3. First day in Tuva
First day in Tuva... I was quite excited to go and explore the city. The place I was staying at was about twenty minutes walking distance to the city center. It was a sunny morning in August. As I was walking towards the city center I could see eagles flying in circles up in the sky, which is a frequent sight in Tuva. Many good things were about to happen until the end of the day. However before we begin, let's refresh our knowledge about Tuva. :)
Tuva, located in Southern Siberia, is a federal subject of Russia, home to the Turkic Tuvan people. It is surrounded with Krasnoyarsk on the north, Mongolia on the south, Irkutsk and Buryatia on the east and Khakhassia on the west. Tuva is a land of lakes, rivers and forests, Nature is the most important thing in Tuva, and even its national anthem is inspired by nature;
I, I am Tyva I'm the son of your silver-capped mountain I, I am Tyva I am the daughter of your silver-watered land
Looking at the distant history of Tuva, we see that the first human traces belong to 20 to 25 thousand years ago. In the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C.E. the Huns arrive to Tuva territory. Following this, many Turkic tribes settle in this area. From around the end of the 6th century, the Göktürks (translates as Celestial Turks or Blue Turks, a nomadic confederation of Turkic peoples in medieval Inner Asia) held dominion over Tuva. This period is named as the "Gokturk Period". Tuva went under the domination of the Uyghurs in the 8th-9th centuries and the Kyrgyz ruled until the 13th century.
In 1207, Tuva was conquered by the Mongols. The approximate 500 years of Mongolian rule over Tuva affected the Tuvan culture to be influenced by the Mongolian culture. In 1757, the Manchu rule was established in Tuva and in 1758 it became the colonial region of Chinese Manchuria.
Tuva gained its independence in 1912 and became a Russian protectorate in 1919. In 1921, People's Republic of Tuva (Tannu Tuva) was established. In 1944, the People's Republic of Tuva came under the sovereignty of the Soviet Union. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990, Tuva became a federal subject of Russia.
In Tuvan language Tuva is named as "Tyva". Tuvans call themself "Tyva" as well, which is thought to have derived from the ancient word "toba", which means society. Another thought is that the former name of the Yenisei river was "Toba" and the Turkic settlers around the river called themselves Toba because of that. As "Tuva" is the commonly referred name in the western world, I will be using this name throughout my blog as well.
Kyzyl is located on the banks of the Yenisei River. Yenisei, being the longest river in Asia, is born on the Mongolian mountains. It pours into the Kara Sea after meeting with a good percentage of Siberia. The distance it travels is around 4,287 meters. Yenisei is the deepest river in Russia, where it reaches a depth of 70 meters at its deepest place. The river is quite significant for the Turkic peoples as many Turkic tribes settled in its banks throughout the history.
Yenisei is a word with Turkic origin and is referred to as "Ene-Say" in the old Kyrgyz Turkish. "Ene" means the mother, the main, while "say" means river bed and valley. Yenisei is called Ulug-Hem in Tuvan language, which means the great river. Looking at the river from in front of the Center of Asia monument, it is possible to see the point where the two branches of the river, Bii Hem (small river) and Kaa Hem (large river) merge into each other and form the Ulug Hem, namely the Yenisei river. This junction point, which is also claimed to be the center of Asia, has given its shape to the flag of Tuva.
The capital Kyzyl, which means crimson red in Tuvan, is located on the Yenisei basin, the largest river in Siberia. The city claims to be the exact midpoint of the Asian continent, a claim that is commemorated with a large monument. The monument is called "Center of Asia", located in the city square, and was built in 1968. It was renovated in 2013 by Buryat sculptor Dashi Namdakov and took its final shape. Located on the banks of the Yenisei River, the monument consists of an obelisk rising from the earth that four dog figures carry on their backs, and twelve animal figures around the fountain that surrounds the obelisk. The figures represent the twelve signs in Chinese astrology; mouse, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.
A few meters further from the Center of Asia monument is the Royal Hunting statue on the river bank. This statue was built in 2013, also by Buryat sculptor Dashi Namdakov. I can not go without saying that I was visiting the Royal Hunting statue every single day. This statue, which has a uniquely elegant style, has become one of the most beautiful sculptures I've ever seen in my life.
