Planet Taymyr

PHOTO by Denis Kozhevnikov / TASS
An out-of-world experience without leaving Russia

Despite its official status as part of the Krasnoyarsk region, the Taymyr Peninsula is so unique that it deserves its own designation. The distances here are manageable but civilization is rare, making it difficult to cover the whole peninsula in a single trip, no matter the length of it. shares some insights into a remarkable world of once-in-a-lifetime discoveries.

Until 2007, Taymyr was a separate entity of the Russian Federation with a population of 40,000. Most of the population lives in Dudinka, a city on the right bank of the Yenisei River located about 1,500 kilometres from Krasnoyarsk. The rest live in small villages and towns.

Life on the Taymyr Peninsula is tough due to the severe climate. A winter temperature of -40°C is not unusual, while in summer it does not surpass 10 to 12°C. Strong winds and winter blizzards are intermittent.

In the face of strenuous living conditions, however, a traveller can get a taste of solitude and test their strength and endurance.

The Northernmost lake

The region owes its name to Lake Taymyr, the northernmost of the world’s largest lakes. Located at the foot of the Byrranga Mountains, it spans nearly 170 kilometres from east to west. Fishermen come here for whitefish, grayling and Arctic char, arriving by helicopter and using rafts on the lake.

However, the lake only remains unfrozen for about 73 days a year. Even in summer the water temperature does not exceed 8°C. The average depth of the lake does not exceed 2.8 metres, which makes it nearly transparent.

Taymyr 1
Lake Taymyr is a favorite destination for fishermen

The Kingdom of Evil Spirits

The Byrranga Mountains are considered the northernmost continental mountain range on Earth. They are not gigantic but they are impressive; the highest summit is only 1,125 metres but the whole mountain range extends 1,100 kilometres from the Kara Sea to the Laptev Sea.

No one has ever lived here, including the Nganasans, the indigenous people of Taymyr, who have never built any settlements in the mountains. In the local language, “Byrranga” translates to something like “mountains with rugged valleys, rivers, boulders and spaces covered with moss and lichen.” The locals believed that Byrranga is a realm of spirits, where nothing but rock and ice can endure.

Yet Chariton Laptev, one of the first Europeans to visit the peninsula, discovered no evil spirits. “The northern shore of the lake is covered with mountains of stone,” Laptev wrote. “Down the river, on both sides of the shore, are cliffs; to the south and north the landscape is flat.”

Taymyr 2
The Byrranga Mountains are the least explored in Russia

In spring, when the snow starts melting, the mountains’ profile transforms beyond recognition. Numerous shrubs, some hundreds of years old, sometimes reach two metres high. In these mountains you can spot the northern relict ferns and lichens, a favourite delicacy of reindeer.

In April and May, the deer migrate to the mountains from the forest tundra, sharing it with the musk ox, which was brought to Taymyr in the middle of the 20th century. These are the only two large animals inhabiting this sheer vastness.

The Geographical Centre of Russia

The Putorana Plateau is without doubt the main attraction of the Taymyr Peninsula.

It is this part of Russia that divides the country’s geography in half. A seven-metre monument in its honor was erected on the shores of Lake Vivi in 1992. However, in 2014, after Crimea joined Russia, the geographical centre shifted a few dozen metres to the south. The new spot has been given a foundation stone.

Meeting reindeer on the Putorana Plateau is much easier than people

The plateau houses the highest waterfall in Eurasia – Talnikovy. Its stream falls 920 metres down Mount Trapetsia. Travellers, however, can only enjoy the sight in late spring and early summer due to its seasonal nature.

The plateau is the migration route for the largest Taymyr population of wild reindeer. The animals spend winters locally but warmer temperatures set them on a journey in which they can cover 20 to 100 kilometres a day. This ritual among the population of 50,000 lasts from the end of March to the end of May.

The region is called the “land of a thousand lakes and waterfalls.” There are more than 9,500 lakes there, and the name “Putorana” in the Evenki language is translated as “a lake with steep banks.” It is no wonder then that UNESCO has recognised the Putoransky State Nature Reserve as a world heritage site.