The name of the Altai mountains derives from the Mongol word for gold, 'Altin'. An alternative Russian derivation of Altai is 'patchwork mountains', which more accurately reflects the landscape that you will encounter in Altai. That is, rising high up a mountain, you will see the north-facing slope is overgrown with dense forest, whereas the south-facing slope is covered by arid steppe grasslands and prickly clumps of acacia and barberry. At the foot of the valley, where the Chuya river flows, it may be the height of summer, whereas on the high ridges of the mountain range there are just the first signs of spring.
Altai is a meeting point of many religions - Christianity, Islam, Lamaism and Buddhism are all present here. In addition, some Altai tribes have preserved their Pagan religion, and still to this day pray to the kind god 'Ylgen' and evil god 'Erlik'.
Tourists are attracted by numerous archaeological sites: there are thousands of 'Kurgans' (burial mounds) of ancient settlements and forts, as well as cave dwellings from the Stone Age, religious buildings and old copper and gold mines.
Fives different sites in the south of the Republic of Altai have been named as World Natural Heritage sites, known as the 'Golden Mountains of Altai'. The areas inscribed are: Altaisky Zapovednik and Katunsky Zapovednik; the Belukha Nature Park; a three kilometre buffer zone around Lake Teletskoye; and the Ukok Quiet Zone. This region, located on the borders of Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia, is unique in its landscape, biological diversity, and untouched natural beauty. The flora and fauna found here includes species found in the endangered species 'Red Book' of Altai, Russia, as well as the international 'Red Book'.
The vast territory of Altai is untouched by modern industrial development, and its pristine ecology is protected by old-fashioned means of food production. Many of its natural products have health benefits and properties, for example antlers (from elk farms), honey and propolis (bee glue) from mountain apiaries, mumiyo and Rose root.