REGION BY REGION
(OBLAST BY OBLAST)

Western BAM

western bam – западный бам

The Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) runs from Taishet located 660 km north-west of Irkutsk around the top of Lake Baikal to Sovietskaya Gavan on the Pacific coast. The construction commenced in 1930s but works stopped during WWII and restarted in 1974. The rail road crosses virgin territory that is much more scenic than predominantly flat landscapes along the Trans-Siberian mainline. To drive along the BAM is a challenge and a cherished dream for every road traveler. Such a road trip is very weather dependable and may turn extreme in adverse weather conditions like heavy rains or snowfalls. Remember, most bridges across numerous rivers collapsed, the road is 80% unpaved, traffic is low, technical assistance is limited, winter temperatures are low, concentration of mosquitoes and brown bears in summer is high. The Western BAM stretches from Taishet to Tynda. The Eastern BAM runs from Tynda to Sovietskaya Gavan and is more difficult to drive along than the Western BAM. I drove along the Western BAM both ways (Taishet-Tynda and Tynda-Taishet) in February and March 2020. The trip to Tynda was easy and took five days. The trip from Tynda was strenuous and took eight days due to heavy road conditions.

A western BAM road trip Taishet - Bodaibo - Tynda is not an ordinary itinerary. There are no architectural masterpieces, no historic battlefields along the way. But the trip is certainly enlightening for truly curious travelers who wish to have an insight into provincial Russia. Under adverse weather condition a trip can be somewhat extreme. In cold season the western BAM is easier doable than in warm one.

taishet – тайшет (irkutsk oblast)

Taishet is major rail road junction. It is located about half way between Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk, thus, making a good place to spend a night when traveling by road from Krasnoyarsk to Irkutsk or vice versa. However adventure-minded travelers prefer to head east via Chunsky (Чунский) towards Bratsk and Severobaikalsk to explore less touristy areas.

The railway station combined with a WWII memorial.

The memorial stone commemorates the BAM's 40th anniversary and states that BAM begins in Taishet.

I love Taishet and Russian rail roads.

Lenin in Taishet is as golden as he is painted.

The water tower of an unusual design was built in 1906.

The first leg of the Western BAM motor road towards Bratsk via Chunsky is mostly unpaved and a bit bumpy.

A newly built church in one of the villages.

BRATSK – БРАТСК (IRKUTSK OBLAST)

Bratsk was founded in 1631. It became a town only in the mid-1950s thanks to the construction of the Bratsk hydropower station. In 1967-71 the Bratsk hydropower station was the world’s biggest electricity generator. The dam is 30 km from central Bratsk towards Ust-Kut. The town itself is devoid of any attractive sights.

The Taiga Hotel.

The drama theatre.

The monument to builders of the Bratsk power station.

The dam across the Angara River.

After Bratsk the motor road runs next to the BAM rail road. The road is paved.

ust-kut – усть-кут (IRKUTSK OBLAST)

The town was founded in 1631. The rail road reached Ust-Kut in 1951. Thus, in 1974 it was the starting point of the renewed BAM construction. The Ust-Kut river port once was the biggest transshipment centre in the USSR.  It is unusual that the town, its railway station and river port all have different names. The railway station is named "Lena", the river terminal "Osetrovo". The name is derived from the word "sturgeon" which implies that sturgeon still occurs naturally in the Lena River.


The Lena Railway Station.

The Lena Hotel.

The Osetrovo River Terminal on the Lena River.

The founder of Ust-Kut Cossack Ivan Galkin.

The founder of the Soviet state Vladimir Lenin.

To BAM builders.

The BAM mainline after Ust-Kut.


The motor road is unpaved all the way to Severobaikalsk.

ulkan – улькан (IRKUTSK OBLAST)

Every BAM town and every BAM railway station is a blast from the good old Soviet past. The BAM railroad and BAM towns were built by work force from all 15 Soviet republics and all regions (aka oblasts) of the USSR. Ulkan was designed and built by engineers and workers from the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan. The settlement still has a sizable Azeri population. The railway station is decorated respectively: with colorful mosaics depicting lovely Azeri girls and oil men.

The figure of a stone breaker in front of the station symbolizers a BAM builder trail blazing through virgin taiga, hard rock and inhospitable environment despite all hardships and difficulties.


