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Exploring the villages of the Urals

Difficult to get to, unknown to most travellers, these are places that are only explored by those who are looking for something unusual. Why not take your notebook or sketchbook with you while you explore the villages and their local customs?

Life in a village

Once the bus has stopped and you have got off, you'll feel cut off from the world in these little villages where time seems to have stopped. The houses (isbas) are wooden, their architecture varying according to the region. Most of them are lived in by old people but some aren't lived in all year round because a lot of Russians keep them as second homes (called dachas).

Life in a village is the same everywhere, you spend your time in the vegetable garden in the summer and then preserve everything so you have something to eat in the winter. You work in the fields, care for the animals and look after the house. Inside, the isbas are authentically rustic, with wooden floors, a stove, and rugs. They are all laid out in the same way, symbolising a similar vision of life. In the Urals, especially in the Komi Republic, the traditions of their ancestors are still alive; a lot of the old people speak Komi, a Finno-Ugric language. In some of the remotest villages there are people who don't speak Russian.

Inside an isba

As you walk around, it becomes clear that life is not easy here. The villages feel isolated from the world, there is high unemployment and alcoholism, the country's scourge, is widespread. Most young people have left to find work or to study elsewhere.

Despite the fact that life is quite basic, it's always a pleasure to come back to a village. The inhabitants are very welcoming, ready to share their customs and find out about yours, especially as they don't often see strangers! So they'll often suggest a chat and a drink, or a cup of tea, a banya (Russian sauna) or a few grilled shashlik (kebabs).

The banya

How can you go to a village and not try a banya? It would be a big mistake. Because part of exploring Ruissia, is learning about the local culture. The Banya is an integral part of Russian culture and everyone goes there. It's a typically Russian sauna, in wood, which is used for any occasion: to relax, to get clean, or simply to spend time with friends. At more than 60°C the body sweats litres (especially as you are right next to a stove that is fed constantly!) which is very good for it. To make you feel even more relaxed you can be massaged with bundles of birch twigs, soaked in warm ater. It looks a bit uncomfortable to begin with but it is really calming.

Birch branches ready for the banya

If you are looking for a trip off the beaten path, then why not try a Russian village - you'll leave feeling transformed!

Marie Cavalié
22 contributions
Updated 31 October 2015