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This is a shaman tree we stopped at along the highway. There are no trees around, so people have brought these branches and propped them up as if they were growing there. It is good luck to tie a scrap of cloth around any available branch, and while we were stopped here a wedding party came along to ensure that the newlyweds would enjoy good luck together. At the same site as this shamanistic place of worship is a small Buddhist shrine.
Across the river from the majority of the city of Kyzyl (on the Left Bank) is a large Buddhist temple ; here's a photo of it. This building was built only a few years ago, since all of the older temples and shrines were destroyed in the Soviet era. An odd mixture of religion is observed in Tuva; Russian Orthodox Christianity, Tibetan-style Buddhism venerating the Dalai Lama, and the vestiges of ancient shamanism.
Lake Tore-Khol is on Tuva's southern border with Mongolia, and part of the lake is actually in Mongolia. One day a van full of us were looking for the home of a family that had agreed to put us up in their yurt for the night. We got very lost, we were miles from any road, and we thought we were in danger of running out of fuel. We decided that our best bet would be to stop were we were (at the side of this lake) for the night and continue on in the morning. All of the others jumped into the van and went to sleep, leaving me and Russ standing there with our sleeping bags and the wide, barren steppe to ourselves. That night, I sacked out under the stars, and this is the view that greeted me at sunrise. That's Mongolia across the lake.
How barren are the steppes of southern Siberia , you ask? Judge for yourself by taking a look here.
Here's a nice photo of some storm clouds in the Bai-Khemchik region just east of Kyzyl. Nice rainbow!
One day we went out for a drive in the countryside just south of Kyzyl, and visited two families of camel herders who lived on the steppe. The younger family was not well off at all and actually lived in a burlap yurt , which can't be too warm on a cold summer night, although these people weren't about to complain about their life. They have a felt cover they will put over the burlap walls in the winter. Check out the TV antenna.
The same family gave us our first taste of one of their national drinks, called araka . This is made by fermenting and then distilling the milk of a horse and it tastes vaguely like a horse smells. It's clear but cloudy, almost colourless with a slightly milky white colour to it. I thought it was probably one of those tastes that you have to get used to, because it doesn't appeal on the first try.
This photo is actually from the Winnipeg Folk Festival in July, 1993. These three Tuvan musicians have come to play and sing khoomei for us. Kongar-ool Ondar (the shaved head) appeared on the short-lived Chevy Chase Show, and he and Anatoli Kuular (yellow robe) have recorded with artists as diverse as Ry Cooder, Frank Zappa, and the Chieftans.
Here's another photo from the same day; Radomir Mongush and Kongar-ool Ondar tune up before playing.
Return to The Friends of Tuva Page.