Oymyakon is a small village located in the north-eastern Russian Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). It is commonly considered the coldest populated place on Earth. Situated in the heart of Siberia an area nicknamed "Stalin's Death Ring" (a former destination for political exiles), Oymyakon boasts an average winter temperature of -45C, with a one-time world record low of -71.2C. Ironically, Oymyakon means "non-freezing water", situated as it is to a nearby hot spring.
Before the 1920s and 30s, Oymyakon was a seasonal stop for reindeer herders. But the Soviet government, in its efforts to settle nomadic populations, claiming they were difficult to control and technologically and culturally backward, made the site a permanent settlement. Today, the village is home to some 500 people, and until recently had a single hotel with no hot water and outside toilet. While a flurry of snow in Western Europe can cause schools there to close for days, Oymyakon's solitary school shuts only when temperatures fall below –52C.
Most homes in Oymyakon still burn coal and wood for heat and enjoy few modern conveniences. There is no mobile coverage in Oymyakon and even if did, it would be unusable as most electronics stop working in freezing temperatures.
Fur is considered a luxury in the West but it is the only thing that keeps you warm. Nothing grows here so all people eat is reindeer and horsemeat. There is a short summer season during which people can grow things, but for the most part people don't eat fruit or vegetables. Medics say the reason they don't suffer from malnutrition is that there must be lots of micronutrients in their animals' milk. A single shop provides the town's provisions and with jobs in short supply most locals resort to reindeer-breeding, hunting and ice-fishing for their livelihoods.
Life in Oymyakon is tough. Pen ink freezes. Batteries lose power faster. Metal sticks to skin. Cars cannot be started without lighting a bonfire beneath the fuel tank. Axle grease also freezes and is warmed with a blowtorch. The local power station burns coal to keep hot water flowing to the homes. When coal deliveries are irregular the power station starts burning wood. If the power ceases, the town shuts down in about five hours, and the pipes freeze and crack.
Another problem posed by frigid temperature is burying of dead bodies. It takes two or three days to dig a grave in frozen ground. To dig a grave, a bonfire is lit for a couple of hours, which allows the ground to thaw a little. The hot coals are then pushed to the side and a hole couple of inches deep is dug. The process is repeated for several days until the hole is deep enough to bury the coffin.
There is not much to do in Oymyakon, but that doesn’t stop travel companies from offering tours to the village in the middle of winter. Tourists make the journey simply to experience what it’s like to be in a place that cold. In addition, they are often taken on tours of local farms and museums and get to experience ice fishing. And there’s always an opportunity to take a dip in Oymyakon’s hot spring when the air temperature is in the minus-fifties Celsius.
-55 degree centigrade
Boiling water freezes when throw into the air.
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