Siberian Caves

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Siberian Caves

October 13, 2011 - 23:21
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It is only four hours by plane from Moscow to Abakan, capital of Khakassia. The above-freezing temperatures, sunshine and the absence of snowdrifts contradict the traditional idea regarding the severe climate of Central Siberia. Together with the Novokuznetsk cave diver’s team, we drove up through the foothills of Kuznetsk Alatau and the picturesque valley of the Small Sya river to the mining town of Tuim.

The surrounding forest-covered, beautiful mountain ranges are inspiring, and there are caves with painted rock pictures and many untouched historical monuments everywhere. The first settlements of Homo sapiens appeared here about 34 000 years ago. Ours divers’ base is in the old village called Small Sya.

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This is a favorite place for modern shamans and is a well-known Stone Age settlement. Stone axes, bones of mammoths killed by our ancestors, and the most ancient musical instrument in the world, a flute, has been found here. Here are salt lakes, possessing wonderful medicinal properties from the very oldest times, around which people collected, seeking for a vision of God.

The water of the lakes is so strongly saturated with salts that it is easily possible to read a newspaper while floating on the surface. There was already a prospering nation here five thousand years ago from which has survived one of the most ancient observatories in the world, Shira with its dolmens resembling Stonehenge. Everywhere there are barrows and fresh excavations of them.

Our objective, though, was a huge subsidence in the top of a mountain close to Tuim town. This is a place described as Tuim camp by A. Solzhenitsyn in his book The GULAG Archipelago. It was a correctional camp for enemies of the Soviet government which worked the copper-ore mines here. It was very hard labouring here, and after only two years many had died. In the Stalin years all the slopes of the copper mountain were literally covered by prisoners from the Soviet concentration camps.

At any one time there were up to 2300 exiles working here. Prisoners dug many shafts into the limestone in order to get to the deposits of copper- and molybdenite-ores inside the mountain. The surviving local residents recently told that they sometimes penetrated into natural caves or, when removing the ore, created huge man-made underground caverns.

Later, being afraid of a possible collapse, part of the top of the mountain was brought down by a large force-directed explosion. This created a majestic subsidence, a hole with vertical rocky walls up to 140 meters high. Some years after that a beautiful turquoise lake formed at the bottom of this hole which has since became a popular place for cave divers to explore.


Originally published

on page 51

X-Ray Mag #5

May 22, 2005 - 12:58

The other side of Cayman Islands - Sister Islands - Bloody Bay Wall - Coral Spawning - free diving world record. Cave diving in Siberia. Philippines: Cabilao. Norway: the wrecks at Narvik - one of the biggest naval battlegrounds of WW2. Finding the U-89 off Ireland. Visiting Fourth Element Interviewing Cathy Church, photographer extraordinaire. Sam MacDonald marine metal sculptures. Ecology: tagging whale sharks. Photography: Going digital. Science: Hydrothermal vents