Tuva Republic (near the western Mongolian border) is a remote wilderness in southern Siberia on the border billed as the "Center of Asia. The homeland of the Tuva people, it occupies the upper Yenisei basin and covers 171,500 square kilometers (65,800 square miles), is home to about 320,000 people and has a population density of only 1.8 people per square kilometer. About 53 percent of the population live in urban areas. Kyzyl is the capital and largest city, with about 110,000 people. Website for The Republic of Tuva: visittuva.ru
Tuva has traditionally been an agricultural region. It has only five small cities and towns. The main agricultural activity is cattle raising, and fur is an important product. Gold, cobalt, and asbestos has been mined, and the republic has extensive hydroelectric resources. Of the 300,000 inhabitants that lived there in the 1990s, two thirds were Tuvans and a quarter were nomads that lived in yurts and raised horses, sheep, yaks and cattle. Among the animals found here are wolves, snow leopards, golden eagles, mountain sheep, antelope, foxes, reindeer, sables and bears.
Tuva (also spelled Tyva) was called the Tuva ASSR until the new Russian constitution recognized Tyva, the regional form of the name, in 1993. After being part of the Chinese Empire for 150 years and existing as the independent state of Tannu Tuva between 1921 and 1944, Tyva voluntarily joined the Soviet Union in 1944 and became an autonomous oblast. It became an autonomous republic in 1961.
Tuva is a unique region where the culture of the indigenous population remains alive. Shamanic rituals are still practiced, and Tibetan Buddhism is the main religion. Tuva is truly a unique place, where camels are bred in the south, and deer in the north and throat singing is said to have originated. Among the activities pursued in Tuva are exploring the desert and steppes, hiking in the mountains, , watch rare birds in the lakes, ride a Bactrian camel, attend a national festival, learn the “eagle dance”, hunt and fish, attend a shaman ritual, and buy warm and comfy Tuvan boots. In terms of exploring Tuva’s natural wonders, many places can only be reached by helicopter. Even when there are roads they are often impassible due to snow, landslides or difficult-to-ford rivers.
Getting There: Tuva is kind of difficult to get to. There are no direct flights to Kyzyl from Moscow or St. Petersburg. One has to get to Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, or Krasnoyarsk first and fly from there. A round-trip flight from these three cities to Kyzyl is about RUB 23,000. Tuva does not have any train stations. Buses depart from Abakan in Khakassia to Kyzyl three times a day, the ride lasts about 7.5 hours, and a round-trip ticket costs about RUB 1,800. A shared taxi — using a carpooling service like Blablacar — costs about RUB 1,400 both ways. There are also shuttle buses from Krasnoyarsk three times a day. The trip takes 13–14 and a round-trip ticket is RUB 4,000. Transport in the Region: You can get from Kyzyl to smaller towns by bus, minibus or car. Depending on the distance, a round-trip bus ticket costs from RUB 660 to RUB 3,000. There are several taxi services in Kyzyl but the one most recommended by tourists is Syldys.
Geography and Climate of Tuva
Tuva is a region of mountain, steppes and forests. Mountains occupy 42 percent of the region, Plains only 18 percent. The entire region if 500 meters above sea level, The highest mountain is 3,976-meter-high Mongun Taiga (Silver Mountain). The most fertile land is in the river valleys. Among the landscapes are deserts, tundras, open steppe, dense taiga and reed jungles. Tuva borders Buryatia, Khakassia, Altai Republic, Irkutsk Region and Krasnoyarsk Krai of Russian. Mongolia is to the south.
The snowy peaks of the Sayan, Tannu-Ola, Shapshalsky and Senigelen mountains surround the republic like a stone wall, hiding its beauty and riches. The source of the great Yenisei River is here along with important archaeological finds. The climate is extreme and harsh: with temperature dropping to as low as -61 degrees C in the winter and rising to as high as 43 degrees C in the summer, making the best time to visit in late spring or early autumn. Many places can only be reached by helicopter. Even when there are roads they are often impassible due to snow, landslides or difficult-to-ford rivers.
Eastern Tuva is covered by forest, rivers and lakes. There are few roads. Most travel is done by boat. Destinations include Lake Aaza, a beautiful lake surrounded by forest and mountains; Erzheey, an Old Believers village; and Kungurtuga a village near a lake with ruins of an 8th-century Uyghur fortress.
