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The New York Times, June 17, 1866, p.3:|
THE RUSSIAN TELEGRAPH.The Country--The People and the Experience of an American.
It is proper to state that... the writer is one of the party sent out by the Western Union Telegraph Company to explore and locate the Collins Overland Telegraph Line, via Bering Straits, to Europe. He was formerly connected with the Western Union Telegraph Office, in this city, as assistant manager...
GHIJIGHA, NORTHEASTERN SIBERIA, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 1865.
DEAR FOLKS AT HOME: When I look back upon my wanderings for the past three months... in the space of a few pages I can give only the barest outline of our journey... I have camped out and slept on the ground in calm, storm and cold... I have ridden horseback sixteen hours a day... I have slept out of doors with a few wild, wandering Koraks when the mercury was frozen at 43° below zero, and many a night have I passed on my dogsledge, with no covering but the dark-blue Polar sky, with a temperature of 25° and 30° below zero...
I did flatter myself that I was equal in point of endurance, particularly of cold, with the Kanachadals and Koraks [Koryaks], who have been accustomed to it all their lives; but, alas for my pride, I have been outdone by a woman! Only think of it, a woman--and a pretty one, too.
I met with a Korak woman of about 22 years of age on the great Tundra (marked Koraki on the map) who drove a team of reindeers with a loaded sledge fifty versts in one day, and at night slept out in the snow, with no covering whatever except the clothes she had worn during the day, and in a temperature of 43° below zero, or 75° below the freezing point... I thought it an extraordinary thing to sleep even in a reindeer skin tent outdoors in such weather, and I should have frozen to death in two hours had I attempted to sleep without it.
She traveled with us, driving her own reindeer and sleeping on the snow every night... to the head of Penjinsk Gulf [the body of water between the Kamchatka peninsula and the opposite coast of Russia]. But all this is not telling you about our journey from Petropaulski [Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky].
I believe I wrote you that Mr. ABASA decided to separate our party by sending BUSH and MAHOOD on to the Amoor River in the Olga, and to go himself with me overland to Ghijigha [Gizhiga, Gizhiginsk, Giyhaga, lat 62.05 N, lon 160.5 E], a distance by road of 2,500 versts.
It was a bright, sunny morning when the Olga stood out of the little harbor and across the large, smooth unruffled bay toward Lighthouse Bluff... The last I saw of the little vessel was BUSH standing on the quarter-deck, near the wheel, industriously signaling "good-bye" in telegraph letters with his arm... Mr. ABASA hired a house in Petropaulski, and we remained there until Sept. 4, procuring an outfit and making arrangements for our departure north. Just before leaving, Mr. ABASA engaged a young American named DODD, who spoke Russian very well, to accompany us...
On Monday, Sept. 4, we started in a whaleboat, with all the Americans, including Messrs. PIERCE, HUNTER, FROMFIELD, COLES, and FLUGER, for Avatcha, to which point we had sent the horses... At Avatcha, we bid the Americans good-bye, finding it necessary to drink two bottles of champagne on the occasion, and ad they set out on their return, we reluctantly turned our faces northward, and began poling our way up the shallow river toward Ocoota, to which point the horses had been forwarded. We camped that night in the long grass on the river bank, in a situation commanding the most magnificent view of Mount Villenchinski and the Koratski Volcano...
I cannot begin to tell you half of what I wish about our horseback ride from Ocoota to Sherone... The scenery was magnificent, and the Geneel Valley Mr. ABASA declared to be unsurpassed by any scenery he had ever witnessed in Europe.
At Sherone we left our horses and transferred our baggage to what they called a "plateaux," consisting of three canoes lashed together at equal distances from each other, and covered with a platform of boards about fifteen feet long and ten wide. On this platform we pitched our tent, and with a native paddling in the end of each canoe we floated down the rapid stream of the Kamschatka.
All day long we would drift down with the current, sitting at the door of our tent, or reclining at full length on fragrant hay which covered the platform before it. At night we would tie up to a tree and camp in the woods. We had numerous encounters with bears, some of which were very amusing.
