A group of tourists was heading for Belukha Mountain. It was late July. The heat was pleasant, warming to the bone. The wind was blowing on the travelers’ faces, making their journey easier and more enjoyable.
They were a mixed group of seven. There were people of different ages and generations. A middle-aged married couple: the group leader, who everybody called Semyonych, a tall, wiry, sinewy man with dark blond hair, and his wife Valentina spearheaded this difficult tour. They had been in these places many times and knew all the paths and trails well. Two young lads, their assistants, who had been on a few such trips. The name of one of them was Kirill, a slender, blue-eyes, fair-haired student with glasses, the other was Maksim, who his fellow travelers also knew as “a prom king”, the son of Semyonych and Valentina. There also were two girls. Kristina, frail, lean, with a boyish haircut and beautiful, a bit slanting, dark blue eyes. And Vera, a real beauty with dark blond hair, a pleasant smile and dimples in her cheeks. The joyous, lively and cheerful girls were the life and soul of the group. All the members of the expedition enjoyed their jolly laughter. There also was one more man with them, of about thirty, dark-haired, solidly built, muscular and athletic. He looked a tough macho. But at the same time, he was dreary, gloomy and somewhat aloof. His name was Sergei. He had been in various tours a lot but was going to Belukha for the first time.
The nature around was feral, severe and unbending. Even in August the rivers were rapid and affluent. The cars that carried tourists dived into the river stretches hood-deep and at times we stuck in the slimy, miry bottom. The bogs appearing here, right in the mountains, “from nowhere”, were deceitful and dangerous. One could easily drive a car into them axle-deep, set it firmly on the bottom and make it flounder about. And there was absolutely nothing to hook the winch cable to, not a shrub or a stone around. Just one big quagmire. And only here one got a distinct vivid sensation that “dashing to a village nearby for a tractor to drag the car out” was plain impossible. The nearest village was at least sixty kilometers away. And the locals weren’t always willing to help the unlucky tourists. If it was harvest time, nobody was able to help them, even if they would have liked to, not even for a good money reward. Because in summer each day counts. So one had to be on his own in this area and to rely on himself only.
Occasionally, one could come across some wild animals. Now herds of wild goats passed by, then a wolf ran stealthily in the distance. Sometimes Bruin himself, the king of beasts, showed up at the tops of the nearby mountains. Every now and then hawks circled high in the sky. Snakes were lying on the rocks tepefied by the sun. Everything around made it clear: one wrong move, one little mistake could cost a man his life.
Around midday they at last came to the tomb of the Altai Princess on the Ukok Plateau. The once majestic barrow now was a pile of stones scattered around chaotically. It was a pitiful sight. The echo of former greatness. The travelers threw the backpacks off their tired shoulders and came closer. They raised their hands with a praying gesture and bowed with reverence to this sacred place.