Behind the river one can see the Dögee Mountain, which is an important and sacred place for the Tuvans. There is a Buddhist temple at the top of the mountain, which one reaches after a long and demanding hike. On the slope of the mountain is the largest mantra writing in the world, which reads as;
Om mani padme hum
Every word in this Sanskrit mantra represents a different meaning. The first word Om is a sacred syllable in various Indian religions. The word Mani means "jewel" or "bead", Padme is the "lotus flower" (the Buddhist sacred flower), and Hum represents the spirit of enlightenment.
The Tuvans continue the practice of Shamanism as their belief, which is the religion of their ancestors, the ancient Turks. However Tuvans also accepted Buddhism. The two beliefs are practiced together in harmony.
Concert by the Royal Hunting
The good news of the day was that a concert was going to happen right in front of the Royal Hunting statue in the evening. People were already setting up the stage as I was walking around the square. Tyva Ensemble, one of the best music ensembles of Tuva, was going to perform in the concert. I met a Tuvan friend of mine to see the concert together. Soon we took our place among the audience
I was excited to hear Tuvan music live for the first time, which I had always listened to from recordings until now. The four musicians of the Tyva Ensemble got on stage wearing traditional costumes. Soon the sound of their fascinating music began to fill the square. It was a completely different experience to listen to this music accompanied by the view of the Yenisei River and the Dögee Mountain on the background, with eagles rotating above us. This music which takes its inspiration from nature was here with the sound of the eagles, the river and the wind right in front of me. When the musicians started to sing in their traditional throat singing style, called Khoomei, if felt like time stopped for a while.
After the concert was over I went to the backstage to meet the musicians. The first person I spoke to was Nachyn Choodu, igil player and singer in the ensemble. With my limited Tuvan language abilities I told him that I was also a musician, that I was visiting from Turkey and that I appreciated their music very much. He was delighted to hear this, and asked me if I had brought my instruments with me. I said yes. We agreed to meet at the Tuva Cultural Center the next day to play some music together. Following that, every day I spent some of my time at the center with the Tuvan musicians.
Tuva Cultural Center
The two-storey Tuva Cultural Center, which has a beautiful traditional architecture, was founded in 2012 by the legendary khoomeiji, in other words throat singer Kongar-ool Ondar, and remained under his presidency until his death in 2013. The institution, supported by the state budget, brings together many artists and craftsmen within its body. Gathering the musicians, the National Orchestra, composers, researchers, traditional dress makers, sculptors and instrument makers under the same roof, the institution provides the opportunity for visitors to find everything they can look for about Tuvan culture in one place. Concerts and events are frequently held in the 150-seat concert hall in the active center. The National Orchestra performs their rehearsals in this building and welcomes visitors to watch their rehearsals. There are other rehearsal rooms on the basement floor, belonging to various music groups. The building is also home to the International Scientific Center of Khöömeii, where research on throat singing is conducted. At the entrance of the center there are fine handcrafted instruments on exhibition, made by the center's talented instrument maker's.
When I arrived the Cultural Center, first I met the director. Igor Koshkendey, who is also a member of the Chirgilchin ensemble, one of the leading bands of Tuva, welcomed me with friendliness. Luckily, there was a person who spoke Turkish at the center who offered to translate our conversation. I briefly introduced myself and my research in Tuvan music. I also mentioned that I wanted to get an igil, the traditional Tuvan string instrument, for myself. Hearing this, the director promised to introduce me to the instrument maker at the center.
After our meeting with the director, I went downstairs to the rehearsal rooms to meet with Nachyn and the other members of the Tyva Ensemble. There were various instruments in the room; a piano, a few igils and string instruments byzaanchy and doshpuluur, as well as various percussion instruments. I also took out my instruments and we began to play some music, after all, we couldn't speak much. He took a closer look at my rebab, the Turkish traditional instrument I had brought with me, and then examined my violin. After he tried out my instruments, he showed me his igil and played a little. As the other musicians joined in one by one, we played several Tuvan songs together. I tried to accompany their throat singing with the harmonics on the violin.
Once our music jam was over Nachyn took me to the Turkish speaking translator, excited, and began talking to her. According to the translation he enjoyed my playing very much, and was asking if I would perform with them at their concert next week. "Of course" I said with a trill, I gladly accepted this kind invitation. I didn't know yet that this performance was for the big event that was going to take place in the Tuva National Theater for the National Khoomei Day, a national day that is celebrated widely in Tuva.