Sacred Karakol Valley

After breakfast and a few goodbyes on the morning of the 27th, we set forth on the first leg of our “West-East Transect” excursion. Our group of twelve (nine visitors and an interpreter, leader, and driver) piled into a Gazelle – the equivalent of a large American minivan, but without the comforts. This vehicle was to be our trusty steed for the next seven days. We were retracing our steps out of Ust’-Koksa (through Ust’-Kan) and back to the main M-52 highway, where we made a turn eastward to reach the Ongudai Raion. Just a short while down the road, and we turned into Uch Enmek Nature Park. The borders of this Republic-level nature park overlap exactly with the Karakol Valley, stretching back to its highest peak, the sacred Mount Uch Enmek. There are six very small villages within the park, although three of those are on the north side of M-52 in a very narrow strip of the park’s lands, while the remaining three follow a dirt road toward the back of the valley. The residents of the valley settlements are almost 100% native Altaian and have lived and grazed livestock here for generations. Rain, hail, and a few thunderstorms definitely cramped our style a little bit. As in my past visits to this park, we are living in felt yurts (on raised wooden platforms) that are for the most part quite cozy, although the felt could be a bit more densely woven in ours. Danil Mamyev met us for a pre-dinner presentation and overview of the park and its background. I’ll dedicate a separate post to the park. After a simple dinner of plov, a rice-heavy lightly seasoned meat dish, the ladies headed off to the banya for a good steamy sauna, birch-branch beating, and washing up. I was delighted to return to the ail (cone-shaped traditional Altai building) to find a local man performing Altaian throat-singing and playing on a variety of traditional instruments. Altaian throat-singing is just like the better-known Tuvan variety, and I think the only difference is the language in which the songs are sung. Warm, clean, and entertained, I headed back through the rain to my yurt and snuggled in to sleep.

A few photos from a 2011 trip to the area are here.

Read a 2014 interview with Danil Mamyev here

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