Western Tuva is dryer and more mountainous. Destinations here include Ust-Elegest, with large camel herds, Kyzyl-Dag, the home of a new Buddhist Temple; and the Mongun-Tayga district, with yak pastures and a 3,976-meter-high Mongun-Tayga.
Toji Volcanoes (100 kilometers east of Kyzyl) has mountains, riverbeds, basalt fragments that resulted from volcanic eruptions. Tuva is home to about 30 volcanoes, all of them inactive, with the oldest erupting two million years ago and the “youngest” being active about 7,000 years ago.
Around half of all of Tuva's volcanoes are around Toji Lake. Most of them are hard to distinguish from normal mountains, but some still have their classic cone shape. The highest are Shevit (2,765) and Derbi-Taiga (2,654). The lake is surrounded by mineral springs producing carbon dioxide, which is an indicator that there is still volcanic activity in the area. The only way to reach the Toji volcanoes is by helicopter.
Tuva Natural Park covers 5,641.7 square kilometers and is divided into three different areas: Ush-Beldir, Shui and Taiga. The first is located near Mongolia border in the Bil'in Busin Gol river basins. The other two are located on forest lands.. The park was set up protect rare species of animals such manul, peregrine falcon, saker falcon, golden eagle, Altai ular, Pallid Harrier, demoiselle crane, white-tailed eagle, bear, wolverine, moose, red deer, wild boar, musk deer, roe deer, capercaillie, black grouse and hazel grouse. About 49 percent of the park is specially protected area with very strict rules and generally off limits to tourists. The recreation area of the park where tourists can freely go covers 1,334.3 square kilometers. Here you can pick berries, mushrooms, nuts, wild fruits, but only for their own needs.
History of the Tuva Republic
Over its history Tuva has been ruled ancient Turks, Uyghurs, Yenisei Kyrgyz, Mongols, Mongolian Oyrats and Manchu Chinese. The Tuvans began to take shape as a distinct people in the 17th century when they adopted Yellow Hat Tibetan Buddhism. The first Russians to arrive were gold prospectors in the 19th century.
During the Soviet period, the Tuvan nomads were able to resist collectivization. After World War II, Tuva, which had been part of Mongolia, was absorbed into the Soviet Union. When the Tuvan leader suggested to Choibalsan that Mongolia do the same Choibalsan is said to have slapped the Tuvan across the face. After the break up of the Soviet Union, ethnic tensions caused many Russians to leave. Tuvans rule the government. Some want Tuva to be united with Mongolia.
The valleys in the Tuva region were once filled with livestock. Even in the Soviet era this was true. The valleys were largely bereft of animals after the collective farms closed own after losing subsides when Soviet Union collapsed. Many people moved away. Animal husbandry has since made a slight comeback.
Kyzyl (500 kilometers south of Abakan, 200 kilometers north of the Mongolian border) is the capital and largets city of the Tuvan Republic and home to about 110,000 people. Located on a broad plan at the confluence of the Bolshoy and Maly Yenisei rivers, it is a Soviet-style city with concrete buildings. Kyzyl is regarded as the geographic center of Asia. There is even a monument to support the claim. Sights include the Central Square, the Center of Asia Monument (said to be located at the center of Asia), a Buddhist Temple and a national museum with some medieval Turkish stone carvings, and exhibits on nomadism and shamanism.
Chief Shaman Office in Kyzyl (227 Shevchenko St) is the only shamanic organization in Russia. The people of Tuva are shamanists. Shamans are intermediaries between the human and spirit worlds. If you're lucky, you may get an audience with Chief Shaman Dopchun-ool, a hereditary shaman who started his healing practice back in 1982. But you may have to stand in a long line because Tuvans rely on shamans for everyday issues (health, family, work trubles) and philosophical questions alike.
Shamanskiy Center “Ai-churek” was created by the shaman Ai-Churek Oyun as a and cultural center of shamanism Ai-Churek pecializes in shamanic rituals and healing practices, protection of the holy places in Tuva and the preservation of the traditional way of life and spiritual values. The center has a shamanic clinic shamanic organization, "Tos-Deer", which is also headed by Ai-Churek Oyun. It hosts seminars on attracting happiness, wealth, health and longevity, as well as the application classes in throat singing, and fortune-telling with stones. Individual shamanic rituals practiced with massage, cleansing tambourine and traditional shamanic rites are performed here. ..
