We tend to take our surroundings for granted. You’re probably reading this in relative comfort – you don’t need to wear breathing apparatus, you’re within a few steps of a cold drink and you aren’t at the beck and call of a totalitarian regime bent on oppressing its population. The Tripbase team have drawn up a list of the most horrendous places to live, in order from dreadful to impossible. We have nothing but respect for the hardy human beings who make their homes in the most brutal places on Earth.
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9. Yakutsk, Russia
Where is it? Siberia.
What can I see there? The Lena River.
What’s so bad about it? The climate. It’s the coldest city on the planet, with temperatures regularly plunging to -50°c. Winters are long and cold, with just fifteen hours of sunshine reaching the city in the whole of December.
History. The settlement began life as a fort in 1632, but didn’t become a proper city until Stalin’s forced labour camps precipitated rapid extraction of minerals from nearby deposits.
Population. The city has over a quarter of a million inhabitants.
How do I get there? By plane. There are two airports which service the city. You can also use the railway network and, if it’s the right time of year, drive a car over the frozen Lena River.
8. Grozny, Russia
Where is it? Chechen Republic, Russia
What can I see there? A crater, and one of Europe’s largest mosques which opened a few years ago.
What’s so bad about it? It has been effectively obliterated by several waves of bombing and violence. Thousands of people died and many still live in shelled-out derelict buildings without water, heating or electricity. Illegal oil drilling takes place in parts of the city, which the United Nations calls *the most destroyed city on earth.
History. Cossacks built this town as a military outpost in 1818. Grozny is actually Russian for “terrible”.
Population. 271,000, some of them in squalor and some of them in rejuvenated parts of the city.
How do I get there? With difficulty. Transport networks to and from the city are weak. The first plane to fly from Grozny left in 2009.
7. Baghdad, Iraq
What can I see there? Baghdad Tower, Baghdad Zoo… there are plenty of reminders that this hasn’t always been a warzone.
What’s so bad about it? It’s in the middle of a conflict-ravaged country, where Westerners are prime targets for all sorts of unpleasantness. If the locals don’t get you, the Americans will – in 2003, a US tank shelled a hotel where journalists were staying, killing three of them.
History. It was founded in the 8th Century and was the largest city in the world throughout the middle ages.
Population. It has a population of around 6.5m people.
How do I get there? It’s very difficult to get a visa to Iraq. It’s also fairly suicidal – the only safe area is the International Zone and you won’t be able to get in there without the right papers. Don’t expect hoteliers to be seen supporting you either, and remember that restaurants are often targeted by suicide bombers.
6. Chernobyl, Ukraine
What can I see there? An abandoned nuclear power station and some very interesting wildlife.
What’s so bad about it? he radioactivity, the spiralling cancer rates, the deformed children, the sense of decay and the lingering reminders that some of the city’s inhabitants didn’t get out in time. The whole place is a grim reminder of the consequences of human error.
History. The city of Chernobyl had a rich religious history, and started life as a hunting lodge in 1193.
Population. Around five hundred people never evacuated after the disaster.
How do I get there? Travel to the Ukraine and go on a carefully supervised tour of the vicinity. Visitors have been able to get quite close to Chernobyl and the nearby abandoned city of Pripyat, but it’s only this year that the trips have been legitimate.
5. Dallol, Ethiopia
Where is it? The Afar region of Ethiopia
What’s so bad about it? The perishing heat. Dallol holds the record for the highest average temperature ever recorded at an inhabited part of the globe (34°c over the course of a year).
History. A railway ran from Dallol to Eritrea in 1918 and potash was mined in the area. Now, the area is mined for table salt instead.
Population. A handful remain to hunt for salt, but most have abandoned Dallol for good.
How do I get there? Dallol is one of the most remote places on Earth. Fly to Ethiopia, drive as far as you can into the desert, and then take a camel for the remainder of the long, arduous journey.
4. Norilsk, Russia
Where is it? The northernmost city in Siberia.
What can I see there? An absence of trees due to relentless pollution.
What’s so bad about it? The pollution. The area is home to nickel ore smelting, and produces1% of the whole planet’s sulphur dioxide emissions. There are no trees living within 48km of one of the main smelters, due partly to toxic rain from the four million tons of metals and poisons released into the air every year.
History. Founded in 1920, but rose to prominence as the centre of the Norillag labour camp in 1935. It was host to the Norilsk uprising, the first significant revolt in a gulag.
Population. 175,300 people call Norilsk home.
How do I get there? Get a visa from the Russian embassy and fly to Moscow. From there, travel across land.
3. Darfur, Sudan
What can I see there? A vast, geologically diverse landscape about the size of Spain.
What’s so bad about it? Relentless conflict spanning more than half a century has resulted in enormous loss of life and millions of refugees. Since 2003 alone, more than 300,000 civilians have been killed and nearly 3m people have been ‘displaced’ – that is, their homes burned down by the Janjaweed. The refugee camps are among the most dangerous places on Earth in terms of rape and physical violence.
History. It’s an ancient land but has never supported a very large population. During the First World War, the British Empire incorporated it into Sudan. That’s probably where the problems started.
Population. There were 6m people living in Darfur in 2004 – how many are still alive is unknown.
How do I get there? You’ll need to be working for an NGO of some sort, or possibly the UN. Travel in this region is dangerous, time-consuming and uncomfortable.
2. Baku, Azerbijan
What can I see there? There are some memorials to people who lost their lives in the race riots here.
What’s so bad about it? It’s one of the most polluted places on Earth. It was the hub of Soviet industry and petrochemical research, and has the health problems to prove it – cancer rates are 50% higher than average here, and birth defects are commonplace. In the last two decades, the government of Azerbaijan has made many efforts to solve environmental problems.
History. The Soviets started building industry here in 1935.
How do I get there? It is possible to travel there by plane.
1. Vozrozhdeniya Island, Kazakhstan/Uzbekistan
Where is it? In the Aral Sea, an area drained by mismanaged Soviet irrigation plans. The island is now a sort of peninsular, shared by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
What can I see there? An abandoned settlement in an arid, lifeless landscape. The drying of the Aral Sea (arguably the worst environmental disaster in the history of humankind) left countless boats high and dry. Their skeletal remains are visible in the middle of what is now a desert.
What’s so bad about it? It was the site of Soviet biowarfare experiments. The whole area is contaminated with anthrax, smallpox and bubonic plague. Local rodents are thought to have picked up some super-resilient strains of these diseases.
History. The laboratory was established in 1948. At its height, the facility housed 1,500 people.
Population. Uninhabited. The site was completely abandoned in 1992.
How do I get there? Don’t.
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