The road to Yakutsk

The herb in which Kate Marsden was in search of was located in the Siberian region of Yakutia. In her quest to find this herb and assist the lepers, Miss Marsden headed for Yakutia's capital – and so logically we travelled there as well.......

Yakutsk is remote, even by far East Siberian standards. The nearest railway station is a 20 hour drive away down one of these dodgy road - the M56. This is the only federal road connecting Yakutsk to the rest of the world – a road which had the honour of winning the title for the worlds worst road in 2006! A part of the M56 may be better know as the Road of Bones and was built by Gulag prisoners. It connects Magadan and Nizhny Bestyakh, passing through Yakutsk, but since Yakutsk stands on the Western bank of the Lena. 10 kilometers of water separate the banks and as yet no bridge has been built. A ferry operates during the short summer of three months. The rest of the year the river is either frozen or in the process of either thawing or freezing and it is only navigable for three months of the year when the rive is navigable.

The roads into Yakutsk are dilapidated due to the extreme temperatures all year round, ice, snow, and rivers and ponds and the M56 is no exception. Due to the presence of permafrost - soil that is frozen all year round (more on this later) use of asphalt is not practical, and therefore the roads are made of clay. When heavy rains blow over the region, usually in spring and autumn (when we were travelling) the roads often turn to mud, sometimes stranding hundreds of travellers. Yakutsk is bascially a transport dead end and flying to Yakutsk is highly recommended.

Despite all this, transport can actually be better in winter than in summer. Rivers freeze over, creating a whole new series of roads, and roads that are muddy and boggy during autumn and spring when it rains, are harder, firmer and more even, due to the soil being frozen – the Lena river not included however.........

But Miss Marsden reached it overland and so must we. As already explained, Miss Marsden reached Yakutsk by travelling 2000 miles down the Lena River. We were unable to do this and so we caught the BAM railway to Tynda, another train to Nerungri (6 hours) and then a van from Nerungri to Yakutsk up the M56 highway (20 hours).

The interior of bus was decorated with curtains that hung with tasslles, and although the seats were padded, sleeping on the bus wasn't really an option. We we jolted and battered around on the corrogated road.There was no secondary driver - just the one who drove the whole way, never once showing any signs of tiredness of fatigue. He was efficient in changing the spare tyre

when we got a puncture. No one complained or seemed angry or impatient with such delays. The most evidence reaction to the inconvenience was half-amused resignation.

We stopped for toilet and food breaks every few hours at places like Uluu - a base for road works, truckers cafe and those involved in the logging industry. The exterior looking barely more than a shed was decorated inside with fake plastic flowers and plastic table cloths. The pastel green walls and padded bench and square television in the corner gave it a very outdated feel. Beside the cafe, two story concrete block houses appeared either unoccupied or inhabited by families so destitute that their homes gave the impression of being derelict. Most of the passengers orders a sort of cabagge filled donought. Doing as the locals did I also had one with my coffee.

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