Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug

School of life in the tundra: The Land of Hope ethnographic camp

Brief training for aspiring reindeer herders

07.09.2023 // Isolated from the 'mainland,' the unique Land of Hope ethnographic camp has been welcoming visitors in northern Yamal for many decades. It attracts those who wish to fully immerse themselves in tundra life: to harness reindeer on sledges, fish in the lake and listen to ancient stories. Although reaching there is challenging, the experience is unforgettable and lasts a lifetime.

Located 20 km from Laborovaya village in the foothills of the Polar Urals, the Land of Hope ethnographic camp is a must-visit for all ecotourism enthusiasts. For over a decade, a national Orthodox school has been operating here. The school was founded by Yamal writer Anna Nerkagi, who resides here with her large family. Annually, with backing from the YNAA government, Anna Nerkagi organises a regional Orthodox tent camp for children, attracting attendees from all over Russia. Here, they learn about religion, receive an Orthodox education and simultaneously explore the culture of the northern peoples.

The ethnographic camp is home to the only Orthodox church of Archangel Michael in the Polar Urals and the northernmost in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area, as well as an ethnographic museum.

School for all ages

The Land of Hope is primarily a project focused on education and outreach. Anna Nerkagi, the founder of the camp, along with a small team, nurtures orphans and young Nenets from nearby camps, and warmly welcomes seasonal expeditions of schoolchildren from the 'mainland.' The children are taught not only basic skills like reading, writing and arithmetic but also how to light a fire, care for reindeer, drive sledges and generally survive in the tundra.

There's also a comprehensive introduction to the traditional culture of the nomadic reindeer herders. Anna herself is deeply religious in the Orthodox faith, which is reflected in the spiritual elements present in her educational work and creative endeavours.

She has also created several local attractions by adorning nearby stones with her own prayers and biblical texts, seamlessly integrating Orthodox themes into the age-old landscape of the Yamal tundra.

Tour companies offer a variety of tours that include a visit to this ethnographic camp. These offers are designed for small groups and are in the higher price range due to the challenging and costly journey.

A more budget-friendly alternative is to volunteer. The Land of Hope ethnographic camp appreciates assistance with maintaining the grounds, temple and other buildings, as well as help with the school and other projects.

Chum, tundra and fishing

Visitors to the Land of Hope ethnographic camp will be offered a comprehensive programme aimed at introducing them to the nomadic culture and lifestyle of the indigenous peoples of the North. Guests of the Land of Hope get to immerse themselves in the world of the Nenets by tasting local cuisine, listening to stories, living in a chum and riding on sledges. Traditional large-scale reindeer herder festivals are held at the camp, attracting Nenets from surrounding nomadic areas. And of course, tourists are treated to local cuisine. The authentic meals of nomadic reindeer herders, fresh farm produce and the unique allure of northern cuisine will captivate every guest.

Lake Horomdo is a popular fishing destination for tourists. Lake peled and humpback whitefish are common catches. The Gornokhadatinsky Nature Park is situated just 18 km from the camp. The park's territory includes the camps of reindeer herders. The park also serves as a habitat for rare animal species that are listed in the Red Book. To access the park, permission must be obtained from the protected area's administration. Visitors to the park should be aware of the surrounding wild and harsh nature.

In the tundra, without a guide, it's easy to lose the way, and lacking survival skills could lead to permanent loss.

A trip to the Land of Hope ethnographic camp is a challenging task. Reaching there independently is nearly impossible; you'll need to rely on an all-terrain vehicle or helicopter services. The trip will take approximately 8 hours, given favourable weather conditions. Due to this, the journey to the camp is often termed as an 'expedition.' However, future changes are anticipated—Snezhinka international Arctic station is under construction near the ethnographic camp, promising potential for regular communication with the 'mainland.'

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