When I think back to my time in Tuva, even after much time has passed, I can still barely convince myself that it actually happened. I was there! The new experiences and feelings left such impressions, such vivid memories of adventures and tribulations in that peculiar land called Tuva that they take the foreground among all my various travels.
The start was typical. An August night spent in the waiting lounge of Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow. We, members of WWF were siting on our bags waiting for a flight to Abakan – the first stop on our route. We would then go from a nearby village by boat along the Enesei river down to Kyzyl – the capital of Tuva. Then we would traverse this remote Russian region to the Mongolian border. The journey caused a sort of epiphany. We understood ourselves, our friendship, and how fragile the natural order of things are. We saw how radically different cultures can be and be a part of our world’s diverse heritage.
Siberia… much is said and written about this land, but for every traveller the story is different, although going back to city life in some concrete mess is equally boring for all. As soon as one is home, one experiences a strong nostalgia, a despondence about the city and a vying for the rugged endlessness of the Taiga or the rushing Enesei. It is the contrast of smells from the rivers or forests and the almost paranormal way in which a ruckus from your boat’s engine is replaced by complete silence when you stop. Occasionally you even lose yourself in the blues-ness that surrounds – the sky mirroring the rive – and it is as if you are briefly transposed to a timeless dimension.
It is astonishing to think about how hardy our ancestors were, that they managed to make a living in this wild land. This ruggedness can be seen in the village Shushenskoe, where a museum to the settlers, named after Lenin, still stands. You can see the conserved way of life of centuries passed. There are photos of the century old oaks used for the houses, you can see how pristine the nature was and still is – how warm the Russian fireplaces kept the settlers and reinvigorated them for further heroism. Further along are the faces of the settlers, the Tuvans and many others – which all illuminate their welcoming and warm souls which remains so to this day.
Who comes to mind first? Perhaps the museum volunteers – who recreated the village with their own hands, conserving tradition for the next generation, learning by heart ancient Russian songs… and our hosts – the directors of the local national park, whose diligent labour seems an art in its professionalism, whose humour and wit inspire, to whom we can rightfully trust the protection of these beautiful lands to which they are rather evidently devoted to. I remember the Tuvan nomads, tending to their flocks, returning nightly to their yurts in the mountain valleys of Tannu-Ol and Sengilen. The days we spent in their yurts will always remain unforgettable, as unforgettable as the people who invited us into their home having never met us before, fed us and treated us with ak chem – the local diary delicacies. They proudly showed us their horses and land – rain or shine! Can they ever be forgotten?
But most importantly, we coughed up all the city soot, washed off the dust and re-joined a way of life that perhaps our ancestors enjoyed. Maybe back when the Earth was loosely populated by pioneers, our forefathers enjoyed this clean life – both mentally and physically? They enjoyed true comradeship, mutual care and understanding amongst disparate human tribes. We revisited something long lost and yet more worth keeping than anything else. During the journey, the eyes were cameras, and memory was a tape, vividly stored in the display cabinet of my mind forevermore.
Photo: Aidyn Seidyp
Translator: Emil Pevcov