Center of Asia Obelisk is a monument in Kyzyl on the shore of Yenisei River. In the 19th century, scientists calculated that the geographical center of Asia is located right in Kyzyl. The monument was established in 2014 and designed by Buryat artist Dasha Namdakova. Three lions are holding a globe with a ten-meter tall needle-shaped obelisk on top. In June 2016, there was a poll on what landmarks should be printed on the new 200 and 2,000 ruble bills, and center of Asia was among leading candidates (but ultimately wasn’t selected).
Museum of the History of Political Repression in Tuva was opened in October 1994 to shed led on political repression that too place in Tuva and to Tuvans. The museum occupies the building, used by special commandant of the NKVD THP, a forerunner of the KGB. In this building Tuvan citizens were tortured, imprisoned and killed for things like involvement in "pro-Japanese counter-revolutionary conspiracy of rightist persuasion". The museum has a rich collection of thousands of photographs of repressed leaders, public figures and ordinary citizens of Tuva and the U.S.S.R. that it received from the Central State Archive There is also a collection of diary entries and letters so-called "enemies of the people" to their loved ones. A separate part of the collection is made up of repressed personal belongings. The museum also has is a special card index, which listed the names of rehabilitated citizens of the republic, as well as the names of those who are just waiting to be justified.
Kyzyl also has a Center of Tuvan Traditional Culture and Crafts. National Park of Culture and Recreation of the Republic of Tyva was established in 1928 and located on the peninsular woodland, at the confluence of the Kaa-Khem and Bii-Khem. Tuvan State Puppet Theater is the first professional puppet theater in the Republic of Tyva. Its repertoire includes 12 performances The House of Folk Art - a three-story brick building with a hall for 625 seats. The National Music and Drama Theater of the Republic of Tyva was launched in 1936.
Mountain D Gee is a sacred mountain with a complex cult complex of graves, monuments, petroglyphic art and Buddhist shrines. On the mountain, laid out in stones stones, is what is said to the world's largest mantra: "Om mani padmehum", which can be seen from anywhere in Kyzyl. It is believed that ascending to the top of the mountain lifts the spirit and eliminates bad thoughts. From the top of the mountain there are wonderful view of the Bii-Khem and Kaa-Khem rivers joining up and flowing into the mighty Ulug-Khem — Yenisei River — near at Mount Villano. Here is one of the largest Buddha statues in Russia — the 15 meter-high Shakyamun Buddha.
Scythian Gold and the Tuva National Museum
Aldan-Maadyr National Museum of the Republic of Tuva (central Kyzyl) is housed in building made in the form of a stylized yurt. The permanent exhibition displays a wide range of artifacts found in Tuva, including finds from burial mounds and Arzhaan Arjaan-2, items related to the history of Tuva, and Western European and Russian paintings. Among the the highlights are Scythian gold, Nadi Rusheva pictures, ritual objects of shamanism and Buddhism, and objects from everyday Tuvan life.
The collection of Scythian golden articles from the burial hills Arjaan-1 and Arjaan-2 is probably the most interesting thing to see at the National Museum. The gold artifacts come from Arjaan-1 and Arjaan-2, burial mounds excavated in the Valley of the Kings in Tuva in 2001. The items on display include pants with hundreds of golden panther figurines sewed onto them; a gold arrow quiver; a massive gold pectoral (chest ornament) that weighed 1½ kilograms; a smaller pectoral; foil fish used to decorate a horse's bridal; and a gold-inlaid dagger, an akinak (shortsword) of gold with a handle depicting tigers ripping a ram apart, a king's torc, pins, horse and deer-shaped badges, earrings, and buckles. All items are made in an intricate manner that jewelers today are unable to reproduce. Altogether there were 5,700 pieces in the Tuva tomb. Most were small animal figures, mostly lions or tigers and some beads. Most of were sewn into clothing. The amount of gold was by far the most ever found in a Siberia tomb.
Named after a nearby village, Arjaan-2 is dated to the 6th-5th century B.C. About 9,000 gold ornaments and articles, with 20 kilograms of 99 percent pure gold collectively, were taken from the mound. Scientists believe that Arjaan-2 was a burial place of a married couple from the Scythian elite. A massive torc (a symbol of power) and Scythian headdresses decorated with golden plates in the form of horses and deer, as well as iron weapons inlaid with gold, were found there.
