Drizzle in Kyzyl.

Well actually today (Wednesday 2004-08-11) is not too bad, if you can avoid the puddles. (This is more difficult than you would imagine because the engineers who built the roads in Kyzyl seem to have forgotten that it rains here and as a result there are no street drains. The solution is a couple of aging tankers that go round and suck up the water - eventually.)

Those who have been studying the map of our intended route may have wondered why our journey west is interrupted by a 2000km detour to the south. The answer, in a word, is "culture". More specifically a "Cultural Tour" offered by a much praised travel agent in Abakan. Not only had we been offered a six day cultural tour, we had also been offered a parking place at the old Intourist Hotel (now known as the Park Hotel) in Abakan where the agency was based. Alas when we got there the hotel had been demolished and the agency did not answer e-mails or phone calls.

So we parked in a side road opposite the ex-hotel and nobody bothered us (53.717282°N 91.451447°E). We ate out at the rather splendid Napoleon restaurant (great food but get there early to avoid the live music).

Lenin slept here.The main attractions of our now vanished "Cultural Tour" were a chance to see Shamans at work, a chance to hear Throat Singing, and a chance to stand at "the centre of Asia". All these delights, and more, are to be found in the city of Kyzyl, capital of the Republic of Tuva. So we headed there in search of our own Culture.

En-route we stopped at Shushenskoe the home of "Lenin World", a theme park of beautifully restored wooden houses including two where Lenin lived in exile between 1897 and 1900. In their current state of "restoration" these houses seemed preferable to 99% of the inhabited houses nearby. Don't forget to ask to see Lenin's ice skates.

We parked under the trees opposite the church where Lenin and Nadezhda Krupskaya got married in 1898, got out are tables and chairs and ate a fine meal prepared by Ann, thus confirming the prejudices of the locals regarding the sanity of foreigners.(53.327173°N 91.931810°E)

In Kyzyl we had no luck in persuading any of the still functioning hotels that they wanted four large campervans in their car park and ended up in a central secure parking area (24 hour guards) costing about $3.00USA per van per night, a far better option. (51.718412°N 94.436860°E)

Now to find our Culture. After being told, at the highest government level, that there no longer was a government tourist office, it found us as we were leaving the building and arranged a city tour for us including a visit all three of our cultural highlights.

The "Center of Asia" monument is a rather ugly 11 metre high obelisk on the banks of the river Yenisey that is said to mark the center of Asia. Or at least where an eccentric Englishman in 1890 said it should be if you used a very strange map projection. Or to be more precise where the Executive Committee of the Town Council of Kyzyl thought they should move it to in 1964 (they moved it about 23 verstas). Still it is fairly central and probably looks better without the drizzle.

Bypassing the famous "Sanitary Museum of the Republic of Tuva" (...lots of exhibits in the exposition in the museum that tell about personal and public hygiene, prophylaxis of different diseases) we headed for the Local Religious Shamanic Centre "Adyg-Eeren" (Spirit of the Bear) or was it "Dungur" (Drum)?

A female Shaman with dead owl.This "clinic" offers "fortune telling on pebbles", "purification", "charms for happiness, wealth and safe trips" and of course "rituals connected with sacred fire". Alas unless we were prepared to start the sacred fire with a $100USA bill we would have to remain impure.

However when it came to throat singing we were in luck. Although there were no scheduled performances whilst we were in town the ever helpful lady from the tourist department arranged for us to sit in on a rehearsal for a major throat singing event at the Tuva Musical-Drama Theater. Our presence in the theater was accepted by the shows "director" and various other "artistic" people and we settled down to wait for the rehearsal to begin. Instruments were tuned, lights were adjusted, scenery was moved, and throats were warmed up. Then a very senior member of the Tuva government arrived. We and the lady from the government tourist office were summarily dismissed.

This evening we will set out back to Abakan to avoid staying three nights in Kyzyl and thus being required to register with the OVIR.

Whilst we did not see everything in Kyzyl we wanted to see this was not the fault of the very helpful lady from the government tourist department who arranged a great city tour for us including a Buddhist Monastery and the impressive State Dressmaking Establishment (that's Olwyn with the remains of an owl on her head in one of their Shaman costumes above). We were also helped greatly by a volunteer interpreter who could not have been more helpful. Thank you both.

Stephen Stewart.

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