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Protecting the Beauty and History of the Ukok Plateau

Near where China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan border on Russia rests the Altai Mountains region. It is located in the southwestern province of Siberia and is known for its unmatched beauty and spectacular nature. The Altai Mountains are also known as the Golden Mountains, and the Ukok Plateau forms part of the natural wonder of these mountains. But the heritage and significance of the area runs much deeper than just its natural splendor; it is home to the Altai people and their ancient culture that is interwoven with the landscape.

At present there is a lot of controversy surrounding the Ukok Plateau. A gas pipeline through the heart of the Ukok Plateau is being suggested. Wildlife authorities, as well as the Altai Republic, are trying to protect and conserve this area, as it is vital to the survival of many endangered animals, and it falls within the Altai Republic, making it part of the ‘Quiet Zone’ that is protected against development.

The plateau’s biodiversity starts with its landscape and vegetation that includes mixed forests, forest steppe, alpine vegetation and steppe. Major rivers also flow from the Ukok Plateau into Monogolia, Russia, China and Kazakhstan and it is these unique features that have drawn a magnificent selection of animals to the area. Its tranquility and untouched land has become home to many protected species such as the steppe eagle, the black stork, the snow leopard, argali mountain sheep and dzeren antelope.

Archeologists have also found wonderfully preserved burial sites that confirm the presence of both the Pazyryk and Altai people in ancient times. The Altai therefore consider the Ukok Plateau to be sacred. It is believed that the plateau was known as the Elysian Fields during the times of the Pazyryk, and the locals still refer to it as the Pastures of Heaven. One of the burial sites that was uncovered is that of the Ice Princess, a female Pazyryk warrior who was buried here in the fifth century. She was taken to a museum in Novosibirsk, although locals are trying to have her returned to her burial chamber. Three other mummies were also discovered in the Ukok Plateau permafrost, which have been dated to 300 BC.

The Ukok Plateau is therefore a significant sanctuary for the wildlife and the history of the ancient tribes that once lived here. Any change or development would be devastating to the land and the birds and animals that call it home. It is easily described as one of the most breathtaking natural destinations in Russia, and visitors will be spellbound by its peaceful welcome and visual extravaganza of beauty and life.


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