- uploaded: Mar 31, 2012
- Hits: 1118
The mysterious 'cauldrons' in the Yakutia's Valley of Death.
The Siberian taiga is a vast stretch of mainly barren coniferous forest as unspoiled and unexplored as the Amazon jungle, and more than 100,000 sq km in western Yakutia are completely uninhabited. Devoid of any sort of trails, the terrain is mostly thick forest, full of uprooted trees, sprawling swamps and swarms of mosquitoes. In short, it's an ancient wildwood - an ideal setting for myths and legends about strange creatures and anomalous zones where bizarre things happen. Even the local wild man - Chuchuna - is far from exceptional here, and the most fascinating mystery of all is a strange legend about a terrible 'Valley of Death' filled with unnatural, dome-shaped structures.
Local traditions record that lone hunters from the nomadic Evenks and other Yakutians who wander into these weird valleys - there could be more than one - have described odd hemispherical 'iron houses' (kheldyu) that proturude from the perpetually frozen ground. These smooth, reddish formations often have an opening at the top, with a winding stairwell leading down to a circular gallery with numerous 'metal' rooms. Despite temperatures of 40 below outside, the interiors are said to be pleasantly warm. The old Yakutians do not know the origin of these 'houses' or to whom they belong. They vaguely associate them with the ancient demons of the taiga, Niurgun Bootur and Tong Duurai (see 'Yakutian Legends', below).
These mysterious structures - the locals also refer to them as olguis, or upturned 'cauldrons' - are said to be forged out of an unknown metal, copper-like in colour, incredibly hard and with razor-sharp edges. No one has ever been able to cut off even a fragment. Over time, the Yakutians have noticed that some 'cauldrons' are gradually sinking into the frozen ground and disappearing, leaving behind large circular stains of odd vegetation. These places are dangerous to all living things. Stay too long and your head will spin; you'll be struck by an unknown fatal illness. For this reason, tribal elders long since proscribed such areas, declaring them cursed. The region is called Uliuiu Cherkechekh - the Valley of Death.
There are modern tales of travellers who stumbled upon the taiga cauldrons. Some sound plausible, others more outrageous. Mikhail Korecky from Vladivostok wrote to the newspaper Trud that heâ€™d been to the Valley of Death three times. The first was in 1933, when he was 10 years old; the second in 1937; and finally in 1947 with some friends. He saw a total of seven â€˜cauldronsâ€™; all looked mysterious and measured 6-9m in diameter. The vegetation around them was peculiar, more lush than the surrounding plants, with giant burdock leaves, long stalks and weird grass twice as tall as a man. On the last visit, Korecky and his companions spent the night in one â€˜cauldronâ€™; although nothing dramatic occurred that night, one friend lost all his hair within a month and Korecky developed two small pustules on his cheek which never healed.
In 1936, a geologist visiting the Olguidakh River (the â€œplace with a cauldronâ€), found a â€˜cauldronâ€™ that was not completely submerged. A smooth hemisphere of metal 2cm thick and with razor-sharp edges, it was reddish in colour. Barely a fifth of it was above ground and the opening in its vault was accessible to a person sitting on a reindeer. The geologist sent its description to the capital city Yakutsk, but no one paid any attention.
A dis covery by an old Evenki hunter met with similar lack of interest. In 1971, he claimed to have found an â€œiron burrowâ€ in the ground in which he saw the bodies of skinny, black, one-eyed beings in â€œiron costumesâ€. No one believed him, despite his willingness to show them to anyone who was interested. Unfortunately, he has since died.
Not until 1979 did a serious archaeological expedition set out from Yakutsk. Despite the fact that it had a guide - an old settler who had seen the 'cauldrons' in his youth - the expedition failed to locate them. The area where they were said to be had changed dramatically in the intervening years. The vegetation had grown so thick that one couldnâ€™t see more than 10 steps ahead, making discovery a matter of luck.
Russian ufologists have proposed that these â€˜cauldronsâ€™ are the remains of UFOs, wrecked in an accident or an ancient aerial battle. Russian researcher Dr Valerey Uvarov argues that they are connected to a power plant located deep inside the Earth, a weapon to protect our planet from dangers in outer space. Extraterrestrials built them in ancient times, he says, and now they operate automatically, having shot down the Tunguska meteorite in 1908, the Chulym meteorite in 1984, and most recently, the Vitim meteorite in 2002. Today, he alleges, the radiation levels in the area are rising again and wildlife is leaving the woods as if in preparation for some imminent event.
INTO THE VALLEY
The little-known and still unsolved mystery of Yakutiaâ€™s Valley of Death and its â€˜cauldronsâ€™ mesmerised me. Were they natural formations? If they were artificial, who built them and for what purpose? The strange illnesses of those who linger near the â€˜cauldronsâ€™ suggested heightened levels of radioactivity. It was little wonder that so few ventured in search of them; the shortage of real information and the remoteness of the region added expense to the danger. But, to explore the dreaded Valley and find the mysterious metal hemispheres before they all disappeared deep beneath the earth would surely be a worldwide sensa ion. My team didnâ€™t believe in the UFOs or the black, one-eyed beings: our first concern was to discover wheth er the â€˜cauldronsâ€™ truly existed, and if so, what they were.