In 2019 the BAM celebrated its 45th anniversary. Placards commemorating the event can be seen in every BAM town.


daban pass (davan) – перевал дабан (даван)

A rather scenic snow and ice covered road runs towards Severobaikalsk.

In the mountainous area snow is almost car deep.

The border between Irkutsk Oblast and Buryatia runs on top of the Daban Pass (sometimes referred to as Davan).


The Daban Pass is ill-famed for its snow-drifted narrow and slippery roads. Irresponsible truckers venture the pass without taking a trouble to put chains on their wheels and block traffic for hours. Bastards.

Waiting can lasts many hours until a bigger truck or a tractor arrives and pulls the crippled truck aside.

severobaikalsk  – северобайкальск (buryatia)

Severobaikalsk was founded in 1974. The town was designed and built by engineers and workers from Leningrad. The area around Severobaikalsk is less developed than in the southern part of Baikal and offers superb views of the lake and surrounding mountains.


Buryatia is a Buddhist republic.

The railway station.

The central square.

The BAM is a road of friendship.

hot springs of cape kotelnikovsky (BURYATIA)

The Northern Baikal is famous for hot springs. The best place to soak in medicinal thermal waters is Cape Kotelnikovsky about 80 km south of Severobaikalsk. In warm season the cape can be reached by boat. In winter by car by frozen lake. To drive by an ice road is very enjoyable.

A short video.

https://youtu.be/J9sikKI69rQ

Some good people have built a hotel around the hot springs. The hotel is located at the foot of Baikal mountains amid stunning scenery.  The water gushing from underground is very hot. It is diluted with Baikal water to be about comfortable 41ºC. Visitors are welcome to swim in two pools for 1,200 rubles (as of 2020).

The way to Kotelnikovsky runs through the village of Baikalskoe (Байкальское) located right on Lake Baikal shore.

kichera – кичера (BURYATIA)

After Severobaikalsk the paved road skirts Nizhneangarsk and ends in Kichera 42 km further east. Roadside structures glorify tunnel builders: "Tunnels are built by real men", and display tunnel building machinery.

Kichera was designed and built by engineers and workers of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic. The settlement appeared in 1978.

The railway station.

Between Kichera and next station of Angoya.

hot springs of dzelinda – дзелинда (BURYATIA)

In about 35 km east of Kichera watch for the direction sign "Дзелинда". Turn left. It is a short detour from the road. Entry fee is 350 rubles (as of 2020). The water heals skin conditions and ailing joints. If you travel by train hop off at train stop "1156 km".


angoya – ангоя (BURYATIA)

Next stop is Angoya about 60 km east of Kichera. Like Ulkan, Angoya was also designed and built by engineers and workers from the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan. The railway station is named after Geidar Aliyev who in Soviet times was the leader of the Soviet Azerbaijan. After collapse of the Soviet Union he was the third president of the Republic of Azerbaijan(1993-2003). After his death his son Ilham Aliyev took over the presidency.

The memorial plate commemorating Geidar Aliyev.

Some views between Angoya and Novy Uoyan.


novy uoyan – новый уоян (BURYATIA)

Novy Uoyan founded in 1976 is about 60 km east of Angoya. The railway station was designed and built by engineers and workers from the Soviet Socialist Republic of Lithuania. There are two hotels Novy Uoyan.


Some views between Novy Uoyan and Severomuisk.


severomuisk – северомуйск (BURYATIA)

Welcome to Severomuisk.


Severomuisk is located 140 km from Novy Uoyan. When traveling bear in mind that there are no hotels in Severomuisk. It is famous for the 15,343 meter long Severomuisk Tunnel. The construction lasted 26 years (1977-2003) and claimed 57 lives. It was undoubtedly the most difficult and engineeringly problematic section of the entire BAM. The construction of the tunnel required hundreds of unique engineering solutions. Before the tunnel was completed, trains had to take a long and winding road around the rather high and steep Severomuisk Pass. The bypassing railroad included two smaller tunnels. In one of the tunnels trains made a U-turn. Below: the straight black line marks the Severomuisk Tunnel. The red curve marks the bypassing rail road. The yellow line marks the motor road.

The monument to tunnel builders. The tunnel entrance can be seen in the background.


Before the tunnel was commissioned, trains crossed gorges by stilted bridges.


