Manpupuner Rock Formations

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Location: the Troitsko-Pechyorsky District of the Komi Republic

Description: geological monument, virgin natural landscape, weathered rock pillar formations, sports tourism attraction

Accessibility: highly inaccessible

Type of tourism: educational, sports, environmental

Not so long ago, the Manpupuner Plateau was known only to geographers and sports tourism enthusiasts. But after the Mansi idols, located in the area, were ranked the 5th  among the Seven Wonders of Russia, the unusual name of Manpupuner started to ring a bell with many. In the Mansi language Manpupuner – Man-Pupu-Nyer – means the “Small mountain of idols”. And indeed, these gigantic stone pillars, towering over the plateau as high as a 10 to 15-storey building, look like idols. In any season, the plateau offers magnificent, awe-inspiring views of the area’s virgin nature.

Photo by Sergey Makurin

It is not surprising that the locals have surrounded the site by legends. One of them tells the story of six giant Samoyeds, who were pursuing the Voguls. The Samoyeds had almost caught up with their victims, when they were unexpectedly confronted by a shaman with the white face, called Yallingner. He raised his arm and was quick enough to recite an incantation which turned all the warriors into stones. Unfortunately, Yallingner himself was turned into a stone. Since then, the seven stones had been standing in the area, with one facing the other six. (The stone statues are also known under the name of the Seven Strong Men).

Seeing this natural wonder with your own eyes is not easy. The idols are located in a highly inaccessible distrcit of the Komi Republic, in the Northern Urals. No human habitation and, for that matter,  a motorway, or at least a railway can be found within a radius of 100 kilometres from the plateau. All rivers in the area are only narrow streams, though one of them, nourished by multiple tributaries, becomes the full-flowing Pechora River, which flows in to the Arctic Ocean. Therefore, there are only two ways to see this natural wonder  – either to fly there by helicopter, or walk many miles along the uninhabited territories.

Photo by Lilya Kuznetsova

To get to this back of beyond, you need to be really physically fit and courageous. Despite this, every year there are more and more eager volunteers, willing to cross the difficult route through the taiga on foot, with heavy backpacks over their shoulders. The Internet abounds in dedicated web-sites, where those who have already been to the Manpupuner Plateau share their experience, give valuable advice to beginners, and provide detailed descriptions of the covered routes.

Opinions have divided over the best season ‘to conquer’ the Manpupuner Plateau. Many believe that the best time to travel there is in the winter, when the plateau is free from mosquitoes, midges and gadflies; all swamps freeze and the stone pillars get covered in ice, which renders them  incredibly beautiful. Besides, you travel with higher speed when skiing – which is also a bonus. There is only one, quite evident disadvantage – in January, temperatures in the Ural Mountains drop to as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius. So, the best time for such expedition would probably be March or April, when the earth is still covered with snow and rivers with ice, but the temperature nears 0 degrees Celcius. Still, make sure you take your winter outfit and gear.

Photo by Lilya Kuznetsova

The best summer month to visit the plateau is August, which is the warmest month, with fewer blood-sucking insects and lower level of water in rivers. It is around this time when travel agencies organise tours to Manpupuner. From May to July much more insects are out to bite you, and you may find yourself up to your waist in water when crossing some of the rivers.

As the plateau is situated in the confines of the Pechyoro-Ilychsky Nature Reserve, you will have to provide all details of your itinerary to the reserve authorities and get their permission before embarking on your journey. The reserve regulates the flow of tourists so that there is a reasonable number of tourists on its territory at a time. Some restrictions may arise if there is a danger of forest fires.

Reserve employees put in a great deal of effort to make tourism in the area more civilised an comfortable. They have built a guest house and a banya at the Ust-Lyaga checkpoint and fitted out, along the route, five encampments for rest, a number of sheds and lavatories, as well as two places where rivers can be crossed. In the summer of 2010, the local people helped cut through the forest as well as clear from trees 27 km of trails. The reserve has also erected a framehouse, suggesting it will be used as shelter for tired tourists in a foul weather.

Photo by Sergey Makurin

How the Manpupuner pillars were formed

About 200-300 million years ago, full-fledged mountaines were towering over the plateau. With time, rain and wind corroded the soft limestone rocks. However the stone statues were formed of solid sericitic-quartzitic slates, which have survived till nowadays.

Weathered rock pillar formations are quite a common phenomenon in the Ural Mountains, which are among the most ancient mountains on the planet. Over millions of years their appearance has been changed under the influence of the elements and nasty weather.

Photo by Sergey Makurin

How to get there

Spanning the Perm region, the Komi Republic, the Khanti-Mansiisk Autonomous Area and the Sverdlovsk region, Manpupuner is highly inaccessible. It is located at a distance of 1.5 thousand kilometres from Moscow and only about 600 kilometres from Ekaterinburg. Not that far, compared with Yakutia or the Russian Far East. But the problem is that within a radius of 100 kilometres from the plateau the area is completely uninhabited – no human settlements, roads or rafts can be found there.

There are several ways to get to Manpupuner, depending on how you travel. If you go on foot, you may set off from the Sverdlovsk region. Your route will start in the Ushma village, then take you to the town of Otorten, further to the town of Yanynvondersyakhan, and finally to the Man-Pupu-Nyer (Manpupuner) Ridge.

You could also access Manpupuner from the Komi Republic. You’ll have to travel to the town of Troitsko-Pechorsk. This can be done, firstly, by taking a plane to Ukhta or Suktyvkar. Ukhta is closer to Troitsko-Pechorsk, but tickets cost more. Then you could use either a bus running from Ukhta to Troitsko-Pechorsk, or a train running to Ukhta from Syktyvkar.

Photo by Lilya Kuznetsova

The Komi Republic can also be reached by train. For instance, the train running from Moscow to Varkuta with a change, in Mikuni, for the Syktyvkar-Troitsko-Pechorsk train.

You will have to thumb your way to travel from Troitsko-Pechorsk, and then sail a further 195 kilometres up the Ilych River, from where it merges with the Pechora River until you reach the Ust-Lyaga checkpoint. From there, you can only walk.

If you don’t find the idea of getting to the plateau on your own appealing, consider using the service of a travel agency. You will be accompanied by an experienced guide, who will show you good fishing spots and help you avoid all sorts of problems. Travel agencies will also provide you will all necessary equipment. A walking tour from Ukhta will cost around 15-18 thousand rubles. Flying by helicopter will cost twice as much.

Russian text by Irina Yatskevich

Translation into English by Nadezhda Tsyba

Russian Geographical Society