The Republic of Tuva is at the very center of the Asian continent. Situated at the southern edge of Siberia, just north of Mongolia it is one of three autonomous regions within the Russian Federation.
We decide at the last moment to visit Tuva as the Naadym festival is taking place. It is here that we hope to see throat singing, or khoomei . This entails producing two notes at the same time, one a vibrating hum the other a quaver, all from the throat.
We also hope to see Tuvan wrestlers which are similar to the Japanese Sumo but without the ring, formalities and huge bellies .
The visit is a round detour of more than 2000 km for us.
Tuva has, as yet, no railway ( due to its mountain ranges) and only three roads leading to it, one tar , 2 dirt tracks and virtually no industry. Moreover, the Soviet Union kept Tuva closed to the outside world for nearly half a century, and most of this country is still remote and difficult to access.
It is an area of great variety, the sight of many soaring eagles wheeling just overhead is not exceptional. It is a land of taiga forest, high mountains, crystal-clear streams and rolling steppe. The air is so clear that fair-skinned people protect themselves from direct sunlight. Grassy, undulating terrain gives way to sweeping valleys and hills. Here and there at the camps of herdsman and their families, wisps of white smoke rise from the wood stove in each yurt.
Rare animals such as sable, lynx, wolverine, maral, siberian goal and musk deer are found.
We arrive at the capital, Kyzyl only to find that we are a day late. The officials of the festival decided to have it a day earlier!
Here are a few pictures of our trip and some of what we missed:
Another old tradition, revived since the Soviet collapse, is shamanism. This is a blend of magic, medicine and spiritual guidance accompanied with many sacred sites.
People decorate these sites with ribbons, pieces of cloth, string, money, shoes … just about anything gets left as an offering, or as a gesture of respect.
A significant part of Tuvan respect for nature is expressed through shamanic traditions.
One tradition is to wear up-turned shoes so that they might walk lightly on the earth. Their respect for nature even extends to a reluctance to pick wild flowers.
Another tradition is “white death” . This is the bloodless slaughter of a sheep said to have been decreed by Genghis Khan. Using this method, two men hold a sheep down on its back. The master of the yurt makes a small incision in the animal’s chest just below the breastbone, reaches in, and grasps the aorta. The sheep dies within minutes. It is then butchered, everything being used. The intestines, cleaned and filled with blood and then boiled, become blood sausage. The meat is also boiled. No seasonings are used with the mutton. The choice part is the fattest piece near the tail and is reserved for guests.
Living close to nature the Tuva shamanists are self sufficient. If the world as we know it had to collapse they would continue with little change.
Linda and I feel we could learn a lot from them.