted …


… when we finally reached the lonely hut on top of Mount Otorten …


… and thoroughly enjoyed the view …



… next to the 7 giants of Manpupuner.


These rock formations of up to 42 m height have been elected by Russians as one of their 7 world wonders and are affectionately called “Pupy” (navel). This place is undoubtedly an energetic navel of the world. With my knowledge of Turkic languages I would translate it as Man (mankind) – Pupu (birth) – Nyer (place).


Since Stefan Glowacz climbed at least one of the rock formations in 2013 (the rocks are sacred to the Mansi people), there is a permanent 2-staff security guard in the hut. The guards are of the Komi tribe, but cannot easily be distinguished from ethnic Russians. Because no visitor permits are issued in winter, we had to fill out a big bureaucratic “straf” form and pay ca. US$ 50 per head for entering Komi Republic’s Pechora reserve illegally (from Sverdlovsk Oblast via Khantiy-Mansiysk Okrug), however we were treated as friendly overnight guests anyway. A reasonable arrangement to appease the local Mansi feelings and still allow for visitors (in winter from the non-Komi, the Sverdlovsk side only). In summer, Manpupuner can be reached from the Komi side (Troitsko-Pechorsk) in a combination of truck (60 km), boat (200 km) and trekking (40 km).

Our trip took 4 days and nights for ca. 400 km. Men of steel can possibly get it done in 3 days.


The glory of Manpupuner in the morning



To visit the Dyatlov Pass (Foto with memorial plaque to tour leader Igor Dyatlov: RBTH), the Mansi call it “Dead Mountain”, would have been a detour of another 2 x 20 km (no through-road in winter!), but we had rather enough of the not so gentleman-like snowmobile sound, fumes and the endless wobbly riding.


Finnish-American propaganda movie maker Renny Harlin (Born American, Die Hard, Cliffhanger, Five Days of War in South Ossetia, ….) had released a film about the mysterious Dyatlov Pass incident in 2013 . The whole area is shrouded in mystery similar to Area 51 in the USA (probably for the same reason: military secrecy).


The Ural mountains, including their unofficial capital Perm (pictured here; Europe’s easternmost >1-mio-city) have been a center of military-industrial production since the beginning of World War 2, when Stalin began to move such facilities eastwards, out of reach of the German army.


The city of Ivdel (pictured) is considered the UFO, mystery lights and alien headquarter of Russia. What to think of all this? Dick knows …

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