Saturday 5 March 2016

Norilsk: City at the edge of the world

Evidence of the vastness of the world is somehow comforting in a time of viral vacuity and superficial instant commentary on the planet’s least interesting people. So it was with glee that I read about a distant outpost of humanity about which I previously knew nothing. Norilsk is a place known to few but inhabited by hundreds of thousands, a city of such staggering remoteness that the details of the lives of its inhabitants seem scarcely believable.

Established in the Stalin era in northern reaches of Siberia, Norilsk is a city built around some of the richest mining deposits in the world. Nickel and other metals come from the ground in incredible quantities, but life in the city is life on the edge of the possible. Winter temperatures touch -50 Celsius; buses to industrial hubs travel in convoys of 25 for safety. You can’t reach this city by road. In winter (which is most of the time) you can’t reach it by boat either. Planes are the only option. Locals refer to the rest of Russia as “the mainland”. Then there’s the fact that gaining permission to visit is incredibly hard. One extreme-travel forum I read advised those hoping to go, who did not have perseverant contacts within the city, to forget it.

It’s one of a number of cities in Russia which represent a sort of unexplored frontier. Check out Yakutsk, Magadan and Dikson for other remote Russian outposts. I can’t imagine I’d enjoy living in any of these places, but I’m glad they’re there.

Photographer Elena Chernyshova talks about her startling images of Norilsk here:

Do you live in Norilsk, or have you visited? Tell us what it's like in the comments below.