The gold artifacts have been described as one of “the most important archaeological discoveries of the 21st century” not only because of their beauty but because of of the what they say about the Scythians. Having studied them carefully, one of the leaders of the expedition that discovered the articles, Hermitage senior researcher Konstantin Chugunov, pointed out that their date raises questions about the theory of the Black Sea origin of the Scythians. Central Asia could be their motherland.
In 2004, articles from the collection were exhibited at the Hermitage, and in 2006-2008, the collection toured Germany. In 2008, the year of the opening of the new building of for the Aldan-Maadyr National Museum, the collection returned to Tuva. The Scythian gold is housed bulletproof showcases in halls with cutting-edge security systems. The museum has a specially equipped room to store all of the items. Tours must be booked in advance. Admission is RUB 200, or RUB 500 for international visitors.
Valley of the Tsars
Valley of the Tsars (70 kilometers from Kyzyl) is the home of numerous burial mounds, including Arjaan-2, the one that yielded all the Scythian gold artifacts at the national museum in Kyzyl. . The most ancient of them is around three thousand years old, making them old than the Scythian burial mounds discovered in the area, giving credence to the theory that the Scythians originated in Tuva. The mounds are organized into lines, which may reflect kinship between the deceased. Scientists classified them under the Uyukskaya culture of Tuva.
Some kurgans (burial mounds), dated to the 8th century B.C., are the size of football fields and made of sandstone from nearby cliffs. The area has been dubbed the Valley of the Tsar because the kurgans are so large that local people felt that only kings would be buried in them. Each kurgan contains several vaults with the highest ranking person, possibly a king, buried at the center, less ranking people buried further from the center and horses laid to rest near the perimeter. Few artifacts have been fond in the burial chambers because most of the tombs had been looted. [Source: Mike Edwards, National Geographic, June 2003]
There are four stone kurgans in the valley, each about a mile or so from the other and each thought to have belonged to a ruler in a single dynasty. One named Arjaan 1 was excavated in the 1970s and was dated to the 9th century B.C., one of the oldest Scythian sites. Each tomb required hundreds if not thousands of laborers to make. Just bringing the sandstones slabs from the edge of the valley, several miles away to the tomb site was quite an undertaking. A typical tomb was comprised of sandstone slabs stacked in a circle 90 meters across and two meters high.
A vault dated to the 8th century B.C. in Arjaan-2 (also spelled Arzhan 2), excavated in the early 2000s, was located four meters under the ground and was built of rot-resistant larch. Inside was a man estimated to be around 40 and a woman thought to be 30 or so. Both was found on their side, slightly curled like they were sleeping. Around them was an array of stuff to carry with them to the afterlife: thousands of gold ornaments, an ax, a whip, a bow, arrows, combs, jugs and bows, 431 amber beads from the Baltic, 1,658 turquoise beads, bronze, bone and iron arrowheads, stone ceremonial dishes. See Scythian Gold above.
Archaeological work is carried out by the Central Asian Archeological Expedition. After the discovery of the treasures at the Arzhaan-2 mound, scientists expect to find more untouched mounds and make more amazing discoveries. Volunteers from around the world come to take part in the excavations. The excavation season lasts from late May to late August. If you are 18 to 35 years old and in good shape (archaeology is hard work), this is your chance to make your summer vacation unforgettable.
Aldyn-Bulak Ethnocultural Complex
Aldyn-Bulak Ethnocultural Complex (65 kilometers west of Kyzyl) is located in the Ulug-Khem river valley. Opened on the eve of the Tuvan New Year in 2011, it contains birchbark-covered tents of the Tojins (a local people who have lived here since ancient times), a statue of Buddha, the Shaman's Gates, and “sulde” flags representing the spirit of the people. More than just an open-air museum, it is a place where you such in the fresh mountain air and admire the Yenisei River from a viewing point. There is restaurant in one of the tents. Other tents can rented for accommodation and , conferences, saunas, and parking lot.
The design of the complex, it is said, is based upon a model of the universe, with the yurts being the sun and planets. The placement of yurts is chosen in accordance with the teachings of feng shui and is intended to attract good luck and wealth. Seven yurts make up a large outer ring with four “presidential” yurts inside it. The largest yurt stands in the center. This is the restaurant, which serves fried mutton liver, juicy blood sausage, steamed dumplings with tail fat, tea with milk and salt, and tuva araga, a mild milky alcoholic drink.
