Golden Mountains of Altai

Cultural criteria: x
Year of inclusion in the List of World Heritage: 1998

In the area where territories of four biggest Eurasian states meet – Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia, there is Altai, one of the most considerable mountain systems of Central Asia and South Siberia.

Vegetation of this area is very mosaic: Some territories are covered with dense coniferous forests (larch, fir, pine, cedar, silver fir), others – by mountain steppes, meadows and tundras, and the most high-altitude regions are occupied by eternal snows and glaciers. In the very south there are also semideserts, i.e. it turns out that in a relatively small area very contrasting landscapes are combined.

The Altai World Heritage site is composed of five sections united in three separate areas (according to scheme 2 + 2 + 1), in total area of 1.64 million ha.

Altai Reserve (area of 881.2 thousand ha, created in 1932)

Here one can see a variety of landscapes – from steppes and taiga to mountain tundras and glaciers, here were fixed 1.5 thousand species of higher plants, of which 250 are Altai-Sayan endemics, 120 species are recognized relicts of Palaeogene-Neogene and Quaternary times, and 24 species are inscribed in the Red Book of the Republic of Altai.

In the northwest outskirts of the reserve, surrounded by high rocks, at a height of 434 m, there is a picturesque Lake Teletskoye – the largest water body in the region (40 km3), which is only inferior to the Baikal by fresh water reserves among Siberian lakes (it is often called “Altai Baikal”). The lake fills the narrow (no more than 5 km) and oblong (78 km) tectonic basin, its area is 22.4 thousand ha, and depth is up to 325 m. On its east shores (forming part of the reserve) grows the unique Priteletsky taiga also called even “Siberian jungle”: silver fir, cedar and aspen, and often fir and birch grow here among ungovernable herbal greenery, and cedars can be up to 600 years old. It is known that Russian people for the first time came to the lake shores in 1633, and since in those times the Altai tribe - the Telesy lived here, Cossacks-pioneers named the water body Teletskoye.

Here as well, at the reserve boundaries the picturesque Chulyshman River is running enjoying wide popularity among tourists.

Water protection zone of Lake Teletskoye (93.7 thousand ha), also being a buffer zone of the reserve, preserves the unique Priteletsky taiga on the west side of the lake.

Belukha National Park (262.8 thousand ha, 1997).

Rising to a height of the whole kilometer above the surrounding ranges, the two-headed Belukha Mountain covered by a cap of eternal snows and glaciers, dominates the whole area. It reaches the mark of 4,506 m and is the highest point of not only Altai, but the whole Siberia. Local peoples considered this mountain sacramental. Friedrich Gebler was the first to determine its height (as far back as 1835), but subjugation of this difficult peak with its inaccessible north wall became possible only in the XX century. Nikolai Rerikh told about these places that “here are the most blue, the most ringing mountains”, and more than once painted etudes of the “Mistress of Altai” – Belukha.

Katunsky Biosphere Reserve (151.6 thousand ha, 1991).

Here one can also see acres of the mountain taiga, alpine meadows, mountain steppes, high-altitude tundras, but the glacial landscape is predominant, because almost 50% of the area of these highlands is the kingdom of ice, snow, rocks and stony placers, and only 14% is occupied by taiga. Here, on the Katunsky mountain range, directly to the west of the Belukha Mountain, a score of mountain glaciers are concentrated, this is the biggest center of the modern glaciation in Altai. One of these glaciers is Katunsky, situated on the south slopes of the Belukha Mountain, gives birth to the river with the same name, and, thereby, glacial Katunsky waters fill the great Ob in the long run. In its upper reaches, the Katun River framed by high terraces, flows in a deeply grooved bed with a great number of rapids, which just attracts here a lot of water sportsmen and rock climbers. Here one can admire a picturesque cascade of mountain glacier lakes with transparent emerald green water – Multinsky situated at a height of about 2 km.

Ukok zone of rest under the regime of a faunistic preserve (252.9 thousand ha, 1994).

This wild high-altitude plateau, stretching at heights of 2,000–3,000 m, is unique by semideserts and dry steppes directly passing to mountain meadows and tundras, i.e. the local nature “does” without a forest belt. This is the most interesting section of the World Heritage site from the historical-cultural point of view: here were founded rock carvings made by primitive painters, and ancient burial places, covered by mossy stones.

The unique fauna of this Heritage site deserves special mention: because it was inscribed in the UNESCO list just in respect of iv (biodiversity and rare species) not without reason. Among approximately 70 mammal species there are snow leopard (ounce) and moufflon argali, enlisted in the International Red Book. The wild cat manul is an “occupant” of the Russian Red Book as well. These are also over 300 species of birds, including rare ones such as Altai snowcock, black stork, peregrine falcon, golden eagle, bluegrass, sea eagles (white-tailed and long-tailed), saker falcon, imperial eagle, osprey. Among 20 species of fishes there are grayling, taimen, lenok, osman.