is what (we joke) we’ve been doing for twelve days, wandering the wilds of western Tuva. It’s so beautiful, so untouched, so free. Tuva is really like a fairytale, the original kind, violent and magical and strange, full of unexpected encounters and generosities.
It seems like a land time has almost forgotten; tucked away between Russia and Mongolia and Kazakhstan and China, not on the way to anywhere, as far as it is possible to go from the sea.
Antonina, a philologist who has studied Mongolian language and culture, tells us that the main difference between Tuvans and Mongolians is that Tuvans are insular, rarely travelling far from their home villages or herding grounds, let alone outside Tuva, while Mongolians are inveterate roamers.
Mongush Borakhovich Kenin-Lopsan, historian, living treasure of Shamanism and man of the century, says Tuva is one of the few places in the world to have preserved its original culture almost untouched, thanks to this remoteness, this stay-at-home mentality.
I’ve been reading a collection of Tuvan folktales and legends. The first one I read is about the son of a bear and a human woman. The details are Tuvan: yurts and larch trees, horses and grazing grounds – everything we’ve seen on our fairytale travel. But the shape, the essence of the story, is identical to a Scandinavian folk tale called the Three Princesses of Blue Mountain.
How has it come about that these people, whose language is Turkic, culture Mongolian and Siberian, geography Central Asian, mentality insular, have the same folk tale as the seafarers of the far north?