Krasnoyarsk Krai

The turbulent and beautiful Nizhnyaya Tunguska River

History of one of the most challenging hiking trails in the Krasnoyarsk Region

08.12.2022//Arctic tourism is an adventure in itself, and when travelling far away from home, it can be compared to a small feat. The incredibly beautiful nature of the Arctic Circle is harsh and demanding on the traveller, unwilling to forgive mistakes. One such destination where you can test yourself is the Nizhnyaya Tunguska River. Treacherous whirlpools, long rapids and sharp cliffs protect the beautiful in its pristine wilderness from people.

The Lower Tunguska River is a right tributary of the Yenisey. It flows through the Irkutsk Region and the Krasnoyarsk Territory, traversing Evenkia, Turukhansky district, and the Central Siberian Highland south of the Putorana plateau. In its upper reaches, located in the Upper Tunguska uplands of the Central Siberian Highland, it comes close to the Lena River. The Lower Tunguska is almost 3,000 km long, with a basin area of 473,000 sq. km and an average depth of 4-6 metres.

The Lower Tunguska is a river with a long history. It is associated with the name of the legendary pioneer of Eastern Siberia, Panteley Demidovich Pyanda.

A native of Arkhangelsk, Pyanda with his party was the first to travel up the Lower Tunguska River in 1620-1623 and reach the Lena River. He followed the Lena as far as today's Verkholensk, then proceeded on the Angara and followed it down to Yeniseysk. Pyanda and his companions had covered a total of 8,000 km by water and land.

Before reaching Eastern Siberia, Panteley Pyanda's party reached Mangazeya, the first Russian Transpolar town (now within the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area). It is possible that one of the former names of the Tunguska – Mangazeyskaya – has something to do with it.

The writer Vyacheslav Shishkov, who visited these places in 1911 as a member of an expedition, also formed ties with the Lower Tunguska. It is believed that in his novel, The Gloomy River, Shishkov wrote specifically about the Tunguska and the people who lived there. The title for the novel was borrowed by the writer from an old Siberian song.

Traveling along the Nizhnyaya Tunguska River, you can visit a number of interesting sights. These include Smert Skala, the rock, near which there are several dangerous whirlpools; Durnoy Cape, Bolshoy Porog mountain area and others. The names of many places speak for themselves—the journey through them will be difficult and memorable for a lifetime. That's exactly the reason for going to the North!

And if it really is about the Nizhnyaya Tunguska, the title is fitting. The river is extremely difficult to navigate, even with the most modern vessels, due to the large number of rapids and whirlpools. The Bolshoy Porog, 130 km from the estuary, is considered particularly dangerous. The Nizhnyaya Tunguska is only navigated by heavy-load vessels during spring flooding or in certain, particularly rainy years.

So the only way to cross the river is on relatively light and manoeuvrable rafts, and with great caution. But Podkamennaya Tunguska's toughness—both figuratively and literally—may serve the people well.

A few years ago, a project was drawn up to build the Evenki hydropower plant on it, which, if implemented, would become the largest in Russia.

The rugged nature of the river and the wild, unspoilt nature also invariably attracts thrill-seekers, hunters and fishermen. One of the most popular forms of travel on the Nizhnyaya Tunguska is rafting. The route can be travelled by kayak in an organised group or alone, although the latter option is more risky.

There are also many relatively shallow but very beautiful grottoes along its shores. Speleologists and cave enthusiasts have plenty to choose from.

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