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Ice Queen of Kungur

Visit off-limit areas in Russia’s most stunning glacier cave

Kungur Ice Cave is one of Russia’s natural wonders. Located on the outskirts of the town of Kungur in the Perm Region of the Ural Mountains, it’s the seventh-longest gypsum cave in the world and considered one of the most beautiful glacier caves on the planet. Its caverns boast a total of 5.7 kilometres of paths, of which two are open to the public. Some 100,000 tourists per year explore its enchanted network of 48 grottos, which are covered by intricate ice crystals and stalagmites year-round. There are also 70 underground lakes to explore, as well as 146 vertical shafts, known as ‘organ pipes’, that connect to the surface. And this cave isn’t just an unchanging mineral kingdom. It’s a living, evolving organism teeming with eerily beautiful life that surprises scientists and locals alike.

Join RTD, as one of our crews ventures deep into the ‘Pearl of Kungur’ to catch a rare glimpse of treasures that only speleologists, geologists, and biologists usually get to see. After crawling down a narrow hole to a closed part of the cave, you’ll see divers from the Russian Geographic Society make a stunning discovery while on a daring expedition to measure the depth of an underground lake dubbed ‘The Arctic Ocean’. The cave’s custodians will also show you what goes into making the site so safe that not a single accident has been reported in a hundred years.

The wintry wonderland casts its powerful spell further afield, working its magic over the whole town. Atop Kungur Ice Cave sits Ice Mountain, whose hilly terrain is affected by a geological phenomenon known as karst. During this process, bedrock composed of soluble rock like gypsum becomes riddled with tunnels and holes caused by acidic water erosion. The end result is a landscape that collapses in places, producing sinkholes. RTD inspects the damage to homes suffering from subsidence and learns how geologists and town planners try to keep one step ahead of the shifts in the temperamental labyrinth.

Kungur Ice Cave is also rumoured to have power over the future, thanks to its Singing Stone, on which visitors can make a wish. The most romantic story connected with this concerns Princess Louise of Battenberg, a descendant of Queen Victoria and the aunt of Britain's Prince Philip. During a trip to the cave on the eve of the First World War, legend has it the princess wished for a royal love match on this rock… and was not disappointed! RTD was granted access to this spot in the restricted part of the cave, where the princess’s name was written to commemorate her visit.