Тыва (Part One)

Ever since stumbling upon this and ingraining the alien sounds of it into our long term brain folds and then watching this fanciful tale of a blind bluesman finding his way tuva center of Asia, we have been obsessed with the impossibly remote, magical/mystical and sometimes autonomous land of Tuva. I imagined that we would get Feynman with that farflung land, dreaming the possibilities of Tuva, maybe venture there at some later/indeterminate date or never make it at all. It seemed too far and too remote and so very complicated to get to (plus, there is no straight Tuvan/English dictionary. One must get from Tuvan to English, or vice versa, through Russian). When Steve approached us about this trip, the possibility of going to Tuva at that early point in our lives was overwhelming and intriguing and had us making this trip a priority above common sense or money concerns. We had to make the trip happen if only to make it to that little pocket of Siberia and after we had traveled a few days worth of hours aboard the trans-Siberian and met up with our driver outside the train station in Abakan, that idea of this impossibly remote land became manifest and it was hard to believe all that seperated us from it was a six hour drive over a mountain range. Below left, you can see our driver/beautiful human being Yuri driving us south from Abakan through the morning mists and soft light towards the Sayan mountains which was that last barrier to us finally arriving in Tuva.
Scenes along the way...
We made a stop in the Sayan mountains for breakfast. Below you will find a fuller foto of Yuri himself, explaining his love for the Sayan mountains, most likely, and of his eventual plan to move there out of the smog and dust of Kyzyl.
Summit Scene, Post Breakfast
The structure jutting out of the snow in the picture below was erected in honor of a helicopter crash that had occurred up there
Up close with the octagonal structure itself, topped with the orthodox cross that I was always stoked to see in the wild. If you will look closely, the people behind Melissa were engaged in some igloo building survival training activities.
Almost snow-engulfed orthocross
Another scene along the way
Newspaper upon arrival at our student housing digs in Kyzyl, look at those eyes! What does it/they say? What does it/they mean?
Yuri forgot his hat in the flat
First trip to the market down the street from our newly found Kyzyl home, Russian sushi fixins
Horse meat cans
and mega Bacon!
Our first night in Kyzyl, at the student housing that we had scored for free for the week (in exchange for speaking English at some students at the local college the next day and at an "English conference" later that week), we got to meet the living legend Valentina Suzukei (one of the main reasons Steve wanted to travel to Tuva) and her sidekick/translator Shonchalai. Perfect pictoral summation of Shonchalai, in the red jacket below, gesturing authoritatively. Valentina had Shonchalai be her translator during our entire week stay in Tuva, even though Valentina's English abilities far surpassed those of Shonchalai. I suppose you just had to be there to fully grasp how this picture so perfectly captures Shonchalai's essence.
Met ex-pat 'Merican Joey, from Illinois, who was a champion/fount of knowledge of all things Russian. He was in Kyzyl for the Semester, far from his normal homebase of St. Petersburg, in order to get a better understanding of the country that he loves.
The next day Yuri frantically drove us to the local university for the first of two English speaking engagements we had scheduled that week. He drove us there frantically because we were running late for that speaking engagement and he was scared of Shonchalai's wrath that she was sure to spew forth upon our arrival. When we arrived and found the English department, however, we were told to sit and enjoy some tea and cookies in the teacher's lounge, hang out and then get to the classroom where we were to speak English with the students who were waiting patiently inside that whole time. This was our introduction to what we would later term "Tuva time" which is a lot like "island time" only a bit colder. Anyhow, the teacher below had a mug with her mug on it.
Here we all are, familiar role for at least two of us. These students were so very polite and listened to us babble on at length about ourselves, our country, our love for Tuva/Tuvan music and so on.
Below you will find Melissa trying to explain her veganism to a culture heavily invested, historically and currently, in consuming various meat and dairy products. Cant really cultivate a vegetable garden in that tundra, especially when you are part of a nomadic tribe.
Kim Jong lookin fellow on the left, and the double mug teacher on the right overseeing our English session. I remember talking at length to these students about the Pixies, but dont really remember the context wherein I talked about them.
During the "Q and A" portion of our talk, the young lady on right displayed impressive English skills and even spoke of spending time at Lake Tahoe. Our confusion was cleared up after our talk when she outed herself as Kongar-ol Ondar's daughter. We kinda freaked/nerded out on her, but she took it all in stride.
We toured the Tuvan cultural center (that Kongar had a huge hand in getting built).
Appropriately sexed WCs inside the cultural center
Helpful instructions on the proper way to dump
We then descended into Valentina's office on the lower floor of the cultural center. Ms. Suzukei is incredible beyond words and has served as the foremost ethno-musicologist of her native Tuva for the past thirty years. Below are just two examples of the many books that she has written on the myriad aspects of Tuvan music/noise making that she (and we) love. 
This second meeting with Valentina was to talk over the list of questions that Steve had sent her, previous to our trip out there, regarding the specifics of her theories regarding Tuvan music/overtones/timbre. Below, Ms. Suzukei about to drum up some real life timbre to illustrate her ideas incubated over many years.
Jaw harp past and present
With Shonchalai, getting esoteric
Overtone singing, visualized straight from the mind of Valentina to Powerpoint
We then returned to a much fuller theater to witness the sheer power/beauty of the Tuvan national orchestra. The doods in front of us were from the Russian army, on some sort of cultural tour.
Travel has a way of stretching days beyond their normal borders so that what normally counts for one is doubled or tripled in that traveling experience. It is hard to believe that the fotos below happened on the same day as most of the ones above, but such is the experience of travel. We got a ride a little out of town to the holy site below, in order to witness a shaman do her thing.
Before that happened, however, I was distracted when Yuri pointed over at a smallish length of train track above that holy site and said that "Putin did that." Upon further investigation, it seems that the small section of track was a symbolic gesture from that beefcake/tyrant for the eventual (or maybe not. The people we spoke with about the train Tuva center of Asia did not seem like they fully believed it would ever happen) train line that will run from the Trans Siberian all the way into Tuva.
Yuri at a distance, explaining something

