Not many people would think of camels and yaks when they think of Russia, but in Russia's Republic of Tuva you can see them. Not that we did.
But anyway Tuva is one of the most mystical places in Russia, a land of nomads, throat singers, shamanism, and more.
Tuva is on the border with Mongolia. From Khakasiya we headed south and drove across Tuva from its western edge, on the border with Altai, to east. The landscape there was awesome. I have never seen any place like it. Tuva is home to the highest mountain in Siberia and also real, untouched steppe. There are only 300,000 people here, in an area as big as the state of Washington. Here is the sign on the border between Tuva and Khakasiya. Even though it is only a little more than 7000 feet up, at this pass it feels like you are on the top of the world.
Looking back toward Khakasiya from Tuva. The red color of the grass is a sign that it is already fall.
Me next to an Oba. People will start to build these in high places. You should add a rock on top if you wish to have good fortunes.
Yurts in the foothills. Yurts were the traditional housing for nomadic Tuvan cattle herders. They can have from 8 to 16 wooden walls and are covered with a thick cloth. They are the ideal nomads' residence -- they can be assembled and dissembled in just an hour! In the early 1950s the Tuvan people officially became "settled," that is, no longer nomadic, but a small percent of Tuvans today still lead the traditional nomadic lifestyle that they had led for over 2000 years. Another nomadic Tuvan dwelling resembles an American Indian's teepee, and was traditionally used by reindeer herders.
Amazing scenic lookout. It looked like another planet. Tuva has been a part of Russia since 1944. Before then it had quite the mixed history and was settled by by European, Turkish, Mongolian and Chinese tribes, and was part of the Mongolian and Chinese empires. The Tuvan language is a Turkish language, and they also adopted the traditional nomadic lifestyle (including the yurt) from the Turks over 2000 years ago. Today 77% of the population of Tuva is native, and 22% is Russian. Tuvans actually call Tuva "Tyva," which is the official name for the republic, but Russians say "Tuva" because "Tyva" is hard for them to say.
Me and Anya at the amazing scenic lookout.
This picture pretty much sums up our guide, Ilya.
Big sign heading into the town of Ak-Dovurak, home to a big asbetos mine. Big signs were popular in Tuva.
Here's another big road sign in Tuva, wishing you a safe journey.
Steppe and mountains. The scenery really was awesome.
Cow crossing. Single-file. They're very well organized.
Sacred mountain in Tuva. The Dalai Lama visited here in 1993. Both Buddhism and Shamanism are accepted religions in Tuva. Tuva is considered one of the birthplaces of Shamanism and is home to perhaps the most famous shaman living today, who is considered an authority for the religion.
Tuvans believe that Genghis Khan is buried in this little mountain/hill in the foreground. German archeologists actually wanted to excavate the hill and have a look, but the Tuvans wouldn't let them.
More scenery. Even though fall is starting in Tuva, it was still about 75 degrees out. In the summer here temperatures easily top 100, while in the winter it can hit 50 below.
This is the headwaters of the Enisei River. Only here is the Enisei still natural, and it still looks like it has for centuries, because here the river is free of dams. The rest of the river north to the Arctic is home to nearly a dozen very large dams. The Enisei forms at the confluence of the Small and Large Enisei rivers, and at their confluence also stands the city of Kyzyl, the capital of Tuva. Kyzyl was founded in 1914 and means "red" in the Tuvan language. It is home to only 109,000 people. The oldest city in Tuva was founded in 1886. (After all, Tuvans were nomadic.)
Buddhist temple in Kyzyl. After my visit to China I didn't find it very impressive inside, though.
We went to the Beaver Springs outside of Kyzyl. These springs were discovered in the 4th century, which means people have been coming here for over 1500 years. It is believed that people who wash in these springs will be healthy and strong, and that they will not harm nature (neither kill animals nor pick a single flower). Beavers would also come here in the winter. Now there are some signs of modernity here: there are a number of different springs and for each one a post-it note indicates what diseases the waters will help protect you from. This spring above one is helpful against headaches. We saw a few people come and fill up their water bottles here too. The water tastes really good.
Kyzyl is the geographic center of Asia! Wow! So now I have been there, too. Pretty cool.
Good-bye, Tuva. This is the sign on the border with the Krasnoyarsk Region.