Russian Rainbow gathering in Karelia

Vegetarians, nudists, herbs-smoking rastas and hippies in the Russian Rainbow gathering in Karelia, Russia in 2006.

We started our Russian tourney with a Rainbow gathering in Karelia, near Sortavala. The area used to belong to Finland before World War II. Neither of us had visited it before so we were eager to see why so many Finns still would like to get it back, and was it really worth of killing over one million Finnish and Russian soldiers. Neither had we participated in a Rainbow Camps before so we had a great adventure ahead.

Our trip begun from Tallinn, Estonia, where we had been visiting friends. We made a nice detour via St. Petersburg, Petrozavodsk and Sortavala before reaching our final destination, the village of Reuskula. This long-cut was recommended to us because, according to our Rainbow friends, travelling near the Finnish border might have caused the Russian police (militsiya) to interrogate and detain us. So we travelled by bus two days, sleeping most of the time. Our busy schedule in Finland and Estonia had worn us out completely. The last five kilometres of the trip we walked with our ~30 kg backpacks. They were so heavy thanks to the food we had for the camp. The sun was shining and it was 35°C. We were sweating like pigs when we finally reached the camp.

The first impressions

A group of nude, herbs-smoking sunbathers welcomed us on the beach. We immediately realised that the Rainbow Family's official website at was polished in saying that no drugs are allowed, or maybe it was made for North American's only. Smoking cigarettes was also common but alcohol was strictly banned. This is understandable in Russia because people are sometimes quite heavy drinkers. We heard that in the earlier Rainbow gatherings, before this ban, 2 persons had died because of alcohol. One had a heart attack and the other drowned.

A vast meadow, halfway between the beach and the spring that would offer us potable water, became the place for our tent. We were warned that mornings will be hot and so they were. The whole week we woke up under unbearable heat around midday. There was no shadow so we had to cover us not to get totally burned by sun or bitten by horseflies. For the latter we also had a smoky camp fire in front of our tent.

The camp consisted of about 200 people during the first week, but more people kept pouring in all the time. When we left there was around 500 rainbows present. Almost all were from Russia as this was a national gathering. The European gathering was in England this year. At first we were the only foreigners, but later came one person from the United States, one from Spain and one more from Finland. None of us spoke much Russian, and at first the Russians were shy to speak English. But after they heard how bad we were in Russian they got courage and we got many new friends. Our neighbouring rastas for example invited us to everyone's birthday party and a New Year party with great food.

Some Rainbow people refer to themselves as hippies. With that they usually mean external things like 60's style clothing and beads, long hair, nudity, and colourful outfits. When it comes to the hippie philosophy and ideals there is more variation. Some thought that the real hippies vanished with the movement in 60's, but some others still state the central principles of spreading love everywhere and feeling one with the universe.

Life as a Rainbow

People gather together two times a day to so called pow-wow meetings. It starts with a group meditation where people form a big circle holding each other's hands saying 'om' (mantra) for ~2 minutes. Then there is place for public announcements about the camp and everyone who wants can speak. This is done in an orderly manner by holding the talking stick. After meeting everyone eats together. Vegetarian food is offered in small portions twice a day. We cooked also ourselves to get some meat, and in general more food.

Camp life is ascetic. Many people bring their own tents, sleeping bags and mattresses, metal plates, and cutlery. There are no showers or toilets, which is very ecological. Daily swim in the lake is the way to wash yourself (without soap because many people drink the lake water as well). Forests work as toilets. You just have to dig a small hole and drop your load there, and then cover the hole with turf. This was a bit peculiar at first since it was hard to find any private place - there was always someone walking by. Santeri enjoyed camp life fully but Päivi longed for a shining toilet seat (she is a typical victim of western civilisation).

In this Russian Rainbow gathering the average age was in the beginning ~21 and after the first week ~25. Nudity was more a rule than exception, and alcohol was the only strict no-no. Compared to European gatherings there were less trainings and seminars (we did not participate any as they were in Russian), and the audience was probably less yuppie. Compared to the US Rainbow it was more tolerant regarding smoking and nudity. The atmosphere was relaxed and life truly easy-going.

For us the Rainbow camp was a nice experience but not exactly what we were looking for. We had hoped to meet there some other full-time travellers. But for Russians this was a holiday camp: a chance to get rid of society and expectations, be themselves and be one with nature away from noise and pollution. Most people came from Moscow and St. Petersburg. It was easy to imagine how they enjoyed the opportunity of having much space and beautiful nature around them. Many had saved money the whole year to get the train ticket to the camp and back, and some were even hitching. The only touch with money was the so called magic hat. It was used for collecting voluntary donations to buy food for everyone.

What we enjoyed most was our Russian hosts' hospitality. Such an altruistic friendliness is rare to find. We got help with Russian basics so now it is a lot easier to continue our travel across the vast country in the trans-Siberian railway.

Спасибо, Pоссийская Радуга!

All travel photos and videos.

Keywords: Russia, Rainbow gathering, Karelia, Petrozavodsk, Sortavala, nudism, herbs-smoking, hippies, om, vegetarian, summer camp, радуга.


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