A high level of diversity is characteristic of the nature of this mountain territory, situated on the border of Central Asia and Siberia. There are few places in the world where one can encounter so many landscape combinations in such a small area.
The flora and fauna of the region are very diverse and to a large extent unique. In the basin of the Teletskoye Lake, Altai cedar forests still exist and make the area a home and feeding place for various wildlife. Here we also find Siberia’s largest mountain alpine and subalpine grasslands. The different types of vegetation of the southern Altai – semi-desert, steppe and tundra – coexist easily, gracefully.
These varied landscape types created and preserved Altai’s endemic organisms whose habitats are usually very small. This area is home to 60 mammal species, 11 amphibian and reptile species and 20 fish species. Among rare mammal species, we should point out ounce or snow leopard – one of the most beautiful cats in the world. Very few of these animals have survived in the Altai.
The geological history of the region is also very particular. It is “written” in the rocks of the different ages that formed the region, and depicted in the unusual terrain, such as the high, grand terraces of the Katun. Mount Belukha, Siberia’s highest mountain (4,506 m above the sea level), is also very grandiose. Covered with glaciers and snowfields, it overlooks the near-by mountains from almost 1,000 m above.
The Altai river valleys, first of all valleys of the Katun and Chulyshman rivers, look like deep, narrow canyons. The Chalyshman River valley, decorated with waterfalls of the river’s tributaries, is very picturesque. Teletskoye Lake is the true pearl of the Altai. People call the lake a small Baikal because of its clear waters, the beautiful mountains surrounding it and the lake’s rich wildlife.
The natural diversity of the region has influenced the culture and religion of the local population – the Altaians. The achievements of Altai folk-medicine are valued very highly. As Nikolay Rerikh once wrote, “lots of peoples have been to Altai and left their traces there: Scythians, Huns, Turks”. People call the mountain Altai “an open-air museum”.