Western Tuva

The west of Tuva is a more settled territory. It is a place of mountain rivers, impassible taiga and sky-scraping mountain ranges that is reflected in the hearts of the local people. They have maintained ancient customs and traditions. They pray to the spirits of the high mountains, such as Bai-Taiga, Kyzyl-Taiga, Möngülek, and Möngün-Taiga. Western Tuva is surrounded by the western Sayan mountains, and the mountain ranges of Shapshal, Tsagan-Shibetu, and Tannu-Ola, which continues further on to the south. It is a territory of snowy peaks. The glaciers are refreshed with the water of mountain rivers and lakes. Ak-Khöl, which means “White Lake” in Tuvan, is one of these lakes. Its banks are covered with ancient burials from Scythian times, which have been looted long ago. Another mountain lake – Kara-Khöl, or “Black Lake,” is considered to be a tectonic fault lake, like Lake Baikal. It has a roaring waterfall, and Scythian burials and standing stones on its banks bear silent witness to this lake’s stormy past. Yet another “white”-colored lake, Süt-Khöl, or “Milk Lake,” rests at a height of 1800 meters above sea level. Moreover, this lake is not silent at all, for local residents tell of an ancient being that dwells at the bottom of the lake, a blue bull. He makes a droning bull-roar from the bottom of the lake as a reminder. Indeed, this is not just a legend, there is an unusual acoustic phenomenon that exists at the lake, such as exists at some other lakes on our planet such as Victoria in Africa and Ladoga in Russia. The glacial waters of lake Khindiktig-Khöl sit even higher above sea level that Süt-Khöl. In the pure waters of the lake sits a mountainous island, which gives the lake its name. Khindiktig-Khöl means “lake with a belly-button” in Tuvan. It is located near the highest point in all of Eastern Siberia, and Tuva, the mountain Möngün-Taiga, known to the people as Mönge-Khaiyrakan-Khöl or Möngün-Mengi-Khaiyrakan (3796 meters above sea level). Its stealthy and careful inhabitants, the mountain sheep Argali and the snow leopard Irbis are rarely seen by humans.

Kizhi-Közhee are standing stones in the shape of warriors with impenetrable faces, witness of the great events that occurred during the empires of the ancient Turks and the successive inhabitants of this strange land. Some of the stones have been irrevocably lost, others are partially kept in museums. A kizhi-közhee called by the people “Genghis Khan,” however, watches over the steppes as before. The mighty warrior with a braided beard and instruments of war has stood tall for more that 1200 years, significantly older than Genghis Khan himself. Next to this stone figure stands Bizhiktig-Khaya, a cliff with petroglyph writings and pictures of not only individual figures and masked personae but entire artistic scenes such as the ceremonial arrival of traders.

According to legend, there are many places on the earth for making wishes. Such places also exist in Central Asia. Üttüg-Khaya is a mountain ridge with a hole right through the top, from which it gets its name – “Cliff with a Hole.” Üttüg-Khaya has a fairly tight entrance on the south side, which a person may pass through to gain blessings and the fulfillment of wishes. It is said that one must enter with good intentions, otherwise the mountain will react negatively.

In the 8th century CE, the Uigurs conquered the territory of central Asia, mixing with the local population and contributing parts of their culture while taking up other practices from those who had ruled the steppe-regions of distant Tuva. In Western Tuva, in Süt-Khöl, the descendants of these conquerors have retained Uigur ethnonyms in their names up until the modern era.

People here are very hospitable and try hard to maintain the wisdom of their ancestors. Well-respected masters pass on the skills of leather working to the young, as well as the rules of sewing national costume, the rare technology of making leather vessels called kögeer, metalworking, soapstone (Chonar-Dash) carving, construction of traditional musical instruments, food traditions, the subtleties of traditional decorative art, and many other traditions.