“Creative and delicious” — how and why Yuryev Cave will be beautified

Tatarstan can become the new Mecca for speleotourists

As Realnoe Vremya found out, Tatarstan is intending to make one of the most visited sites of Tatarstan extreme sports lovers, rock climbers and speleologists a real tourist destination — Yuryev Cave in Kamskoye Ustye District. Nuances of the beautification project as well as the project itself in fact haven’t been made public yet, but specialists and amateurs of this unique corner already have heated discussions. Read in Realnoe Vremya’s report if it is acceptable to build a hotel and souvenir shops next to the cave, if it was allowed to artificially widen tunnels for “bigger” tourists and install illumination in grottoes, how to make cliffs of Bogorodsky Mountain less dangerous and so on.

Cave can already be beautified by 2020

The upcoming beautification of Yuryev Cave was mentioned in passing for the first time at a press conference of the republican State Committee for Tourism in the middle of October. Then head of the committee Sergey Ivanov said that they had already begun working in this sphere, a “compromise” was looked for.

“A lot of people go to Yuryev Cave every year. We even don’t know how many people do it because nobody counts. Nowadays there is no infrastructure there: you can go with your Thermos bottles, sandwich, find the entrance, which was improved somehow, that’s it. Our task now is to make Yuryev Cave a real tourist destination, make it as comfortable for tourists’ stay as possible,” Ivanov said. “General speaking Kamskoye Ustye District is unique, it has not only Yuryev Cave, but it is the site that is on the surface and requires a decision to be made.”

“On the president’s recent instruction, we will prepare proposals for the project, we’ve received them just recently. We gather all interested sides: the Committee for Biological Resources, Ministry of Forestry of Tatarstan. As the project itself doesn’t exist, neither its value is known,” Sergey Ivanov told Realnoe Vremya and added that it was early to make specific decisions public.

The state committee plans to begin the beautification next summer already. The project will start to be implemented in 2020, the works will preliminarily end in 2021.

“Artificial tunnels destroy the cave”

Kazan speleologists and ethnographers, representatives of the tourism industry and just amateurs of extreme sports weren’t indifferent about the topic of the upcoming beautification. A general evaluation of the beautification can be made when there are specific proposals, but it is debatable and unclear if any transformations in Yuryev Cave are possible in general,” founder of Xfreedom extreme and active leisure club Stepan Korneyev stressed in a talk with Realnoe Vremya.

“I am not sure if anything can be done inside the cave because it is too small. Though it is long enough, its size, volume doesn’t allow turning into a site for beautification. If we look at improved caves — Russia has them in Perm, the Caucasus — they are big enough,” he explained.

The economic effect that might be obtained from this beautification, according to Stepan Korneyev, is also debatable and isn’t worthy of interference in the natural landmark. The beautification of the territory around the cave is a completely different issue. And it, in our interlocutor’s opinion, can be quite useful, at least for safety and comfort reasons.

“We have things to do, it is stars, benches, camping sites, canopies. All this is possible, and I think it will be good if we have it. It would be good to put up fences, rails, ropes in dangerous areas around the cave. The place itself is quite specific, beautiful but dangerous. We also take groups to these places and fight for security, but many people don’t care about it — they walk with kids or go there when they are drunken. In general I am not against the beautification, but only on the territory around the cave, not inside it,” he concluded.

“If the beautification is creative and delicious”

Tatarstan ethnographer, historian, director of Kazan Riverbank tour company Leonid Abramov was less cautious and more enthusiastic about the initiative. The appearance of tourism infrastructure sites next to the cave — buildings from scratch, shops and even water mains created in a smart way — isn’t a problem and it can harm the natural landmark, the expert expressed his opinion.

