Why to visit Reindeer Herder Festival in Salekhard (Yamal, Russia)?

Where: Salekhard and Aksarka, Yamal, Russia

When: last Saturday of March in Salekhard / first Saturday of April in Aksarka

There are a lot of different Festivals and holidays in Russia. But Reindeer Herder Festival in Salekhard, Russia is the main event of the year for native nomads of Yamal – Nenets and Khanty people. The case is that they are roaming with their herds of reindeer during the whole year around all Yamal far from cities, and they come to Salekhard only for this Festival. The government of Yamal did great efforts to make Nenets and Khanty to start annually visiting this event so after around 10 years this celebration got huge scaling. Now Nenets and Khanty visit the city not only to sell their goods and handicrafts, but also to compete with each other in different contests with snowmobile as the main prize – the dream for every nomad! And the government’s efforts were rewarded with fast growing of touristic sector! As nomads come closer to Salekhard, a lot of tourists from Russia and all over the world have now opportunity to Visit reindeer herders camp and Reindeer Herder Festival in order to learn more about authentic culture of these indigenous people of Yamal. They decided to organize two festivals in Yamal with difference in one week to make celebration and camping of nomads longer and closer to city. Because after celebrations, they move back far away to tundra and it makes more difficult for tourists to reach them.

What is the difference between Reindeer Herder Festival in Salekhard and Aksarka?

Some people ask what is better Reindeer Herder Festival in Salekhard or Aksarka? To be honest, both celebrations are beautiful and interesting! The only difference is that celebration in Salekhard is more official with participation of local authorities, invitation of journalists and television, etc. But Festival in Aksarka is more cozy without official delegations and long speeches. But there are the same contests and usually same participants! I think it is not bad to compete for prizes again if you wasn’t lucky enough to win them in Salekhard 😉

What is Reindeer Herder Festival for Nenets and Khanty people? 

I will say simple – it is similar to Oscar ceremony for cinema industry, but even more important! Just imagine that people were roaming for the whole year far away from civilization and even other nomads. They usually have 1000-3000 of reindeer in every family, so they can’t go close to each other to have enough food for reindeer, and during the year people have communication only inside of their family!

That is why for Nenets and Khanty people this holiday is the only opportunity to see friends, to show their kids that were born after last festival, to buy fuel, medicines, tools and other stuff, to win a snowmobile in competitions or to find a wife (or a husband for  daughter). 

By the way, they don’t have time for dating because after festival they will not see each other for the whole year! So if somebody finds future wife, they usually get married right here during the celebration!

Another point – ladies are always ladies, even in the north 🙂 Can you imagine a lady that didn’t see her friends for the whole year and now will have time with them? What will she do? Of course she will choose the best and the most beautiful clothes for her and her kids to flaunt 🙂 And this is 100% true for Nenets and Khanty women as well! So they prepare for this meeting very seriously and make national fur coats for kids and themselves through the whole year before event!

What to see and what to do in Salekhard during Reindeer Herder Festival?

During this event you will have opportunity to visit “chum” – traditional camp house of Nenets and Khanty to chat with them and to try their traditional food.

 You will see a beauty contest of national Nenets and Khanty clothes! It will be not so easy for judges to choose the winner!

National clothes of Khanty and Nenets people during tour to Reindeer herder festival in Salekhard (Yamal, Russia)

Who is the strongest in Tundra? National wrestling competition will show the champion!

Strong legs make life of reindeer herder easier when walking in the snow. Jumping through “narty” (sleigh) competition will show who is the best here!

A herder who can’t catch his reindeer will stay hungry 🙂 Throwing of “tynzyan” (lasso) to “khorey” (wooden stick) will show who is the best reindeer catcher!

Tug of stick competition will show who has strongest hands!

And the main event of the day – reindeer sleigh racing! No doubts, they are preparing for this one for the whole year, choose the fastest reindeer and train them to win a snowmobile!

And after the festival you will have opportunity to visit “stoybische” (camp of reindeer herders) in 50-100 km from the city to spend the night in chum, to learn how to cook traditional Nenets and Khanty food, to see huge reindeer herd and to experience how these people live in their everyday life and to watch Northern Lights.

If you travel to Reindeer Herder Festival in Salekhard or Aksarka, you will have the strongest charge of positive emotion for the whole year and maybe would like to come here again next March!

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Dmitry Doronin

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