The top of the hill has a two-meter-high Buddha statue situated so it can welcome the sunrise every morning and spread positive energy all around. The Buddha statue was created by Mongolian masters from the Kandan monastery and was consecrated by lamas from the Drepung Goman monastery
The complex includes several places for conducting ceremonies: the Aldyn-Bulak holy place, the heavenly gates of Shambhala, and an arch with red columns and blue crossbar set on the hill between two cliffs. The ascent consists of 99 steps — nine has sacral significance for the Tuvan people, and double nine — all the more. The Olympic torch was carried through these gates before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. While standing under the gates of Shambhala, one can make a wish and have a look at another ceremonial place — nine waving tug (or sulde) banners made of horsehair.
Women may not approach the tug banner, where men perform rituals celebrating courage and honor. During one of these male rituals, men go around the banners three times repeating the ancient commandment: “Fear not a man who can take away your life and wealth but do fear deeds that can disgrace you or make you lose your dignity — not in other people's eyes, but in your own.”
Aldyn-Bulak is not just a collection of exotic artifacts, but also a tourist base for active recreation. Here you can swim and fish, ride horses, or shoot a bow and arrow. Here you can learn how to milk a goat, process milk in a separator, and make kurut, the national dried cheese. You can also visit unique master classes in Tuvan throat singing. The teacher will demonstrate how to inhale air to fully fill the lungs and produce grumbling sounds by manipulating the diaphragm.
The pride of Aldyn-Bulak is the Ovaa Khoomey monument to throat singing. Sixty-five tons of stones were used to create the monument. Nine treasures, currencies of different countries, and stones from four continents were laid in the foundation. The complex is also equipped with an observation deck with an excellent view of the Yenisei river. The deck is designed as a gazebo, with a roof covered in skillfully carved wooden horse heads. An igil musical instrument (Tuva synbol) is attached at the very top.
Yenisey River is the largest river in Russia in terms of volume and the largest river system flowing into the Arctic Ocean. . Running northward through Siberia for 3,450 kilometers (2,136 miles), The fifth-longest river system in the world, the Yenisei is the central of the three great Siberian rivers that flow into the Arctic Ocean (the other two being the Ob and the Lena) The Yenisey is only 25 kilometers shorter than the Ob.
The Yenisei (also spelled Yenisei) originates in Tuva in the Altay mountains in Mongolia and flows through, the Sayan Mountains, Krasnoyarsk and Yeniseysky into the Kara Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean. It's main tributary the Angara flows out of the Lake Baikal. The maximum depth of the Yenisei is 24 meters (80 feet) and the average depth is 14 meters (45 feet). In some places the river is several kilometers wide.
The Yenisei River passes through all climatic zones of Siberia and serves as a kind of natural border between the Western and Eastern Siberia , with the Western Siberian Plain to the west and the Central Siberian Plateau to the east. It flows almost strictly along the meridian from south to north and drains a large part of central Siberia.
The river Yenisei is the second largest rivers in Russia based on it basin area. Three hydroelectric power stations have been built on it: Krasnoyarskaya, Sayano-Shushenskaya, and Mainskaya. Krasnoyarsk sea is an artificial lake created during the construction of Krasnoyarsk HPP. In the summer, it is a favorite recreation spot for residents of Krasnoyarsk. The Yenisei has been polluted by waste from plutonium processing plants.
More than five hundred rivers run into the Yenisei. The river carries 600 cubic kilometers of water to the Kara Sea a year. The river is the most important waterway of Krasnoyarsk Krai. There is a regular shipping route between Krasnoyarsk to Dudinka that carries a fair amount of freight. The main embankment of Krasnoyarsk city goes along the river.
Uvs Lake (200 kilometers southwest of Kyzyl, on the border of Tuva and Mongolia) is the biggest saltwater lake in Mongolia. Covering 3,500 square kilometers and set at an elevation of 743 meters high, it is located in a Strictly Protected Area where sand dunes of the Gobi, open mountains steppes, forest and high mountains all merge. Uvs Nuur (Lake) has no outlets. The water in the lake is five times saltier than the sea and is devoid of any fish life except where rivers discharge into the lake. Most of the lake is in Mongolia; a small part of it is the Republic of Tuva in Russia.
