WHITE NIGHTS IN THE DARK FOREST

Twenty four hours of daylight can play havoc with your body clock, particularly one that is already jet lagged from crossing numerous Siberian time zones en route from the UK. I closed my eyes and willed myself to sleep while a searchlight of sun shone into my face through a gossamer-thin curtain.

It would be a week before I saw the sun set again. A white night in June never gets dark at high latitudes and Yakutsk in Sakha Province is located about 450 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle.

Yakutsk is a city of many extremes; it is the coldest city on earth built alongside the River Lena. The permafrost ground creates an architect’s head ache and concrete piles hold up the buildings which are laced with crudely lagged waste and water pipes that can’t be dug under the ground. If it’s not enough for the Yakuts to scuttle around for eight months with temperatures as low as -60°C, they also do that in the dark, as December daylight is from 11.00 am till 3.30 pm.

As I tried to sleep in the night sunshine I wondered whether Yakuts people, deprived of sun and light for so much of the year sunbathed at midnight to compensate. I’d seen them with shopping bags on the ride from the airport at 3am and I marvelled at the human’s ability to adapt to such difficult surroundings.

I love these people and when my clock told me it was morning I sprang out of bed in that bright room, ready to head off on a 600 kilometer car journey through the forest, that’s the equivalent of driving from Brighton to Edinburgh in Great Britain, on an unmade road for my second visit to Vilyuisk. Look at a map and you are reminded that an ocean of wild, inhospitable forest surrounds Yakutsk that is as big as America and driving through it is endless. Vilyuisk is a mere pin prick. It’s an island village of 12,000 people in this ocean of trees whose lives are geared to the rhythm of nature and the seasons. They are the woodlanders and the horse breeders who now boast a successful teacher training college. They lead cultured and respectable lives in their wooden houses, driving their cars over mud tracks and there are women’s groups who sew beautiful flowery long dresses who look forward to a guest visiting their town to dress up and sing for…

Remarkably, I was the first visitor since I came two years earlier. I was in for a treat. The town had been preparing for my visit and I was about to receive the full Vilyuisk treatment …

Next:

The Museum with no Visitors
Chineke Folk
Slivers, Pebbles and Dive – the games made at the Yakutsk Disabled Unit
The Beauty of the Lena Pillars
Portraits of the People of Yakutsk
Traditional Costumes and Rituals of the Yakuts