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This article continues our series of “Travel Notes” by the folk musician and journalist Maria Kirilova. Maria kindly suggested writing travel notes for tyva.me during a trip to Tuva this year for the celebration of Shagaa – the Tuvan New Year. Maria will share her insights about the sternly beautiful winter of Tuva, how the Tuvinians survive in the -40 degree frosts, how the Shagaa is celebrated, and what is sung in the winter folk songs.

Author: Maria Kirilova


My day before Shagaa itself was meticulously planned, but the National Museum surpassed all expectations, and I forgot all about the overall plan. I did not manage to visit the exposition “Gold of the Scythians”, but thanks to the photographer Julia Kuksova, the museum will soon have a virtual 3D tour with an overview of most halls. Unlike Julia, who was forced to resign to filming during her whole visit, I could quietly go through the exhibitions. Since it was Shagaa, when it is customary to wear national dress, traditional and more modern national costumes were displayed on the ground floor. To me and the hosts of the program “Running on Tuva”, the guide said that recently the tradition of wearing national clothes began to revive not only on holidays, but also in everyday life. I saw both the wardrobe of the 19th century, and clothes designed by modern designers with the preservation of Tuvan style. And in the building of the museum I was most impressed with the giant paintings spanning three floors. The whole space looked excellently grand. I hope we didn’t annoy the staff too much – staying to the last minute of opening hours.

And after that, we absolutely had to rest a little before the night of Shagaa. We were so tired that we slept through the concert, which we planned to attend, but we were still sleepy. Meanwhile, the Shagaa was inevitably approaching, for the sake of which I planned this whole trip. We had an approximate route and a wish to visit a Buddhist prayer service. Having reached the temple, we took a forty-minute break, which lasted an hour. With the risk of being late for the conduct of the shamanic ritual, we hurried to where it was supposed to be. Here it is necessary to mention the main difficulty that has haunted me for more than a month: I could not figure out where women could and could not go. The fact is that the main rite is held on the mountain Dogee, where men must meet the sun. Women are forbidden to climb the mountain, otherwise natural disasters and other adversities are made possible. However, some wrote to me that as a journalist it is still possible, but I firmly decided not to break the tradition and not cause discontent.
I think, if it were not for the employees of the “Tuvinskaya Pravda”, who recognised me and took us to the ceremony, we would have been wondering around for a while. We arrive ten minutes late. The fire was already started, and a huge mountainous shaman, with an extending headdress was already beginning the ritual. His actions made me realise he was working the with fire spirits.

A few words about daily life: as the shaman used to tell us on the previous day, lighting was organised and supplies of tea with milk were frozen beforehand.
In the darkness there was a huge “hut” made of firewood much higher than human height (even taller than that shaman). When the drum was played, the fire lit up. Quite soon the heat near me forced me to move further back. Tuva IS a country of contrasts, where your back can be cold, and your face – hot! I felt many intricately interesting emotions over the course of the night. I certainly discovered much about myself. I am planning to explore my feelings in a big article on my return.
As the sun began to peek over the earth once more, we took a sigh of relief, knowing that now celebrations were to begin in earnest. It is quite easy to believe in magic when a man of sage like age, explains that such a sun rises only once a year and in five minutes it will become another, ordinary sunrise…
And then we greeted everyone for the new year of the Yellow Dog. “Shagaa bile!” – “Kurai, Kurai” – we exchanged common greetings. The air filled with happiness. A couple of coals from a sacred fire are taken by each visitor, upon the advice of the shaman.

After sleeping fifty minutes, I went to the Centre of Tuvan Culture, where I heard a beautiful legend about the origins of the igil (bow instrument) and learned how to weave whips. After some problems with Google Maps, which messed up the numbers of the houses again, I still came to the television centre, where I gave an interview for 105.5FM. I remind you that you can tune in at 6:10 Moscow time and at 10:10 am Siberian time. Having had a rest in our rented apartment, we decided to take advantage of the hospitality of the “Nomads of Asia”, the Tuvan bike club – we thus the reception of these wonderful people as our base until the end of our stay in Tuva.

And if you want to repeat my trip and participate in the meeting of the sun, do not repeat the mistakes of my friends, and wear felt boots and woollen socks!


Yours, Maria.

Written by airamo