The climatic conditions of the region Uvs Nuur extremely harsh. The annual temperature variation here is more than 100°. Scorching dry summer followed by the strong winter cold. It is one of the coldest places in Mongolia. Winter temperatures of -57 degrees C have been recorded here. However, this region is home to many species of anima, including four dozen mammals species. The lake is a magnet for birds; over 220 species are recorded, including osprey, white-tailed eagle, and black stork. Over 100 pairs of spoonbill nest in the vicinity, also great white heron, whooper swan, great black-headed gull, white-headed gull and black stork can be found here.
In ancient times, the area of Uvs Nuur were populated by nomads — the Xiongnu, Mongol horsemen and the Yenisei Kyrgyz — who are great interest to archeologists and historians and have left behind burial mounds, deer stones, petroglyphs and runic inscriptions on stones. Currently the Uvs Nuur coast is practically uninhabited, allowing the ecosystem to exist undisturbed and intact. There is little economic activity around the lake other than limited herding. Only one kind of fish is caught: the Altai Osman
Around Uvs lake are a few tourist routes that can be visited with local tourist agencies. On the Russian side because the lake is located near the border you need to get a border pass. For Russian citizens pass is issued within 30 days, and for foreign nationals, within 60 days from the date of submission of the application. The lake is being studied by the Ubsunur international research center. The entire Uvs Nuur water basin is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (See Below).
The lake itself it’s a bit disappointing. It is hard to get to and appreciate. There is a lot of bird life but getting to the places where the birds are is hard to find. In Mongolia, Uureg Nuur and Achit Nuur are regarded as more scenic. The former is a freshwater lake surrounded by spectacular 3,000 meter peaks. The later is a larger freshwater lake with eagles and huge flocks of geese. Sights around Uvs Lake include Tsagaan Nuur Canyon, the home of the Duvud ethnic group, and Tsengel Hairhan Mountain, an area with a large number of Kazakhs.
Uvs Lake is about 80 kilometers long and 80 kilometers wide. It is a land-locked lake with clear but brackish water. Uvs Lake is located in an extensive tectonic cavity, known as the Great Lakes Depression, where there is a high concentration of saline and freshwater lakes. Several rivers empty into the lake, the largest of which is the Tes River (Tesiyn Gol). In Mongolia, the Nariin, Sagil, Borshoo and Khundlen rivers enter it, but none drain out. Over the centuries, the lake has been steadily drying out. Ten thousands years ago the area of Uvs Nuur was five larger than it is now.
Uvs Nuur shores are low and swampy, especially at the mouths of rivers, where extensive reedbeds have formed. There are also rocky and sandy coastal areas. The salinity of the water varies with distance from the rivers discharging freshwater into the lake. Uvs Nuur is not very deep, its depth does not exceed 20 meters. This allows the water in the short summer months to warm up to 25° in the upper layers and to 19° at the bottom. The lake freeze from October to May.
Uvs Nuur Basin (Ubsunur Hollow)
Uvs Nuur Basin (near the border of Mongolia) encompasses Uvs Nuur — a large lake with a lot of bird life — in a dry steppe area and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. The lake basin is isolated by mountains of the Western Sayan, Altai, and Ridge High Huhiyn Nuruu. In Tuva and Russia the Uvs Nuur Basin is called Ubsunur Hollow.
Uvs Lake is in the Western Lakes Basin, which covers 7,716 kilometers in four separate tracts: Uvs Lake, Tsagaan Shuvuut Mountain, Turgen Mountain and Altan Els (Golden Sands). The mountains have small glaciers and permanent snowfields, and are home to Argali, Siberian Marmot and Siberian Ibex. The lake basin of Uvs Nuur has spectacular landscapes, and more extreme ranges of ecological zones than perhaps anywhere else in the World: perpetual snows and permafrost of the Turgen Mountain to the desert sands of Altan Els (Golden Sands), the lake basin displays all the major ecological zones of Central Asia. The mountains have snow year round. Kharkhiraa Mountain reaches 4,038 meters above sea level, and Turgen Mountain 3,965 meters.
