National Geographic : 1967 Mar
Siberia: Russia's Frozen Frontier shaking with laughter as a pompous bureau crat kept pulling out his rubber stamp, blow ing on it with a loud "Whoo!" and slamming it down on a sheet of paper. I laughed help lessly as I thought of my own experiences with some Russian officials. Public Water Taps Serve Many In contrast to all the modern aspects of Irkutsk, a community water tap gurgles just two blocks from the city square and the mod ern government buildings. The sheltered fau cet, one of many in town, draws an endless procession of women, who fill metal buckets and carry them home on the ends of poles balanced on their shoulders. A number of Irkutsk's handsome old wood en buildings were still in use, but some resi- dents objected when I photographed them. They wanted me to take pictures of the monot onous rows of prefabricated concrete apart ments growing up all over the city. "The old things are dead to us," they told me. Today's modern town began in 1652 as a winter outpost for the collection of tribute, payable in furs, which the tribes were forced to deliver to agents of the tsars. This tax had been levied on the indigenous Siberians ever since Cossack troops led by Yermak Timofe yevich defeated the Tatar ruler of Siberia in 1582, opening Siberia for expansion of the Russian Empire. Nomadic tribesmen in the area of the outpost -the Buryats-lived in felt-covered tents, called yurts, on the shores of Lake Baykal. The conquering Cossacks, adventurers who Concentrating on their game, boys ignore summertime clouds over Bratsk. They risk getting drenched in a rainy season that produces, in this area, some 15 inches of precipi tation. Their homemade, blanket-topped pool table stands outside apartments built a decade ago for workers who raised a mammoth dam across the Angara River (page 340). Lady lumberjacks guide winter's stockpile of logs into a sorting channel. Only during the summer thaw can this camp's harvest of larch, pine, and fir be chained in rafts and towed away on Lake Baykal. Most logs go to builders and paper mills in the region, but some reach customers as far away as Japan. These Buryat women, descendants of no madic tribespeople, help the U.S.S.R. exploit timber resources greater than any other nation's-chiefly virgin stands in the Siberian taiga, a belt of coniferous forest 1,000 miles wide and more than 3,000 miles long.