Yuri closer, getting to the point

Probably says "Putin did this" on the rock below. Also, any time I see something like that below, I automatically think about these. I've Pavloved/Alex'd my brains to that 'xthaere.

After this brief distraction, it was back to Shaman business
Steve getting set up, Melissa modelling for this lady
Steve and Valentina, a meeting of the minds

Melissa performs "wind block" for the inimitable Ms. Suzukei

Valentina was stoked

Shaman fully garbed and ready to commune with the spirits

She brought Melissa over to be a part of the ceremony

Getting her spirit animal ready while I record her sound making frenzy warm ups

Melissa and Shaman inna spirit world

Close up. At some point, the Shaman blessed Melissa with raw goats milk. Melissa kept her composure, though. Had to dry clean that jacket when we got back, re-veganizing it.

It was a very beautiful/touching experience and it made us all thankful that this integral part of Tuvan society was not purged during Stalin's rule.

Post ceremony thankgiving

The crew in the golden hour
As the sun set, the gentleman below showed up to perform on some home made instruments he uses while hunting. He squeek-squaked some animal sounds for us for a bit

and then Sheathed it back up

The next day, we got up quite early to drive out to the far western reaches of Tuva, in search of musicians and throat singers. On the way, we made a stop at Aldyn-Bulak, which is a yurt resort I will write more about in the second installment of this Tuva series. We checked out the yurt village in the frigid early morning.

and hiked up the hill above the yurts to catch the sun coming up over the thawing Yenesei River.

In turning around from the Yenesei view, we took in the view of the entirety of the yurt camp through the gate and headed back to the safety-warmth of our waiting vehicle.

Midway through our journey to western Tuva, we stopped at the diner below, which was the only thing around for miles upon miles upon miles.
This was across the street from the diner. Linguistic art forms for us who do not know how to decode the scribbles.

Scenes from a diner...

Melissa and her steaming potato pile

Morning golden hour

So this is what I look like when I am eating

*heart flutters*

Jan was quite pleased with the blini (Russian crepe, drenched in sweet and condensed milk) and before he got up to order a second round of them, licked his plate clean.

Valentina expresses her approval of Jan's sweet tooth and plate cleaning techniques

Our bathroom accommodations at the diner: triple black diamond.

Scenes from the west of Tuva

Sleepy time Steve eventually resting his head on the shoulder of Shonchalai

We arrived at the village of Teeli, where Valentina was born, and were given the royal treatment the entirety of our stay there. As soon as we arrived, we were given the impressive spread below (most of which I had to consume double of, for it was all quite un-vegan and Melissa didnt want to be rude and reject it. I would go about inhaling food like normal and then quickly switch my empty plate with M when our gracious hosts were not looking).

They slung those silkie scarves about necks soon after our arrival

And gave us more blini and salty milk tea (which is present at any Tuvan meal, it seems). An acquired taste, for sure, and one that I acquired over our time in Tuva. Nothing quite like it.

The women of the village sang some traditional tunes for us, and did an impressive accompanying hand-jive to accompany it.

After more displays of indigenous musical forms, the ladies of the village giddily called Melissa up to the front to shower her with gifts. The first of these gifts was a traditional handmade vest.

Melissa was losing her mind over this unexpected show of generosity.

Shortly after the vest gifting, these ladies then surrounded Melissa to take her single braid out and double braid it due to that being the traditional Tuvan sign of a married woman.

The finishing touches...

Melissa and her braids crew

The gentleman below was one of the musicians from Teeli Valentina hooked us up with.

and the open-mouthed Lemmy lookin character below was another musician/instrument builder we were lucky enough to spend time with during our time out there. The cowboy hat he was wearing was the first of three hats he wore during our afternoon with us. Impressive/baffling style god of the taiga.


This lil!

Teeli street scene

Suzukei/hat man blini and compote luncheon

We then headed out to a field on the outskirts of town for another round of Shamanism, blessings and soundmaking. Melissa wore the homemade vest the rest of that day.

