Magadan – gulag sites and ghost towns
- darkometer rating: 10 -
Amongst the most exotic destinations it is (just about) possible to travel to as a tourist – far out in Asian Russia
, in the empty vastness of eastern Siberia. Going on a trip to that part of the world is one of the most tempting things out there that I haven't yet been able to do. I hope one day I can!
Only from 2011, and again in 2012, specialist operators Koryo Tours
(normally specialists in North Korea
– see sponsored page here
!) have pioneered organized tours to this most remote area. These included not just Magadan city itself, but also gulag
sites in the vicinity, as well as extension trips to some Soviet-era ghost towns
left behind after the collapse of the USSR
Highlight of the latter category must be Kadykchan – a large ghost town very reminiscent in appearance to Pripyat (near Chernobyl
), high up inland on the infamous Kolyma highway – aka the "road of bones", as it too was constructed mostly by gulag forced labour. This "road" (often more a rough track) ultimately leads to the "nearest" bigger town, Yakutsk, over 1200 miles (2000 km) from Magadan! It's an absolute dream destination for anyone (like me) who is into the beauty of decay and ghost towns in general – with the added bonus of a most extreme middle-of-nowhere
Even more sobering still are of course the gulag sites. Magadan is possibly the most infamous name of all gulags from the grim Stalin
era. Political prisoners sent to these camps were the most unlucky ones. In the camp's locations of utmost isolation these prisoners had absolutely zero chance of escape … so they didn't even bother putting up fences around these camps. There simply would have been nowhere survivable to flee to! Today only a few ruins can be seen, but still – these are ghost towns in more than one sense of the word!
In Magadan city itself, or rather towering above it on a hill to the north, there is a large concrete monument called the "Mask of Sorrow" (built in 1996) that commemorates the gulag legacy of the area. Allegedly there is also supposed to be a small private museum about the gulag history of the area, called Kolyma Gulag Museum (http://www.lagerkolyma.narod.ru/main.htm), but I haven't been able to find out details such as opening times and exact address …
The Magadan tours run by Koryo start from Vladivostok, normally as an extension to their already extreme tours of the north-eastern corners of China
and North Korea
, but participants can also join separately from those tours by making their own way to Vladivostok. The name of that city also has an exotic ring about it, especially as it is the terminus of the legendary Trans-Siberian railway that goes all the way to/from Moscow! But more conveniently you can also fly there, not only from Pyongyang
but also (more regularly) from Moscow
Magadan sits in mind-boggling isolation on the south-eastern coast of far-eastern Siberia, Asian Russia
, that stretches between Kamchatka (in the furthest east) and Sakhalin island (north of Vladivostok).
Google maps locator: [59.5916,150.8121