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Tuva - Sayan Mountains

Trip Summary


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Tuva - Introduction 
Tuva and the Sayan Mountains are a relatively new location for us, they also have so far had few visitors and are touristically "unspoilt". Our treks here are fully horse supported and have a slightly exploratory character although we have now operated in the area since 1999.


Located in southern Siberia and on the northern edge of Mongolia Tuva extends from the coniferous forests of the Taiga in the north to the rolling Steppes in the south. Nowhere else in the world is so far from the sea; its capital Kyzyl has a monument proclaiming it to be the very centre of Asia. Tuva is a country of great variety with almost every type of landscape: luxuriant meadows, green taiga, boundless steppes, medicinal springs, beautiful lakes, rushing mountain rivers fed in spring by melting snows, dusty semi-desert and snowy chains of mountains.

The high peaks and alpine lakes of the Sayan Mountains in southwest of Tuva give rise to the tributaries that merge to become the mighty Yenisei, one of Siberia's, major rivers flowing over 2000 miles north to the Arctic Ocean.

The mountain ranges that form its natural borders have long protected and isolated this region. Moreover, the Soviet Union kept Tuva closed to the outside world for nearly half a century, and most of this country is still remote and difficult to access. So far few foreigners have been to this remote land.

Predominantly, Tuvans are cattle-breeding nomads. For millennia they have tended to their herds of camels, reindeer, yaks, sheep and goats. Traditionally they live in yurts, felt covered circular tents, that are easily moved to different locations as they follow the seasonal pastures.

The Tuvan people have a mixed ethnic heritage reflecting the ancient powers that dominated this part of Central Asia. It is said that Tuva was the birth place of Ghenghis Khan and that Ghenghis Khan's mother was a Tuvan. It is the cradle of the Turkic language and its culture is strongly related to Mongolian. They have persisted in speaking their own language of Turkic origin even while the Mongols, the Manchu's and other groups ruled them. Even now after decades of domination by the Soviets they still remember their sacred traditions from their main religions: Buddhism and Shaman.

Shamanism was widely practised in Tuva until the forties and fifties when the Soviets enforced their campaign to eradicate religious practice. This brought a modern infrastructure of roads and systems of public education, medical care and communications to this remote part of Asia . Now after almost fifty years of communist rule interest in these ancient customs is growing.

In Kyzyl we will spend a day to absorb some of the local customs, meet Lamas, Shaman doctors, to visit the National Museum and to see rock paintings and archaeological sites of ancient settlements and burial mounds outside Kyzyl.

The trekking area consists of series of narrow, sharp-topped ridges and of flat-topped, ridges between 2000 and 3000m high with steep slopes and strongly eroded upper sections.

The trek will pass through dense coniferous taiga of cedar, silver fir and pine, sparse larch forest and boulder fields on some of the plateaux. There are passes to cross, non are steep, and rushing rivers to cross with the help of bridges, fords and perhaps even the horses. Most of the rivers lie in deep valleys with many rapids.

See also our "Mongun-Taiga" trek to the highest summit of Eastern Siberia.

Tuva Summary Grade B 
Email for further information | Summary of times to go

Some long days and steep paths. Trails followed but not waymarked nor well trodden for the most part.

Weather, clothes, equipment
Not extreme at this time of year, day temperatures in the mountains approx +20°C. Warm clothes required for evening and nights. Full, lightweight, waterproofs required as some rain should be expected. Waterproof, strong walking boots with good ankle support are essential. Walking poles can be very useful especially for river crossings and boulder fields.

Day 1. Fly from Moscow to Abakan. Arrive in Abakan at about midnight. Hotel in Abakan.

Day 2. Drive (the entire day) via Ak-Dovurak and Teeli to the start point of the trek in Tuva. Camp not far from the Shivilig medicinal spring.

Day 3. We walk through alpine meadows then by a good horse trail over a small forested pass to an open high-altitude steppe surrounded by colourful mountains. We ford a 70cm deep river with a help of horses. Camp by the edge of the steppe zone near the entrance to a narrow river canyon in a fir-tree grove. Around one may see ancient rock paintings, Scythian burial mounds, Turkic stellas (stone poles). 15km walking.

Day 4. 4 hour walk up to the top of Mount Chailag-Mongulek, 2677m, to see several ancient burial mounds yet to be excavated. Tuvans say the God of the Salchak's clan is hidden here. We gain about 650 m altitude and have good views of Khemchik Valley. 2 hour descent to camp by the Suglug-Kholash river.

Day 5. We walk by opened highlands of Kamenisty Ridge around the Kurgag Kholash Valley. The day is long about: 7-8 hours walking. Camp by Syr-Buziun River. Horses take a shorter but less picturesque route to the campsite.

Day 6. Walk 30 min. down the valley with a possible visit to a local yurt. Walk about 3 hours up to the Tarbagannyg-Oy Ridge by a good horse path through a larch forest. From the top of the ridge we can look back on the route taken so far. Descend towards the Khemchik Valley, 2h.30mins. Camp in a grove by the Khemchik tributary.

Day 7. Cross the Khemchik by a bridge. This is the second biggest river in Tuva after the Yenisei. Walk up by the Khemchik Valley to where the Chohon-Khem river flows into it. Camp by the river.

Day 8. Walk up by the Chohon-Khem River. Camp in its upper reaches. Note: Day 7 and day 8 can be combined in which case day side trip can be arranged to a picturesque valley below a 3,087m summit.

Day 9. Walk over the Shivitig Pass, 2,918m. Down along the Chinge-Khem river to the foot of Perevalny Pass, camp.

Day 10. Walk to the top of Perevalny Pass, 2740m. 3-4 hours uphill. Now along the top of Dagyr Dag Ridge with excellent panoramas. Camp in an open area by Chalamalyg Pass.

Day 11. Continue walking by Dagyr Dag Ridge down to camp in the upper reaches of Chek-Oi River.

Day 12. 2 hours walk down to the Khemchik Valley. Meet vehicle and drive to Kyzyl (circa 8 hours). Hotel in Kyzyl.

Day 13. Day in Kyzyl. We will visit the National Museum, Shaman Clinic and attend a concert of throat singing. Night in hotel.

Day 14. Drive to Abakan for flight to Moscow. Arrive in Moscow at about 14:00. Drive to hotel with a tour of the city on the way. Dinner. Hotel.

Day 15. Breakfast. Trip ends.


Internal flights; One night in a hotel in Abakan upon arrival (incl. breakfast); Transport from Abakan to the trekking area; Transport from trekking area to Kyzyl and Kyzyl-Abakan. Vehicle for food re-supply on trek (once); Food on trek and all necessary utensils; Horses to carry all communal and personal equipment (during the day you only carry a small day-sack with a water bottle, rain jacket, camera, etc.); English-speaking guide; Cook and assistant; All tentage; In Kyzyl: 2 nights in hotel, 3 meals a day, local English-speaking guide, museum entry fee, visit to shaman clinic, concert of throat singing.
On the way back from Abakan to Moscow we provide a transfer from the airport to hotel with a tour of the city on the way, dinner and overnight in a hotel (Izmaylovo) with breakfast.

Flights, visas, extra drinks, tips, international airport transfers in Moscow. On the way from Moscow to Tuva no services in Moscow are included. The services required on the journey in, in Moscow need to be discussed and quoted separately.
For summary of times to go see Summary

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ALW 1/11/05