Steve's cord maven at work, cutting the set up time in half

Me figuring out how to get the least amount of wind interference as possible in the field recorder while Steve finished up getting in position

Then, the Shaman was off...more milk blessing and softly sung songs to the wind, to the earth, to us. Melissa did not get milk splashed this time around, however

Another hunter-call device squeek squaking some tunes at us

Our musician friend tried his luck with it

Eventually getting it to do its thing. He was stoked

Valentina was not

More Teeli street scenes

This curious onlooker...

...came out, patially, to see what was going on

Then this happened

Guitar driven throat singing beautiful tunes with dogs and kids roaming in and out of the scene. This musician later tried to teach me how to throat sing, all to no avail. It was nice to provide him with some entertainment, though.

Steve gets the visuals, I get the sounds. Such a surreal, beautiful scene/memory.

We headed out further into the tundra, with roads all muddy from the beginnings of the thaw, to find some ancient standing stones. Shonchalai was probably mangling some English at us in the photo below, which was taken shortly before our car got stuck in that thaw-muddy morass.

We found a rope and tied it to the front of the car

Then all of us grabbed onto the rope to yank the car out of the mud. No photos of the car extraction exist, unfortunately, because all hands were needed for it.

We found the spot shortly thereafter and hat man/style god was on his third hat of the day

Absolutely BA

Behind him you will find one of the ancient standing stones we endevored to find. Somewhat underwhelming.

He sat upon one of our suitcases and proceeded to play his homemade igil for us, in one of the most profoundly moving musical experiences I've ever had (the picture below does that experience no justice). A timbre'd sacred feeling service/space created, bringing on near tears among us all.

After slaying us, hat man dug through his igil carrying case/box of wonders

Then set about carving a wolf into a roack with a pocket knife

Which he gave to Melissa. She could not contain her joy and flung her arms around him. Valentina loved it. This was the last of the torrent of gifts Melissa received that day, most of which I didnt get a photo of, but she was indeed gifted heavily from this community.

lil wolf lil hands

Job well done

Unbelievable landscapes

and skyscapes

To be there, amongst it all...

...was overwhelming

we lost it

Jan held firm, however

On the way back to Kyzyl, we stopped to see/pay respects to a Buddhist temple Stalin had burned to the ground during his reign. The wolf looking guiding spirit below hung close, but not too close, as we explored the hallowed grounds.

The entirety of the ruins

The new temple in the distance that sprung up after Stalin's religious purges were over with

The next day, we roamed Kyzyl. Below you will find the exterior of the building we lived in for that week, the middle windows all bricked in.

Kyzyl street scene


This skatespot...

That skatespot...

Above Kyzyl, the Buddhist mantra "om mani padma om" is spelled out in white rock. Near that site, there are plans to put in place the biggest Buddha sculpture in the world. The base for this statue is in place up there, but time will tell if this will be another version of the Tuvan railway.

Found a skatepark and a few skaters there, one of which relinquished his board into my control. I took a few passes at the obstacles...

...and then we played skate. Here I am winding up for some sort of nollie trickery. Notice that tshirts were out and that I was wearing a thin long sleeved shirt. Quite surprisingly pleasant late March eastern Siberia weather.

After the skate session, we saw the guy below on our walk to...

...the National Museum Of Tuva

The Tuvan Republic herself

Scenes from our rushed tour of the museum (we arrived within an hour and a half of their closing. Totally need the better part of a day to take in the fullness of the fascinating collection of Tuvabilia).

German archaeologists at work at Arzhan, the site of the skeletons/gold piles in the above photos. Short short shorts.

Below is photo of Kyzyl in its infancy. Before Soviet Russia, the people of Tuva were not organized into cities at all, due to them being traditionally nomadic. To better control the people of this region, cities sprung up incongruously out of the earth understood much differently by the native inhabitants into cities and towns that still exist today.

A young Valentina was among the collections at the museum (duh).

The requisite Lenin statue in the center of Kyzyl

Jan gives the prayer wheel a spin

Enjoying Siberian Sun

Locating ourselves in the middle of Asia

Previously mentioned ex-pat Joey brought us up to an overlook outside of Kyzyl and pointed out the lay of the land for us and the pathway that the coal burning power plant on the left hand side of the photo below blows its pollution over the entirety of the valley that Kyzyl occupies.

The crew and red city behind us (Kyzyl means red in Russian, quite an imaginative name from the Soviets that created the city).

I spent maybe five minutes collecting the two liter beer bottles that were scattered all around our perch above the city. Impressive/sad state of alcohol consumption.

Here's a better view of the coal pollution rolling down the valley

We then went to dinner with Joey and our chosen restaurant shared space with other businesses, one of which was an office that dealt in issuing passports. Outside of the building, there was the photo below of what Steve off handedly joked looked like a "really fucked up looking Gerard Depardieu." Tuns out it was actually Mr. Depardieu, who has in recent years taken up residence in Russia and actually became a Russian citizen so that he could avoid paying taxes in his native France. This passport office put up his photo outside of their business as somewhat of a pisstake. Anyhow, I will leave you with that, and the picture below, until Tuva part two is posted.

No comments:

Post a Comment