The first all-terrain vehicle that reached location of future Severomuisk is now a monument.

taksimo – таксимо (BURYATIA)

Next stop on the BAM road trip is the town of Taksimo 100 km east of Severomuisk. First 35 km after Severomuisk are very bumpy. Taksimo was founded in 1910. It became a town in early 1980s thanks to the BAM construction. The railway station was designed and built by engineers and workers from the Soviet Socialist Republic of Latvia. The station is rather big and busy.

There are several hotels in Taksimo accommodating gold prospectors on the way to the Lena goldfields 230 km north of the town. The Tsentralnaya Hotel also welcomes road travelers .

ANT-4 Soviet made aircraft was the world's first fully metal monoplane. The plane crashed near Taksimo in 1940 doing a land survey job during the pre-WWII effort to build the BAM.

bodaibo - бодайбо (irkutsk oblast)

Once a road traveler travels as far as Taksimo, it makes sense to make a detour from the BAM and to drive 230 km north to visit the town of Bodaibo. Founded in 1863 Bodaibo has been a centre of gold mining ever since.

The road between Taksimo and Bodaibo.


Bodaibo stands on the opposite side of the Vitim River. There is no bridge. In warm season the river is crossed by ferry, in cold season by ice road. In transitional time period Bodaibo can be reached only by air.

The town hall.

The main office of the Lenzoloto gold mining company.

Lenin in Bodaibo is tall and slim.

LENA SHOOTING

In April 1912 workers of the Lena goldfields demonstrated against poor living and working conditions and low salaries. About 200 were shot dead. The massacre sparked large-scale protests all over Russia.  According to Lenin, the event played a big role to convert the revolutionary mood of masses into revolutionary upheaval which eventually led to the 1917 October Socialist Revolution aka Russian Revolution. The shooting took place 65 km north of Bodaibo at Aprelsk gold mine. In 1967 a monument was erected to commemorate the event.

kropotkin - кропоткин (IRKUTSK OBLAST)

Driving 65 km north of Aprelsk (130 km from Bodaibo) will take you to the gold mining town of Kropotkin founded in 1861. The town is named after a famous Russian revolutionary anarchist Pyotr Kropotkin (1842-1921). Before ideas of anarchy and revolutionary transformations engulfed him, Kropotkin spent several years exploring vast areas of Siberia including Lena goldfields.

This modest monument is dedicated to Kropotkin the geographer. Kropotkin the revolutionary anarchist is perpetuated in Moscow by the Kropotkinskaya metro station. There is one more town named after Pyotr Kropotkin in Krasnodar Krai.

Some views of Kropotkin.

Somewhere between Bodaibo and Kropotkin.

the vitim bridge

Sixty km east of Taksimo road travelers inevitably arrive at the Vitim River. The river is about 500 m wide and spanned by two bridges. While the rail road bridge is a standard solid reliable structure, the motor road bridge is a sub-standard unreliable structure. It was built as a makeshift bridge during the BAM construction. The road way is made of sleepers found not good for the rail road. Thus, the bridge is one sleeper wide, has no guard rails or curbs, no lighting. Old sleepers decayed over the years which resulted in many gaping holes. The bridge wobbles when a vehicle moves by bumpy sleepers. The bridge is 15 meters high. Long spans rest on metal supports. In spring 2019 one support was destroyed by moving ice. Therefore, the Vitim Bridge is rightfully considered to be the most dangerous bridge in Russia; another challenge and a cherished dream for extreme road travelers.

One support is missing. Two spans cling to each other resting on nothing but air.

The Vitim Bridge at day time.

https://youtu.be/pR08LuprXBw

On the way from Tynda to Taishet I approached the Vitim Bridge at night.

The Vitim Bridge at night.

https://youtu.be/DAzozV-z4aE

Between Taksimo and Novaya Chara the road gets narrower, snow deeper, mountains grow higher. Most bridges across smaller rivers and creeks collapsed long ago. Those still standing look precarious. The road is not maintained. Occasional vehicles are on their own. It took me 11 hours to drive 320 km from Taksimo to Novaya Chara with photo stops and time spent to evaluate the condition of precarious bridges or to find a way to bypass obstacles. Oncoming traffic consisted of only one vehicle. Due to favorable weather conditions the drive was very enjoyable.

Sometimes the BAM motor road comes very close to the BAM rail road.


kuanda - куанда (zabaikalsky krai)

Kuanda is located 25 km from the Vitim Bridge and 160 km from Novaya Chara. The settlement appeared on the map in 1981. The station was designed and built by engineers and workers from the Soviet Socialist Republic of Uzbekistan.

