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Travel Along the Chuysky Trakt

Stretching from the city of Novosibirsk, the administrative center of both the Novosibirsk Oblast and Siberian Federal District, to the border between Russia and neighboring Mongolia, the 953 km long Chuysky Trakt, or Federal Highway M52, was constructed by Gulag inmates in the early 1930s. The road passes through Berdsk, Novoaltaysk and Biysk, running along the right bank of Russia's Ob River for a distance before turning to traverse a steppe region and continuing into the Altai Mountains, at times reaching an altitude of 2000 meters.

Created in April 1930, the Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps and Colonies, commonly referred to by the acronym Gulag, was the government agency administrating the Soviet forced labor camp systems and an influential instrument for political repression at the time. While many of the residents in these labor camps were convicted wrongdoers or political prisoners, it is thought likely that the majority were convicted by NKVD troikas – a group of three officials who judged and convicted people without the benefit of a trial – or other extrajudicial means without legal authority. The Gulag remained in place for nearly four decades and affected millions of people, and during this time the prisoners were used as manual labor to build bridges, dams and roads, including the Chuysky Trakt.

Located on the Berd River and as one of the towns Chuysky Trakt runs through, Berdsk was initially founded as a fortress in 1716. The original site was flooded by the building of the Novosibirsk Reservoir (also known as the Ob Sea) in 1957, with the towns people settled on higher ground before this took place. So, although the settlement goes back centuries, there are no historic buildings in the town, the oldest being the railway station building dating back to 1915. The most striking landmark in Berdsk is the Transfiguration Cathedral which was constructed in 2004.

Located on the Biya River, Biysk is the second largest city of Altai Krai and is located on Chuysk Trakt. Because if its close proximity to the Altai Mountains, the city is referred to as 'the gates to the Altai Mountains'. As with many towns, cities and settlements in this part of Russia, Biysk started off as a fortress, with the distinction of being ordered by Peter the Great. After being burned down by a nomadic tribe, it was rebuilt in 1718, serving as a military outpost. When Biysk lost its importance as a military base, it retained its function as an important trade center in the region, and was granted town status in 1782.

Travelers along the Chuysky Trakt may want to take some time to visit the towns the road passes through, and bear in mind the people who built the road during an oppressive period of Russia's history.


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