On Sept. 15 we reached Kluche, which you will see on the map. I think the Kluchefskoi volcano [Klyuchevskoy Volcano, Kluchevskoy Volcano, Kliuchevskoi Volcano; 56°03' N, 160°39' E], at the foot of which the village is situated, with the group of surrounding mountains, is one of the finest mountain scenes man ever witnessed. The volcano, which is 16,000 feet high, is continually threatening eruption, and I have heard its rumbling and thundering nearly seventy-five miles.
From Kluche we went in single canoes up the Yolofka River to Yolofka, where we again too horses to cross the Tigel mountains... We passed several days of much suffering on the mountains, but reached Sedauka, on the river, above Tigel, Sept. 24. Taking canoes again we floated down to Tigel, where we spent several days in resting and refitting. The Governor of Kamschatka had given us one Cossack from Petropaulski, and from the military commander here we obtained another, so that our party now numbered five.
On Sept. 27 we started again on horseback, and after numerous mishaps and adventures, reached Sesnoi on Oct. 3. Here commenced our misfortunes.
Mr. ABASA and Mr. DODD attempted to go in a whaleboat from Sesnoi to Padkagernia by sea. I was given command of a party of six men, including our Cossack, with orders to attempt to reach the same point by land. The distance is about 300 versts through a wilderness of mountains. About half-way there is a river called Samanca, at which point it was agreed the two parties should meet and report progress...
Soon after I had left the weather became terrible, but after three days of much suffering I succeeded in reaching the mountains on this side of the river. In attempting to cross them we were overtaken by a terrible snow-storm, in which our guide lost his way and we wandered about all day among the mountain peaks, our horses floundering to their bellies in the drifts, and a hurricane of wind sweeping across the summits and up through the valleys.
I finally took lead of the party myself, and with my pocket compass found my way to the sea, coming out on a bold, storm-swept cliff over the water. Here the guide declared he recognized familiar land marks, and he again took the lead and finally brought us, late at night, to the river; we found no signs of the whaleboat.
On the following morning the Cossack informed me to my great astonishment that we had only one day's provisions, so that it was impossible for me to comply with my instructions to wait two days. I waited one day, and as the weather continued stormy and tempestuous, I set out with a heavy heart on my return, without a morsel to eat. During the first day we met a courier from Sesnoi, with a letter from Mr. ABASA, informing me that the whaleboat was a failure, and that he had only succeeded in getting fifteen versts, and ordering me to return as rapidly as possible...
Mr. ABASA'S exposure and hardships on the sea beach, where he landed in the serf and reminaed for five days, brought on an attack of rheumatic fever, and it was decided to wait in Sesnoi until the Winter road should be established, and then go with dogs. In the meantime DODD was sent back to Tigel to procure a fresh supply of eatables and a physician for Mr. ABASA.
We remained in Sesnoi for more than a month, Mr. ABASA continuing confined to the house, and attended by the doctor from Tigel. I amused myself by exploring the wild country around Sesnoi with rifle and revolvers, hunting bear, foxes, wolves and reindeer.
On the 14th of November, Mr. ABASA having nearly recovered, we started a second time for Padkagernia with seventeen sledges and two hundred dogs. The weather was quite cold, the thermometer being most of the time below zero, but we reached Padkagernia on the fourth day. On the night of the fifth day at the Poosteretsk Bologaus the thermometer stood at 30° below zero, and we slept in our sledges in the open air.
On the following day we reached the first Korak yourte, and exchanged our dogs for reindeer. Until Thanksgiving day we journeyed along at the rate about fifty versts per day, coming now and then to a yourte and exchanging our deer for fresh ones.
It was on the night of Thanksgiving day that the temperature sunk to 43° below zero, the coldest temperature I have yet experienced. On the 28th we reached Kumenoi, of the wildness and fierceness of whose people we had heard so much, but we experienced no trouble with them, and after six days more of day travel reached Ghijigha, from which place I date my letter.
The Governor of Northeastern Siberia, who resides here, had already received from the Governor-General at Irkoutsk notice that a party would be landed somewhere in Northeastern Siberia this season, and had been ordered to give us every possible assistance. We find him disposed to do everything in his power to assist us. We are very much disappointed at the failure of the Anadyr party to cooperate with us, not only because we need more men, but because we expected to hear through them of Col. BULKLEY'S success, and the fortunes of the other parties.