Our biggest problem was figuring out how to locate the â€˜cauldronsâ€™ in the vast, impenetrable taiga. The best information we had about the location was a vague notion that they lie somewhere along the Olguidakh River, a tributary of the Viliuy, deep in the taiga. Eye witnesses who could lead us there were suddenly nowhere to be found. Blindly wandering on foot was bound to be a failure. The only viable solution was a birds-eye exploration at a time of year when the snow had melted and the trees were with out obscuring leaves. A pilot could explore in an hour what would take a month on foot. He could fly over a selected area and videotape the landscape below him for any anomalies.
But we couldnâ€™t afford a helicopter; just one hour would cost USD 1,500. Jirka Zitka, our pilot, had access to a powered hang-glider, but after much deliberat ion, we rejected this option. It would be too difficult to take off in such a thickly wooded region, or to land the craft in an emergency. In the end, we opted for a motor paraglider - in practice, a motor-propelled parachute - which could take off and land in a small area.
Our transport abandoned us under a bridge over the Olguidakh and took off down the dusty road towards the town of Mirnyj. I sat on a stuffed field-rucksack, wondering how we were to penetrate the taiga while probing both sides of the river. We couldnâ€™t carry the immense load of equipment and 14 daysâ€™ worth of provisions on our backs. Even the best equipped â€˜off-roadâ€™ could not traverse this pathless jungle. Instead, we chose a well-tested mode of wildwood transportation - the river. We blew up an inflatable raft, which was soon to become our most irreplaceable companion, and put all our gear and supplies on a second smaller inflatable boat.
Our guide was SlÃ¡va Pastuchov, a materialist who did not believe in legends and who came with us to fish, hunt and, most importantly, help us survive. An experienced hunter, even he felt uneasy as we sailed through an eerie, dead land of bare and broken trees. He soon left us, hurrying away.
They say that the Valley of Death is really a whole chain of valleys around the riverbanks. In order to explore the entire 200km stretch of the river, we split it up into several parts. In each of them we stopped for a few days and, if the overgrown, swampy banks permitted it, set up camps from which we would embark on expeditions.
Launching a parachute in the taiga was no easy feat. Breaking into a sprint while trying not to trip on uneven marshland full of giant roots and hidden holes with 30kg on your back required strong legs. We had no previous experience of flying a motor-operated parachute, and for Pavel StepÃ¡n, our other pilot, success was a unique athletic achievement.
â€œI found some thing!â€ Pavel yelled to us seconds after landing his parachute. â€œI saw a strange circle,â€ he said, pointing eastwards of the river. We clustered around the camera and replayed the recording. He was right! In the middle of a monotonous landscape was a strange annulus. With the help of a computer, the taiga image and our Google Earth satellite images, we determined the exact coordinates of the strange circle. Overjoyed at the prospect of finding our first â€˜cauldronâ€™, we opened a bottle of vodka.
Despite it being June, we were surprised by a night of snowfall. When the snow didnâ€™t recede by the second day, we lost patience and set out, searching for the mysterious spot. We climbed up a low hill, GPS in hand, through snowy thickets to a clearing at the top and stopped in surprise. Weâ€™d never seen anything like this. It wasnâ€™t the long-sought, smooth, protruding hemisphere, but a circular pond about 50m in diameter. At its centre was a circular patch of land approximately 30m in diameter. It didnâ€™t look like a natural formation; it was a ring with an opening at its centre, also flooded with water.
Using two long branches to test the earth below him to make sure it wasnâ€™t a treacherous quagmire, Pavel braved the half-frozen water in his fishermanâ€™s waders working towards the snowy annulus. Beneath the snow and a thin layer of mud, a pole hit something solid. Was it just ice? Carefully, he continued to the centre of the circle, halting in front of the opening. The almost 3m-long pole disappeared beneath the surface. What could he have been standing on? If the hemisphere were made of ice, the current would have melted it. Could it be a giant â€˜cauldronâ€™, by now almost completely submerged in the frozen earth?
The snow melted and we were once again fortunate. A few kilometres downriver, we found a similar spot. In a perfectly circular pond, this time only 10m in diameter, was a smooth, solid, gigantic and slightly curved dome, covered in a layer of mud. With the help of a pole, we probed its shape, but unfortunately lacked the equipment to expose it. We would have had to drain the water and remove the mud - and for that weâ€™d need a better equipped and funded expedition.
Then, unexpectedly, we were hit by odd health problems which manifested after we spent a night near a sunken â€˜cauldronâ€™. The next day, I was suddenly overcome by dizziness leading to fainting, a complete loss of balance, choking and chillsâ€¦ just as the old Yakutian legends warned. I couldnâ€™t stand, my vision went and I was unable to eat or drink anything. The crisis lasted all day as our tents were buried by another snowstorm. After more frost and a northerly gale, we were all soaked. It was as if the evil demons of the taiga conspired against us trespassers. But, as I was the only one affected, we didnâ€™t blame it on some ancient radiation residue. When my condition didnâ€™t improve by the following day, we boarded the raft and spent all night and the next day drifting down the river, fleeing the Valley of Death as fast as we could.