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Alkhanay – Russia's Newest National Park

Located in the Aginsky Buryat Autonomous District of Zabaykalsky Krai, Russia, the spectacular Alkhanay National Park was established in 1990, and is the youngest of the national parks of Russia. The park consists of a variety of terrain, from mountainous regions supporting coniferous and birch forests, to the broad steppes of the lower altitudes. The park is well watered by the Ilia River and its many tributaries, with its three main lakes being Krasnoyarovo, Balzino and Alkhanay.

In addition to being an area of breath-taking natural beauty, Alkhanay National Park is considered to be of great cultural and religious importance to the local people and is a pilgrimage site attracting worshippers from far afield. The Buryats of the Baikal region of Russia consider the Temple Gate Rock in the reserve to be a Buddhist sanctuary. This natural rock formation forms an archway which Buddhists claim hides an entrance to the mysterious Shambhala – a mythical kingdom of complete purity. A Buddhist place of worship, a stupa, is located near the archway. Water running from a crack in the mountainside is considered to have curative properties, and even in mid-summer the temperature of the mountain creek water remains near zero. Visitors will also note groups of stones which have been arranged to form prayer niches, with offerings of grain, candles and coins that have been made by pilgrims visiting the site.

Some of the landmarks in Alkhanay National Park feature in ancient legends. One of the legends tells of a Balchzhin princess who married a Mongolian feudal lord. During a time of conflict, the princess, her husband and some followers were fleeing from enemies, and as they approached the mountain, their enemies caught up to them and killed the princess.t is said that with her dying breath she had cried out "Alhani" meaning "they are killing me" – which became the name of the mountain. She was apparently buried alongside the Balzino Lake which was named honor of her people.

The varied terrain of Alkhanay Park has resulted in a climatic zone supporting flora that would not normally be found in this region, including Siberian dwarf pine trees (Pinus pumila) and Siberian fir trees (Abies sibirica). Other plants found within the park include Golden Root (Rhodiola rosea), as well as a number of Astragalus, Scutellaria, Lophanthus and Rheum species, many of which are used in the preparation of local folk medicines. The park is also home to the rare Apollo butterfly, which is listed as endangered in the IUCN Red Book.

Every year, thousands of people visit the Alkhanay National Park, which is cared for by government appointed park officials. If you are traveling in this picturesque part of Russia, you may want to add this attraction to your itinerary.


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