Putorana Plateau – UNESCO Heritage site # 3

One of the most pristine wilderness areas in the world

putorana plateau

Russia’s Putorana Plateau photo by Sergey Gorshkov (2009)

In the Plateau Putorana. the landscapes are stunningly beautiful, even somewhat eerie and other worldly looking at the same time. Looking upon different vistas from different locations take one through this truly magnificent UNESCO reserve believing that there are truly places on this earth that remain pristine and still untouched by man. The landscapes go from arctic desert, tundra, forest tundra, and taiga that have never had human presence. There are cold water lakes and river systems that support fish stock that have never seen a fishing line. Welcome to one of Russia’s greatest natural secrets. As you gaze upon the following pictures one can imagine this landscape also supported such creatures as mammoths, wooly rhinos, and others creatures from the distant past.

525Photo by: Sergei Asaulenko

The location of the plateau itself is found in the northern part of Central Siberia. It’s mostly rugged landscapes lie within the Siberian traps, basalt outcroppings and plateaus that were formed by vast volumes of basaltic lava that paved over a large expanse of primeval Siberia in a flood basalt event. The event itself covered an area roughly equal to the size of western Europe (the plateau is roughly the size of Nevada). It is believed that this event may have been associated with the Permian-Triassic extinction event. This extinction event, also known as the Great Dying, that affected the entire planet, it’s estimated that 90% of species living at the time perished. It is also believed that an asteroid impact may have also been responsible for the formation. The traps themselves are dissected by dozens of deep canyons; countless cold water rivers, creeks where thousands of waterfalls are found that support the local wildlife.

535Photo: Dmitry Zamorin

The word “Putorana” comes from the Evenks. It’s translates as “the country of lakes with steep banks”. But Evenks haven’t lived in on Putorana plateau since 1982. They forsook the rigors of migratory life settling in towns of northern Russia, were they work in state reindeer hunting collectives.The only evidence of man today are reindeer corrals and sable traps laid by the Evenk and Dolgan, aboriginals who inhabited this land for millennia before collectivization disrupted their traditional way of life. This has influenced the wild populations of Elk, wolves, and other species of animals to thrive in the area.

545Nentzen in der Tundra bei Dudinka (69°29’N – 86°17’E) Taymyria, Krasnoyarsk kray, Russland – Photo by: Dr. A. Hugentobler

Dolgan means “people living on the middle reach of the water”. The Dolgans live in the territory of Taimyr, Dolgan-Nenetsky Autonomous District, Krasnoyarsky Kray and Anabar Ulus, Sakha Republic (Yakutia) and in the vast territory from the west side of the Lower Yenisei river to the east of the Anabar river. The first writings in the seventeenth century were about Anabar where Dolgans had their settlements. When the Russians came to Taimyr and the adjacent coast-lands in the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries, different ethnic groups lived side by side on the severe land. With all the different groups mixing together in one area, it created the formation of a unique ethnic community. The different languages and life styles eventually became the primary foundation of the future Dolgan ethnic group today. The Dolgan have three tribal groups known as: the Dolgans, the Dongots, and the Edyans.

The Dolgans Today

During the the Dolgans daily lives consist of, hunting fish, and breeding deer. One deer breeder by the name of Ilia Spiridonov became the first award winning deer breeder back in 1957.

Others who spent their lives here are Kyltasov S., Shubin K. both recognized poets. Tunrin L. Also Spiridonov U. who also from here is a professional artist, not just known in his republic but also in Russia and other countries as well.

The Dolgan women today are still very skillful in the making of their national clothes, decorating them with deer equipment, and other household things for their nomadic way of life.

5995Domesticated reindeer

Their traditional economy is based on a combination of reindeer breeding, hunting wild reindeer, as well as other game, trapping and fishing. The reindeer herders follow the common system of moving north in the spring and south in the autumn following traditional migration routes. These are changed each year, so that the group returns to the original route every fourth year, depending on the condition of the pastures. Slaughtering of domestic reindeer is normally done in November, when the reindeer are closest to the herders’ villages. Dolgan reindeer herders use baloks rather than tents. These are small huts, mounted on sled runners and insulated with reindeer skin. They have small stoves in them which burn coal that the herders bring form the villages. Most Dolgans nowadays live in settlements. Often these villages are small with only a few hundred people with wooden houses heated by coal. The facilities are usually very basic with no mains water or sewage system.

5555One of the many streams on the plateau

One thing is certain about the landscapes of the Plateau, many of it’s rivers dissect it creating what looks like the circulatory system of the human body. They start move from the table tops and cascade down it’s cliffs to the valleys below. In the valleys  these same rivers continue their sluggish journey to oceans.

If you are a waterfall lover the numerous falls that rush down one of it most picturesque Plateau’s called the “Trapezoid” correctly following it’s name 500 meter waterfalls can be found along it’s slopes creating it’s magnificent views. These views can be found all around the valley bottoms gazing to the surrounding uplands.

Adding to the pristine beauty of the plateau are the 25,000 lakes that can be found dotted among the landscapes and rivers. Together they form the second largest freshwater reservoir in Russia, second only to Lake Baikal and Lake Teletskoye in size.

Some of these lakes will remind you of Norway’s fjords, their steep cliffs jutting out of the water, winding narrow gorges that have been worn into the mountain ranges over the last several hundred thousand years each of them being fed by the waterfalls along their shores. They lakes were created in large crevices as a result of tectonic processes.

5665Putorana Bighorn Sheep

Here on the Putorana plateau lays one of last great migration routes. The Taimyr wild reindeer population of over 500,000 strong migrate through here each year. The plateau is also the only habitat of one of the most poorly known and understood hoofed animals in the world. This Putorana bighorn sheep holds a place in the Red Book of Endangered Species of Russia. This Bighorn has been isolated from the main population for about 15,000 years, and has since then formed into a separate sub-species.

Inside the reserve one will find up to 140 different bird species that include rare prey birds like white-tailed eagle and merlin. The number of their nesting-places at the plateau is especially high. Numerous lakes and streams are stopover points for thousands of birds on their migration routes south.


Howling wolves

Siberian Gray wolves

The vast spaces of the Plateau are home to wolves, wolverines and bears. Wolves have lived in Siberia for thousands of years. Special adaptations have resulted in various wolf subspecies that are well-suited to survive this landscape’s harsh conditions. The tundra wolf is the largest weighing in at 100 to 125 lbs. The can reach 3′ tall and nearly 7′ in length. They are able to bring down the largest of prey including reindeer and elk. The forest wolf is smaller and much darker in color. They hunt is packs and shy away from domesticated animals. The steppe wolf is the most endangered of these wolves since it’s still legal to hunt them. They are the most aggressive and have been found to attack livestock. Each of these Wolves species are well adapted to life within Siberia because of their thick fur coats, keen hunting abilities and willingness to work together in packs when times are tough.

5885The Western part of the lake Lama, the Putorana plateau. View of the Cape Thin. In the water reflected the mountains of Cape Stone.

The following video is short and only captures just a tiny portion of the beauty of the Putorana Plateau.


11 thoughts on “Putorana Plateau – UNESCO Heritage site # 3

      1. Well, that’s in the plan. My hopes are to create a YouTube channel just for this purpose. We are in the process of launching a whole new site that deals with business in Russia. It all takes time and money. I’d like to do this on a full time basis. It’s just a matter of logistics and timing.

  1. It’s a great article, but you should really remove the first photo as this is the Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye in Scotland….the Scots will be horrified if they find out :-).

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