According to UNESCO: “The Uvs Nuur Basin is the northernmost of the enclosed basins of Central Asia. It takes its name from Uvs Nuur Lake, a large, shallow and very saline lake, important for migrating birds, waterfowl and seabirds. The Uvs Nuur Basin is a naturally diverse and simultaneously distinct landscape unit surrounded by several large and high mountain ranges. To the North, the basin transitions into the Tannu-Ola Range, to the East are the Sangilen and Bolnai Ranges; to the West the Tsagaan Shuvuut and Shapshaskee Ranges constitute natural boundaries, while the Turgen Uul and Hanhohee Ranges are adjacent to the South. The steppe ecosystem supports a rich diversity of birds and the desert is home to a number of rare gerbil, jerboas and the marbled polecat. The mountains are an important refuge for the globally endangered snow leopard, mountain sheep (argali) and the Asiatic ibex. [Source: UNESCO]
“Shared by Mongolia and the Republic of Tuva in the Russian Federation, Uvs Nuur Basin is a transnational World Heritage property in the heart of Asia. The serial property comprises seven components in Mongolia and five in the Republic of Tuva, clustered around the shallow and highly saline Lake Uvs Nuur. Some components are contiguous with each other across the international border, while others are distinct units. Inscribed in 2003 on the World Heritage List, the total surface area is close to 898,064 hectares, of which 87,830 hectares belong to the cluster in the Russian Federation, with 810,234 hectares belonging to the Mongolian cluster. The central Uvs Nuur Strictly Protected Area in Mongolia covers almost half of the surface area of the entire property. While no buffer zones were formally recognized during the inscription of the property for its components on the Mongolian side, five of the seven components within the Russian Federation have buffer zones, totalling 170,790 hectares.
“The ancient lake basin and its surroundings boast an extraordinary landscape diversity ranging from cold desert to desert-steppe and steppe, conifer, deciduous and floodplain forests to diverse wetlands and marshlands, freshwater and saltwater systems, mobile and fixed sand dunes and even tundra. The property includes peaks up to some 4000 meters above sea level, towering high above Lake Uvs Nuur at around 800 meters above sea level The property contains remnant glaciers from Pleistocene ice sheets and numerous glacial lakes, and is of particular scientific significance for studying the evolution from the Ice Age to present-day conditions. Reflecting the landscape diversity, there is a rich species diversity which includes locally endemic plants and endangered species like the snow leopard. The entire basin has never been subjected to large-scale resource exploitation and has a longstanding and ongoing history of mobile pastoralism. The historical, cultural and spiritual importance of the landscape and many of its features are reflected in countless artefacts and archaeological sites and in the contemporary life, knowledge, resource use, songs and legends of local and indigenous communities.”
“There are important areas of different forest types and highly specialized vegetation in high altitudes, tundra systems and dry land ecosystems, including species and communities adapted to saline conditions. The more than 550 higher plants include relict species and a number of plants endemic to Mongolia and the Tuva Republic, with five species endemic to the lake basin. The various ecosystems support a rich faunal diversity, such as the argali sheep, Siberian ibex, Pallas's cat and the elusive and globally endangered snow leopard. The numerous rodents are of major ecological importance and include two vulnerable jerboa species and gerbil. The many ecological niches are occupied by an impressive density of breeding raptors. The property is also of major importance for waterfowl, as well as a stepping stone in the bird migration between Siberia and wintering ranges in China and South Asia.”
Ubsunur Hollow Nature Reserve
The Ubsunur Hollow State Nature Reserve (including parts of the Uvs Nuur Basin and mountains around it) was established in 1993 to protect and study the unique and exceptionally diverse ecosystems of the Ubsunur Basin (Uvs Nuur Basin), from the mountain tundra to the deserts. In 1997, the reserve was granted the status of a biosphere reserve. The total protected area is 8,830 square kilometers. Since 2003, the reserve has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List as part of the joint Russian-Mongolian nomination “Ubsunur Hollow”.
In the north of the reserve are the western and eastern ranges of Tannu-Ola and the Sangilen Highlands. In the south are the Bulnai-Nuru and Khan-Khuhei Ranges, In the west are the Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge and the massifs of Turgen-Ula and Kharhir, adjacent to the Mongolian Altai. To the east is the watershed with the Dalger-Mourin River basin.