“I think the beautification must have a concept, not be just a flight of stairs. It is necessary to improve the entrance but do it with the least harm to the site. But it also needs to be improved,” the specialist insists. “Crimea has good experience now, there have been relatively recently found Marble Caves, they are very big. Ours are smaller, but they are unique because they are the only caves in all Volga region. And they will compulsorily become a tourist attraction site if the beautification is creative and ‘delicious’. We should respect the natural landmark, do everything as correctly and smartly as possible, not to create projects in a hurry because our people can do so many things and everyone will spit later.”

In a talk with Realnoe Vremya, he reminded that several years ago Kazan tour operators were already invited to visit the cave and present their own beautification projects, which could be implemented on the spot. Over this time, Kamskoye Ustye District has had several leaders, though there is no progress.

“There is a lot of bicycle routes in the suburbs of Kamskoye Ustye, they can be equipped. The site is very picturesque. One can erect not a five-star hotel, of course, but one-storey buildings at the top where campsites spontaneously appear, one should start at least with it. The whole territory will be cleared thanks to it,” he insists.

The ethnographer offers to build a complex next to the cave where tourists could change clothes and have a cup of coffee, weather the storm and simply admire the Volga River out of panoramic windows. In Abramov’s opinion, sales points, souvenir shops, equipped campsites with water supply could be located close to the complex.

“Of course, many will complain, like: ‘How come? We used to come here on our own, what’s happening now?’ But I think everything on these sites must be beautified, one should understand that colleagues die there every year — they just fall down the precipice,” Leonid Abramov claimed. “As for some small paths from the cliff to the river, it is unsafe. Each time I look at the guys climbing down with thin ropes without understanding they can fall down. It is very dangerous.”

Another brave idea of Kazan Riverbank was to create a juridical person or specialised public organisation that would be responsible for Yuryev Cave and Kamskoye Ustye — it could organise and arrange safe visits to the natural landmark for tourist groups, give helmets, torches, give instruction. Leonid Abramov even said admission to the cave could be charged.

Wild beauty of Yuryev Cave — narrow holes, bats and constant +7°C

Yuryev Cave is located in Tatarstan’s Kamskoye Ustye District, in Bogorodsky Mountain. And it has probably been the most popular natural landmark among extreme sports lovers across the republic in the last 10 years. “Wild” camping site is situated in the suburbs of the cave in a high cliff of the Volga River, which is popular among residents of Tatarstan — it is the best sites for camps in the riverbank in high season that has picturesque views on the river. People “book” a site for a weekend on Thursday evening, and the light of bonfires and echoes of guitar reefs are seen and heard many kilometres away when it gets dark.

A tourist who isn’t familiar with the site will have to look for the entrance to the cave — it is hidden among thick bushes and the especial, abrupt, mountainous landscape. But once you find it, it won’t be challenging for even the least physically trained person to go inside — the entrance hole is 2,5 metres high and about 9 metres wide. The further you go the harder it is, the hole becomes narrower in 100 metres, at times it becomes possible to move only crawling illuminating the path with a forehead torch pulling to a serious height or, on the contrary, holding close to the ground. Untrained people lose their bearings, but the extreme lovers surveyed by Realnoe Vremya don’t remember anybody to be lost in the cave in the last years. Though careless or drunken tourists fall down the precipice every year.

The temperature in Yuryev Cave is constant, +7 degrees, it changes neither in winter nor summer, this is why the most reckless tourists go inside, put up a tent and spend the night with the temperature below zero. The site is so popular that at the entrance one can often find gloves somebody thoughtfully forgot — to save the hands from sharp stones and droppings of bats, which, by the way, can be found there in abundance.

Soviet speleologist Aleksandr Stupishin discovered Yuryev Cave as early as 1953. But then its length wasn’t considered to exceed 20 metres. In the 70s, a group of young researchers cleared the entrance to the new part of tunnels. The fixed depth of the cave has almost annually increased since then. Now it is more than a kilometre. Yuryev Cave has been declared a natural landmark of regional importance since 1986 and is considered the longest natural cave in the Volga region.

By Olga Golyzhbina

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