The Atkinsons return to Jombolok 1851-2017

Just back from a quite extraordinary trip to the Jombolok Volcano Field in the Eastern Sayan mountains in the far West of Buryatia in Eastern Siberia to celebrate the visit there by Thomas Atkinson in 1851. The map below – in Russian – will give you some idea of the remoteness of this beautiful place.


Our journey started in Irkutsk, close to Lake Baikal in the east of Siberia, and was followed by a 550-km road journey south and then north-west to the small village of Orlik in the Republic of Buryatia. This was followed by a 63-km journey through forests and bogs along the Oka River, before we arrived at the thermal springs at Hoi To Gol, at the foot of the Eastern Sayan Mountains, close to the border with Tuva. From here we crossed a pass at 2,400m, before descending on horses into the Valley, where one of the volcanoes is named after Thomas Atkinson. It was here that we fixed a plaque to commemorate the visit by the four descendants of Thomas Atkinson who came along on the trip – Steve and Gill Brown, their son David and daughter Catherine.

You can get an idea of our journey from this wonderful short film, shot by Anatoly Melnikov:

This is the plaque (in Russian and English) that we fixed at the foot of the Atkinson Volcano:


And here’s a picture of it fixed to a rock at the foot of the Atkinson Volcano. It’s fixing point has been turned into a cairn and we hope that people who visit will continue to add stones to it over the years.


This was a truly spectacular trip to an incredible place. Jombolok, which last erupted around 1200 years ago, is a giant volcanic crater, with a large number of volcanic cones strewn throughout the massive lava field. A huge lava trail extends down the Jombolok Valley and it was this that first caught Thomas Atkinson’s attention and convinced him to follow it to find its source.

As well as the volcano field, myself, photographer David O’Neill and Maddy Brown (no rel.) also travelled for 11 hours on horseback to visit the very remote and beautiful Kara Noor lake, which was painted by Thomas Atkinson. We found his old camp and our Buryat guide Rinchin told us we were certainly the first English people to visit this spot since Atkinson was there in 1851! A really incredible place which we will never forget.

Arriving at Thomas Atkinson’s camp on Kara Noor lake

Here’s his painting of the lake. You can see smoke rising from the campsite on the left side of the lake in the distance.

Kara Noor, formed by lava of the Djem-a-louk, Saian Mountains, Mongolia
Atkinson’s painting of Kara Noor lake

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