Road of Bones: Kolyma Highway

For fans of mega journeys and long adventures, the epic expanse of Russia never disappoints. Once in Moscow, a quick look at a train schedule reveals your adventure options in the biggest country on earth. Russian infrastructure can get you anywhere from Warsaw to Beijing. As for epic road trips, the list is almost endless, but there is one that is a bucket list item for fans of car and motorbike travel: The Infamous Road of Bones.

Officially known as the Kolyma Highway, this enormous road through the Russian Far East stretches an incredible 2,031 km (1,262 mi). The Road of Bones begins around Nizhny Bestyakh and ends in Magadan, infamous for its Soviet gulags. Local Russians call the road ‘Trassa’ which translates simply as “The Route”. The Road of Bones is the only road in the area so there’s no need to distinguish it from other roads. Apart from paving around the city of Magadan, the road is mostly all weather gravel.

Construction of the Road of Bones:

Road of Bones Kolyma Highway ConstructionWhilst work began in 1932, the road took over twenty years to complete and was built almost entirely through the forced labour of local Gulags. The work was inherently gruelling and was undertaken in all weathers, from the bitter Siberian winter where temperatures would drop to Minus 50 degrees to the unforgiving, Mosquito infested summers. As a result, at least 25 prisoners were dying every day. Due to the road being built on permafrost, it was much more practical to bury the corpses in the fabric of the road than to keep digging graves. To this day, many report the bones of the dead workers rising to the surface of the road and the road holds special, if dark, place in the heart of many Siberian Russians.

The Old Summer Road:

The-Long-Way-Round-Road-of-BonesAfter receiving federal status, the Russian government upgraded the road and bypassed a 200km sector between Tomtor and Kadykchan leaving it completely abandoned. Today, this part of the road is called the Old Summer Road and has been left to the Siberian wilderness with collapsed bridges, flooded roads and abandoned buildings. It’s now a hotspot for hardcore motorcyclists and those in four wheel drives.

Completing the Road of Bones is a travel achievement like no other, whilst the Trans-Siberian rail journey is the quintessential Russian bucket list item, the Kolyma Highway provides an insight into the dark heart of industrial Russia and the souls who perished through the darkest days of the Soviet Union.

For private YPT tours across the Road of Bones and other tours to the extreme corners of Russia, contact us today!

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