750 We introduce to you a new vacation spot for government leaders...
stumbled upon by an Avtorevue magazine expedition to the Altai area
|New residence looks too small to be either a palace or a sanatorium|
|Local peasant Lev|
|Highway, you turn down a barely noticeable side road, this dirt road will quickly take you to a road that is not yet on any map. The place is a beehive of activity. Graders and excavators are busy on the roadside and dump trucks trundle to and fro|
|We had walked hardly a hundred metres up the newly-laid asphalt before a patrol car drove up and blocked our way. Three husky fellows jumped out. The expressions on their faces were not conducive to dialogue|
“Stop. The road ends here.”
A lad in a private security guard uniform was standing in front of a steel cable slung across the road.
What do you mean? There is the road. Beyond the steel cable was a strip of excellent asphalt with freshly painted markings; a villa could be glimpsed in the middle of the valley and, a little closer, a helicopter pad, outbuildings and railway flats for builders. No walls or fences, no signs forbidding entry. We can’t drive? OK, we’ll walk. The guard became fidgety: you can’t walk either, this is private property.
We had walked hardly a hundred metres up the newly-laid asphalt before a patrol car drove up and blocked our way. Three husky fellows jumped out. The expressions on their faces were not conducive to dialogue, yet one of us was brave enough to ask why… In reply we were told that this was a protected facility intended for top government officials to rest. Frankly, we had guessed so ourselves. If, when you reach Km 451 on the Chuisk Highway, you turn down a barely noticeable side road, this dirt road will quickly take you to a road that is not yet on any map. The place is a beehive of activity. Graders and excavators are busy on the roadside and dump trucks trundle to and fro. The scale of construction is such that we felt we were not in the Altai wilderness but in Sochi. A brand-new power line slashed across the landscape. All this had appeared in less than a year. Twenty kilometres down the road, you reach a valley where the rivers Ursul and Sumulta flow into the Katun. That is where the house stands.
The official web page of the Republic of Altai Government says that, in 2009, Gazprom decided to build a tourist complex, Altai Inn, and that the complex would kick-start development of Altai’s massive tourist potential. True, Gazprom people told us that the inn was intended for meetings with business partners, corporate events and for hosting foreign guests. So the tourist potential will obviously cater to a very narrow circle of people. Judging from the way we were pushed out of the inn, we were not members of that circle.
Rumours in Altai claim that the circle is, in fact, even narrower: indeed, guest and partner will be one and the same person, the number one person. We were immediately reminded of the unfortunate experience of journalists and archaeologists from the mountainous part of Altai who tried to attract public attention to the villa and the road. At their request, the Prosecutor’s Office discovered some irregularities in the builders’ operations and even fined the road contractor but, as a result, the initiators of the inspection had some trouble with the law.
We left the grounds ourselves, not waiting to be pushed out. Gazprom is apparently building the Altai Inn with its own money. The official customer is its subsidiary firm, Gazpromneft. The land, as we were told by the regional administration, had been bought from a deer-breeding farm that went bust and that it did not have the status of a nature reserve. The total cost of the complex is about 1.5 billion roubles. The company will decide how to use the tourist facility and it answered all our questions in the same way as the guards did: “This is private property”.
But the road is not private property.
The documents in fact do not refer to it as a road but, rather coyly, as a “spur off highway M52”. The customer is the state-owned institution Gorno-Altai Avtodor, which means the republic’s administration. We easily discovered the cost on the Internet: four billion roubles, ie, 200 million per kilometre. By comparison, the annual budget of the whole republic is nine billion. But it is not the locals who are paying: at the Prime Minister’s special order, the “spur” leading to Gazprom’s complex has been financed out of the Federal Budget, ie, with tax payers’ money.
“The road will give tourists access to attractive new recreation spots on the banks of the Katun”, reads the official site of the Republic of Altai. Where are these places? By hook or by crook we managed to drive into the restricted area. Right behind it is a dirt road leading to the village of Kayancha. The security guards had softened and parked their vehicle in such a way that we were forced to turn on to the dirt road without reaching the villa.
After a nine-kilometre bumpy ride we see what was once a village. Several ramshackle huts, what remains of fences, an old UAZ vehicle. A local inhabitant who introduced himself as Lev emerged from a hut on the edge of the village.
He told us that he was breeding and selling horses, that gays held jamborees on the bank of Katun every summer and finally told us the details of how the Prime Minister himself allegedly came to inspect the tourist complex: “We expected him to fly in by chopper but he drove by jeep.”
At that point, one of us noted that the grass growing around the house was cannabis. Lev looked a bit embarrassed and said that the locals were not interested in the grass: “Even the locusts don’t eat it here; it’s only for those who come here every summer.”
As we were about to leave, he asked us for cigarettes. We left him all the packs that we had on us. We gathered that Lev and cannabis in the village of Kayancha were precisely the “attractive recreation spots” for the sake of which mountains are being blown up, a luxury road is being built and a power transmission line erected.
Photo by Alexander Yevgrafov and Dmitry Chistoprudov
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