Where Mountains Meet Desert
Most people associate "Altai" with mountains, but little do they know that the Altai region spreads over Russia, Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan.
More confusingly, there are two regions in Russia called Altai: the Altai Krai and the Republic of Altai.
Already confused? How about that: There are also several towns called Altai.
Anyhow, there I was, driving through the wide plains of Altai, more precisely through the wide plains of Altai Krai.
The disappointment was clearly to see in my face - there were no mountains.
First blaming some clumsy thieves for stealing the mountains, then thinking about that "the mountains" are just hills, I ended up in discovering that there are none.
Altai = Mountains, Yurts, Horses... bang, here's the truth, there are none. At least not in Altai Krai.
Driven by my expectations of beautiful mountains at the edge of the desert, I continued driving deeper in the non mountains land and eventually crossed into the Republic of Altai.
It was a strange feeling I had while driving through its capital, named "Gorno-Altaysk". There were no mountains either, only hills and this "city" is squeezed between them like a super long german sausage.
The registration, that's the only thing I intended to do there. But Russia would not be Russia if the simplest thing is somehow complicated.
Do not understand me wrong, I like "the Russian way", it's always somehow an adventure wouldn't there be my impatientness...
As a diversity of sources suggested to do it over the travel agency called Aguna, I tried to find my way through the houses to the correct building.
I was not at all surprised that there was no Aguna at the given coordinates. Not to mention that their Website as well as the latest Lonely Planet issue claims that it is still at the same place.
How many travellers tried to find Aguna and failed?
Lucky me that I have a hate love relationship with the Russian language and could ask me through to them. They are at the total different corner of the city now, but it's not so important to let their customers know!
So if you looking for Aguna (AGUNA, turisticheskaya firma), go to the Kommunisticheskiy prospekt 68 (Коммунистический проспект) straight opposite of the main busstation (автовокзал). One of the entrances has a lovely sign with their logo, so has the staircase and their office door.
After a couple of hours, the registration was done and Sveta, the Couchsurfer for the next few days picked up at the petrol station.
We drove deeper into the hills which were constantly growing and finally turned into MOUNTAINS.
Holly molly was I relived, I started to believe someone sold me a bear with that Altai story!
After a short stop in Aktash to fill up the fridge again and buy a bottle of Kumis (horse milk, which contains alcohol - no, not what you think. Honestly, it's quite tasty), we headed up the valley direction Katu-Yarik pass and lake Teletskoye.
The scenery was like heaven, the road like hell.
Even as a Swiss, I was stunned by the beauty of the mountains which are towering up on both sides of the road.
No surprise there were those crazy Zhiguli drivers again, enjoying the great outdoors and ruin their cars on the pretty rough track.
I love Russia.
It was also the time when I decided to take the "shortcut" through Mongolia to get to lake Baikal.
From the first minute on, when I drove direction Mongolia, I was proven right to drive there as I had to drive through Chuysky Trakt (Чуйский тракт) a marvellous place.
Like a smooth gradient are the mountains turning into a wasteland, as smooth as when Kumis touches your tongue when you drink it the first time - Unforgetable.