Inner Asia, where the Ubsunur hollow is located, is a unique territory with the most pronounced continental climate in the world, with the greatest temperature ranges between summer and winter and day and night. In this respect, it's ahead of the Sahara and the deserts of Australia. Here are the most northern deserts in Eurasia and the southernmost “tongue” of the permafrost distribution. One of the main natural features of the Ubsunur hollow is the presence of a wide range of ecosystem in a very limited space, and because of this high biodiversity. At the bottom of the hollow, sandy and clayey deserts are widespread, along with dry steppes on the submountain plains. On the slopes of the mountains, as you ascend in elevation, are high-grass steppes, then forest-steppe, then larch and cedar forests, and finally dry and marshy tundras, meadows and barren areas at the tops.
About 80 mammal species and over 350 species of birds have been counted in the Ubsunur Hollow Reserve, including eight species of mammals and 34 species of birds listed in the Red Book of Russia. The most famous animals are musk deer and snow leopard. These animals were on the verge of extinction at the end of the 19th century. Under the Soviet government hunting them was banned, and their populations began to recover. The Altai osman, which lives only in the lakes of the Ubsunur hollow, and nowhere else in the world, can be found in the Ubsu-Nur lake. The water surface of the lake and its swampy meadows and solonchaks attracts a lot of geese, ducks, swans, waders, herons, cormorants, gulls, terns and other aquatic and semiaquatic birds.
Traveling in Ubsunur Hollow Nature Reserve
You can see rare and endangered species of plants growing in the vicinity of the only freshwater lake of the basin, Tore-Khol. Many different birds live only in the vicinity of the lake; they are listed in the Red Books of Tuva and Russia. Not far from the lake are the clean sands of Zuger-Els, which form very beautiful landscapes. At the foot of Yamaalig mountains, to the west of Erzin village, there are ancient burial mounds, prehistoric rock carvings and Scythian and Hun remains.
Tourists should pay close attention to the weather in the region when planning a trip here. The winter are very cold and sometimes snowy. Spring isn't warm and there can be a lot of snow on the shaded parts of the slopes. Roads to the hollow can be closed until the middle of June. In the spring, some rivers turn into roaring torrents; it's better to use belay while crossing them and only cross in the morning hours when the water level is the lowest. Also, there may be passes or crossings that are inaccessible or difficult for horses or vehicles to overcome. In the summer, when the steppe blossoms, hordes of mosquitoes and midges awake and a strong mosquito repellent is a must-have. It can also be very hot in the day but cold at night.
When going to the reserve, it's necessary to coordinate your travel route with the reserve staff and the Ministry of Emergency Situations. It is desirable for tourists to have a GPS-navigator and a satellite phone in order to determine their location and call for help if necessary. Many places, especially those near the Mongolian border, require a permit to visit them,
Places in Ubsunur Hollow Nature Reserve
Pyeski Tsugeer-Sands (northeastern Ubsunur Hollow State Nature Reserve) is located on the left bank of the Tes River south of Agar-Dag ridge. Covering an area of 4900 hectares, it embraces a range of desert landscapes, including sand dunes and deflation basins. The sands create aeolian landforms that are always in motion, moving in line with the prevailing winds from west to the east. The vegetation is mainly only on the outskirts of the sand areas between sand dunes and flat areas of surface topography. The predominant plants are dwarf Caragana, Artemisia and cypress. Mammals are mostly rodents such as Roborovski hamster, long-tailed ground squirrel, Siberian jerboa and midday gerbil..
Lake Tore-Khol (Near the Mongolian border, 240 kilometers south of Kyzyl) is the only freshwater lake in the Uvs Basin. The water of the lake is surprisingly clear and along some are fine sand beaches. The lake is about 16 kilometers long, three to four kilometers wide and four to five meters deep. Situated at an elevation of 1148 meters, the lake contrasts with the neighboring salt lakes of Bai-Khol and Dus-Khol. Tore-Khol’s fresh water and comes from springs, in some cases containing water filtered by the sand dunes. In mid-July the water warms up to 22 degrees.
Lake Tore-Khol- a kind of ecological oasis, there are many waterfowl. Sandy tracts contain a large number of rare and endangered species of plants, especially in the coastal area of the lake where the plants are marked endemic. The lake is inhabited by Altai Osman, a kind of carp endemic to Central Asia, and pike. When there is no wind, the lake is like a mirror, reflecting clouds, tall dunes and poplars around the lake. On Por-Bazhyn island there are ruins dating to the 8th century. What they are and who built them is a mystery. Remember that the lake is a border area, so you need to get a permit to visit it.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (official Russia tourism website russiatourism.ru ), Russian government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in September 2020