Now, on the shoulders of only five men is left the exploration of 7,000 versts of wilderness, in the depth of the Siberian Winter, and with only the most imperfect means of transportation. To DODD and myself is intrusted the exploration and location of the route between Ghijigha and the Krasnee or Red River, which empties into the Anadyr River near its mouth. The total distance is about 1,100 versts, and the country, particularly that between here and Anadyrsk [Anadyr], is the worst which the line will have to traverse on the Asiatic side.
Mr. ABASA, with our faithful Cossack, will shortly start on dog sledges for Okhotsk and Dian, where he expects to meet BUSH and MAHOOD. He has already engaged workmen and dog teams for the distribution of poles, which is the most difficult part of our labor, and if nothing happens we shall have by spring enough poles cut to supply the line from here to the mouth of the Anadyr River.
In order to understand the Herculean nature of our work, just consider that for at least 900 of the 1,100 versts between here and the Krasnee River there is hardly enough wood to boil one's tea-kettle, and that the poles to supply that immense distace must be dragged, three at a load, on dog sledges. We expect in the Spring to raft poles down the Anadyr from above Anadyrsk, where there is a plentiful supply, and thus save an immense deal of labor.
The whole country between here and Anadyrsk consists of what are known in Kamschatka as "moss tundras"--the most dreary wastes that can be imagined. For hundreds of miles, sometimes, the there will not be a single tree, bush, or hardly a blade of grass, nothing but moss, moss which sometimes covers the ground to the depth of four or five feet. In summer this moss holds water like an immense sponge, and in places a horse will sink to his belly, and unless helped out I suppose he would disappear entirely. I never could find the bottom to some of these places.
In Winter these places are frozen hard, but are swept by terrible "pourgas," or storms of wind and snow, which form the worst features of this climate. Thirty or forty degrees below zero, with no wind, is comparatively of trifling importance, and attended with not the slightest danger to health and life, and hardly any discomfort; but 15°, 20°, or 25° below, with one of these furious winds which renders it impossible to put up a tent or light a fire, is bad enough...
If everything goes well I shall be able to go to the "Tcheecktchi Fair,"  which is held in February, about half-way between Anadyrsk and Nishni Kolymsk [Nizhnekolymsk; lat 68.5333, lon 160.9333], in latitude 67°. All the tribes of Northeastern Siberia, and especially the Tcheektchis [Chukchis], rendezvous there to trade, and I feel a great curiosity to see them.
You will find an account of this fair, as it was held in 1820, in Wrangell's Travels, published by HARPER BROTHERS; but since then it has increased immensely in importance and size. I know of one Russian merchant who loads 200 horses at Yakoutsk with goods at that fair.
I have a curiosity to study the customs and habits of that strange, wild tribe, the Tcheecktchis, about whom so little is known, and yet who are by far the most manly and warlike people in Northeastern Siberia. We met one yourte of them between Sesnoi and Padkagernia, but they had become partially civilized by intercourse with Kamchadals and Russians.
DODD and I will remain at Anadyrsk until Mr. ABASA'S arrival there on his return from Aian early in April, and then we are to superintend the construction of the line between Ghijigha and Anadyrsk. We leave for the latter place on Monday with five sledges and sixty dogs.
The difficulties before us are almost insurmountable, as I wrote you from Petropaulski; but, if the directors and stockholders don't get discouraged and want to give it up, we will put the line through in three years. All I fear is that some disaster will happen to Col. BULKLEY or the American party, which, together with the success of the Atlantic cable (which is possible,) will so dishearten the stockholders that they will prefer to stop and put up with the loss they have already sustained, rather than incur still greater expense at with a doubtful prospect of success.
All this is in the event of the successful working of the Atlantic cable. If that fails, this line will undoubtedly be pushed on with redoubled vigor, and with less regard to expense... Like the railroad across the Isthmus of Panama, it is very difficult of construction, but not by any means impossible...
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