The interior is decorated with Uzbek colorful patterns.

On September 29, 1984 the team of rail road builders laying rails from east to west met the team laying rails from west to east thus completing the entire length of the BAM. It happened 40 km east of Kuanda. The event is commemorated by a monument.

The BAM construction medal was minted soon after the rail road had been completed.

The exact spot where the golden link was laid is marked with a simpler monument.

Most bridges between Kuanda and Novaya Chara are broken.

Underground water seeps to surface creating dangerous obstacles.

The frozen Maloe Leprindo Lake offers 8 km of fast ice road.

https://youtu.be/0wX1W6bg4iQ

novaya chara - новая чара (ZABAIKALSKY KRAI)

The town was founded in 1979. The railway station was designed and built by engineers and workers from the Soviet Socialist Republic of Kazakhstan. Novaya Chara is worth staying a full day to make a day trip to the world's northernmost desert - the Chara Sands located just several kilometers from the town. There is a big modern hotel in Novaya Chara offering a comfortable stay.

The railway station.

The interior is decorated with wood carvings depicting scenes of Kazakh life.

The Kodar Hotel.

The streets are decorated with placards dating back to good old Soviet times when the BAM construction was underway.


In February the Chara Sands are blanketed with snow but sand patches on southern slopes of dunes are visible. The desert measures just about 50 square kilometers and backed up by the dramatic Kodar mountain range.

A short video of Chara Sands.

https://youtu.be/odsQcem9YcA

CHARA - ЧАРА (ZABAIKALSKY KRAI)

Novaya Chara literally means New Chara. Old Chara or just Chara is a village 18 km north of Novaya Chara. The village existed long before the BAM was conceived. There is a small airport which connects both Charas with Chita the administrative centre of Zabaikalsky Krai.

ikabiya - икабья (ZABAIKALSKY KRAI)

The settlement was founded in 1980. The railway station was designed and built by engineers and workers from the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia. The metal decoration above the entrance depicts a Georgian girl and reads, "From Georgia to BAM". Ikabiya is 40 km from Novaya Chara.

Views around Ikabiya.

The snow drifted road is treacherous.


khany - хани (yakutia)

Next stop on the BAM road trip is Khany 100 km east of Ikabiya. The settlement founded in 1980 is geographically in Yakutia Republic. The railway station was designed and built by engineers and workers from the Soviet Socialist Republics of Lithuania and Ukraine.

On the way from Khany to Olyokma.

olyokma  - олёкма (amur oblast)

Next station is Olyokma in Amur Oblast about 60 km from Khany. The settlement is small and neat.

Perhaps the smallest WWII memorial in Russia.

The Olyokma River is a serious hurdle in warm season. It is deep and can't be forded. The bridge is meant for trains only. There are two options: either to arrange a railway platform or to strike a deal with the bridge security guards. In winter the crossing is simple: you need a 4WD car and a snow shovel.

yuktaly - юктали (AMUR OBLAST)

Yuktaly 110 km east of Olyokma was founded in 1976. The railway station was designed and built by engineers and workers from Chelyabinsk Oblast.

chilchy - чильчи (AMUR OBLAST)

The railway station of Chilchy 130 km east of Yuktaly came into being in 1976.

Wooden houses have long been abandoned.

Those made of prefabricated units are still occupied.

LopchA - ЛопчА (AMUR OBLAST)

The railway station of Lopcha is about 50 km east of Chilchy.


larba - ларба (AMUR OBLAST)

Next station named Larba is about 50 km east of Lopcha.

The station's interior is decorated with mosaics.


kuvykta - кувыкта (AMUR OBLAST)

Further 95 km east travelers arrive at the railway station of Kuvykta.

The railway station was designed and built by engineers and workers from Sverdlovsk Oblast. There is a respective reminder.

Most BAM stations are one storey buildings when viewed from the rail tracks and three-four storey ones on the reverse side.

The traffic control room.

The only administrative building houses all possible government and private services.


tynda - тында (AMUR OBLAST)

Tynda was founded in 1917. The town is considered to be the BAM's capital.

The railway station was designed and built by engineers and workers from Moscow.

The interior is decorated with paintings.


The main street.

The Yunost (Youth) Hotel.

The Saint Trinity Church.

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