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The coldest place in the world: Oymyakon

by Aurora Brink

Take a garment, wash it and hang it on a clothesline outside. Half an hour later, you’d be able to rip it apart, as if it were made out of paper. Get some dishwashing liquid soap, make a bubble and watch it turn into a solid sphere in mere seconds. If you have decided to take photos, do it quickly because your camera’s batteries won’t last longer than 10 minutes. Even the ink inside of a pen would freeze in a matter of minutes. So does vodka, which means that if you have decided to warm yourself up with a drink, you are going to have to nibble at it. Don’t wear your glasses outside, because it would only take a few minutes for them to freeze to your face.

These are only a few of the useful tips you need to know, in case you have decided to head to the coldest inhabited place in the Northern hemisphere – a Russian village called Oymyakon. If you ever come to Oymyakon during the winter, your idea of Siberian freeze would take on a whole other dimension. The fact that people live here, even when the average January temperature is -50oC, sounds unbelievable. What is even more incredible is that the locals are famous for their longevity, with some inhabitants at around 100 years old.

A lot of things in Oymyakon seem unusual and contradictory to the laws of physics.

A lot of things in Oymyakon seem unusual and contradictory to the laws of physics. For instance, the lake doesn’t freeze over, even at -60oC. The reason for this phenomenon is that when the soil surrounding the underground lake freezes, it also expands and pushes the water upwards, which means that the water is in a state of perpetual movement. That is why the local tribe, called Evenki, has named the region Oymyakon – it means “water that never freezes” in their language.

Oymyakon is a part of the Republic of Yakutia (Sakha), which is a federal subject of Russia. This place is the edge of the populated world. In 1926 a record temperature of -71,2oC was measured in the region. During the winter months, you can reach this remote place either by a helicopter, or via the winter road – a path of packed snow. Oymyakon has around 500 residents, who live a simple life, though not in igloos or yurts, as one might imagine. They have adjusted their lifestyle to the harsh environment. Since the ground is completely frozen all year long, no crops can grow here. That is why the most common foods are stag and horse meat, as well as whatever has been caught through means of ice fishing.

Life in Oymyakon hasn’t changed for decades, as the progress of the modern world is barely crawling into this region. There are no hotels here, but many of the locals are happy to provide shelter to visitors. There is no mobile network coverage either, but even if there were, it would be useless, since phone batteries last only a few minutes at these temperatures. In 2008 the local school adopted an innovation – an inside bathroom. There is a single shop in the village, where you can purchase some groceries and household products. Furthermore, the mayor hands out a certificate to every visitor, for being at the “Pole of Cold.”

Would you visit this place to experience one of nature’s ultimate challenges?