Sunday, September 9, 2007

Lakes, Steppe and Siberian Stonehenge: Khakasiya (Aug 21-23)

After Anya and I got back from Sayano-Shushensky Reserve we did a little loop -- or more like a triangle -- through the Altai-Sayan Region. (By "little" I mean 1000 km round-trip; we took a week to do it.) The northwest side of the triangle was in the Republic of Khakasiya, and we started at the northern tip and drove southwest toward the Altai Republic and Republic of Tuva. Northern Khakasiya has a lot of steppe and low rolling hills -- it seems the sky could just stretch on there forever.

We stopped for one night at Lake Itkhul' in Khakassky Nature Reserve (Zapovednik). (Sunset)

Khakasiya is home to lakes of all kinds. A few are protected in Khakassky Nature Reserve, and a few are open to tourists. Unfortunately we did not have the best weather for our lake touring day. Above Anya is climbing a steep hill for a windy and rainy lookout over Lake Belyo in Khakassky Reserve.

The soil on the climb up was very red (my socks changed color), as was this rock. On top is Ilya, our "guide" (I use that term pretty loosely) for our week-long tour.

Hanging out on another lake shore. Lake Tus is a lake with high mineral content that is a popular tourist destination in July. Unfortunately by August it is not really sunbathing weather there anymore. Although neither the chilly temperatures nor the "no swimming" signs stopped Ilya from taking a dip.

This was a nickel mine during the Soviet Union. However in the early 1970s part of the mine collapsed, killing the workers there, and they closed it. Now lots of tourists can come check it out for 20 rubles a head. The amazing thing is they dug this mine without any explosives or anything like that -- basically with hand equipment. Apparently they used to have bungee jumping here, too (after the mine's collapse, that is), which sounds like it was a disaster waiting to happen -- you can't go anymore.

These huge rocks are from a burial site from the 3rd century BC. They are huge (see picture below with me in it for some perspective). Ancient peoples probably dragged these rocks from at least 45 km away to this site, which is pretty unbelievable. The rocks made up the outer edge of a huge, circular burial mound that was covered in earth and hollow inside -- you could think of the rocks as the outer ring-support structure. Inside would be buried some famous ancient person (warrior, etc.) along with his family (if necessary they'd kill the wife so she could be buried with her husband), his property, etc.

Here's me next to a couple of these rocks. This burial mound was 0.5 km in length and 11.5 m high! Archeologists suddenly became interested in excavating it in the 1950s, when a local resident accidentally found gold here. Total they found 277 kg of gold in this burial mound -- so the warrior here must have been quite the VIP.

This mound in the foreground is what an unexcavated burial mound looks like. We saw hundreds of these throughout Khakasiya. Ancient peoples would build them on the steppe so that they would be visible from a distance. (That's why they had to drag those rocks from so far away -- no big rocks on the steppe, but you can't be building your burial sites on some river bank -- no one will see them there.)

This cow is chilling at a gas station in southwest Khakasiya. Cows were all over the place. And if they are crossing the road they definitely have the right of way.

11% of the population of Khakasiya is native peoples, and they have their own language. We saw signs in Khakasiya and especially in Tuva in the native language. (Tuva is 77% indigenous people.) Here is the first one of those signs -- the last 3 words are not Russian. Actually I'm not even too clear on what the Russian here is supposed to mean. Literally it appears to say "Wish the people a land of happiness!" but maybe it is supposed to mean "wish the people land and happiness"? Either way it seems nice.

Southwest Khakasiya is already close to the Altai Republic and is quite mountainous and forested. The roads through the mountains kind of reminded me of the Cascades in Oregon. When we camped out in the mountains in this tent Anya and I learned that late August is NOT summer in the Altai-Sayan Region. It got down to a damp and chilly 35 degrees F, at which point we decided to sleep in the van.

Here we are already approaching the border with Tuva. The landscape is already certainly quite different than the flat steppe at the beginning of our trip!


gennady said...

Have no other words, fantastic views, good job! Fulbright should be more than satisfied

Ruta said...

Cheryl, great stories! I visit your blog from time to time - always a treat!

Regarding the funky sign about "Wishing happiness..."

The translation of the sign is:

"Wish the people of this land (or the people of this earth) happiness!"

"Lyudam zemli..." would be more stylistically correct, unless they meant to say that we all are one big happy nation on this earth :-)))

Wishing you the best,