Deep in Siberia, the village of Oymyakon holds the distinction of being the coldest permanently inhabited place on Earth. Located just a few hundred miles from the Arctic Circle and reaching record lows of –96.16 degrees Fahrenheit (–71.2 degrees Celsius), one is forced to ponder not only why, but also how the villagers of this remotest of remote locations survive.
With a day that varies from three hours in the winter to 21 hours in the summer and permanently frozen ground due to the extreme subarctic climate, the roughly 500 residents of Oymyakon are mostly unable to grow crops, therefore their diet basically consists of reindeer and horse meat. While spoiled kids to the south get out of school for snow days, the children of Oymyakon are stuck in class unless the temperature falls below –52 degrees Celsius (–61.6 degrees Fahrenheit). If you were to go outside naked on an average day, it would take approximately one minute for you to freeze to death.
Besides the obvious issues of remoteness, the cold itself forces this village to be a simple place with few conveniences. Cars are hard to start with frozen axle grease and fuel tanks, unused pipes can freeze within five hours, and batteries lose life at an alarming speed. Pen ink freezes, anything less than fur fails at keeping the chill off, and electronics are all but useless.
Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges facing these rugged people existing within “Stalin’s Death Ring” is the burial of their dead. With the ground in a state of permafrost, it takes several days to dig a grave, a strenuous task of lighting a bonfire for a few hours, then pushing the coals aside to dig a few inches, then starting another fire, and so on and so forth, until the hole is big enough to hold a coffin.
While its appeal may be mostly due to the novelty of being in such a bizarre climate—there is very little to do in Oymyakon—it has a relatively successful tourism market. Area-specific activities such as reindeer hunts, ice fishing and the juxtaposition of enjoying the hot springs when the temperatures are in the minus-fifties are available to those who would like to experience this opposite of a tropical vacation spot.
Most tourists visit on adventure tours which also take in nearby sights such as the Lena Pillars, gulag prisons, or the village of Tomtor, which hosts an annual Pole of Cold festival featuring Yakut and Evenk culture and cuisine.
Know Before You Go
Oymyakon has no hotels or restaurants, overnight visitors must arrange homestays with local residents.