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Wild Siberia: Journey Across Tuva

Date 1st – 14th July 2017

This trip will take you right through the heart of wild Siberia, traversing the country from east to west for over 400km by paddling down Russia’s longest river, the Yenisei. Whilst there are plenty of regions to explore throughout Siberia, Tuva is one of the most stand-out locations within this great wilderness as it is a semi-autonomous republic that has maintained a strong appreciation for its history, traditions and nomadic culture. Starting out from Kyzyl, where the geographical centre of Asia is located, we’ll travel south off road heading towards the isolated area of Kungurtug – which the Tuvans regard as the most beautiful place in the republic and is also home to Lake Tere. From here we’ll spend the following 10 days descending a series of rivers which will take you through the taiga covered Sayan mountains, towering canyons and rapids. By the end of the journey, as you paddle in to Kyzyl, you will have explored a substantial portion of this remote republic and to do so by river is truly the best way to appreciate the vast scale of Siberia.

Highlights:

  • Crossing Tuva for over 400km by raft on the Yenisei – the world’s largest river flowing in to the Arctic Ocean and one of Russia’s longest.
  • Visit the Geographical Centre of Asia in Kyzyl – the farthest point on Earth from any ocean.
  • Visit and experience the tiny and isolated Orthodox Old Believer communities living in the remote taiga forest.
  • Experience Tuvan culture from khoomei (throat-singing) demonstrations to nomadic culture
  • Journeying to Kungurtug which is regarded by Tuvans as the most beautiful region in the republic.
  • Explore the ancient Uyghur island fortress/palace in the middle of a lake close to the Mongolian border.

Start point – Abakan
End point – Abakan
Maximum number of people: 10
Number of days: 14

Day 1 – Abakan to Kyzyl
Saturday 1st July 2017
Depending on whether you choose to take the Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow or fly in to Abakan, we will collect you from your point of arrival early morning and drive southwards for five to six hours crossing over the Sayan Mountains. During this drive we can stop to look out over the expansive taiga forests which you’ll be travelling through by river and if the weather is clear you can see over in to the distinctly rugged mountains which form the Ergaki National Park. The final section of the drive will see the environment transition from taiga to the impressive arid steppes which characterise the central and southern regions of Tuva. From here you’ll be able to catch glimpses of the mighty Yenisei River powering its way to the Arctic Ocean through the republic.

Once arriving in Kyzyl we’ll spend the remaining portion of the day exploring Kyzyl, the capital of Tuva, where we’ll visit the Geographical Centre of Asia Monument, tour around the comprehensive National Museum and a visit to the Tuvan Cultural Centre for demonstrations in local music and khoomei – the throat-singing art form which the republic is most internationally famous for.

Overnight in Aldyn-Bulak ger camp.

Day 2 – Kyzyl to Kungurtug
Sunday 2nd July 2017
Day 2 will see us depart early in the morning. Venturing far in to the Siberian backcountry we’ll drive over rough roads which wind their way up and over exposed ridgelines adjacent to the Mongolian border and ford big rivers by vehicle. Occasionally the road will ascend to the summit of isolated mountains which have ancient ovaa prayer mounds erected. Although this is only the start of our big journey across Tuva, even on the drive itself you’ll quickly appreciate just how wild and remote the environment will be over the following weeks.

Overnight in tents a short distance from Lake Tere.

Distance: 300km
Hours: 10 – 12 (driving)

Day 3 – Kungurtug – Por-Bazhyn – Kaa Khem (river start)
Monday 3rd July 2017
The following morning we’ll head across Tere Lake by punt boat with a local hunter-fisherman to visit the ancient Uighur fortress of Por-Bazhyn which is located on an island in the middle of the lake. Not only is this a rare opportunity to visit a much overlooked archaeological site, it’s also a perfect location to appreciate the quiet surroundings and observe the dozens of eagles usually flying freely overhead. Afterward we’ll drive a short distance to our put-in location on the banks of the Balyktyg-Khem River 5km from the small settlement of Kungurtug.

Overnight in tents beside the Balyktyg-Khem River.

Day 4 to 6 – Rafting the Balyktyg-Khem to Mel’zey River Confluence
Tuesday 4th – Thursday 6th July 2017
We’ll rig the boats in the morning and begin rafting by 12pm. On the first day we’ll raft 40km of fast but flat water to camp at the confluence point of the Balyktyg Khem (one of two sources of the Kaa-Khem) and Saryg-Er river. This is also a perfect location to try and catch some monstrous taimen fish for dinner.

On Day 5 we’ll continue further down river and camp for the night below the Lestnitsa (Staircase) rapids and go fishing and mushroom/berry picking in the late afternoon. Day 6 will see us heading towards the Mel’zey Cascades, a series of thirty exciting rapids of Class II – IV. In the evening we’ll camp by the mouth of the Mel’zey and hopefully have a fruitful late afternoon fishing session for grayling and the trout-like lenok. However if we power our way through the Mel’zey section quickly we may have a half-day to spare in this relaxing spot.

Distance: 120km
Hours: Maximum 6 hours per day (paddling)

Day 7 & 8 – Mel’zey to Katazy Village
Friday 7th – Saturday 8th July 2017
Up to this point we will have descended over 120km of the Balyktyg-Khem River through the remote and uninhabited Siberian wilderness. After another 40km of rafting the end of Day 7 will see us arriving in the very small village of Katazy. This is one of a number of Old Believer settlements scattered in the hard-to-reach regions of Tuva and elsewhere in Siberia. This settlement was first populated in the early 20th Century. By the 1960s it lay abandoned until it was re-populated in the early 90s by approximately seven families who continue to live there in complete seclusion as the first settlers did.

Day 8 will be a rest day. Like all Old Believer villages, Katazy is an ideal place to experience and learn more about what life can be like in rural Siberia. However the lives of the Orthodox settlers are more akin to the early 20th Century Siberian communities given that they adhere to a very traditional way of life, similar to the Amish and Mennonites of North America. Whilst you will be able to freely explore the village, it is unlikely you will have any personal encounters with the majority of them as given their religious beliefs they are very reluctant to interact with outsiders. If you are lucky it will mostly be with the women who can be talkative, but the men as a rule don’t generally communicate with any outsiders. One important point to note is to ensure you never take any photos of them without their permission. Bringing some spare medicine and first aid supplies can also be quite helpful as a gift for anyone you do encounter.

Overnight in tents.

Distance: 40km
Hours: Maximum 6 hours per day (paddling)

Day 9 to 13– Katazy Village to Kyzyl
Sunday 9th – Thursday 13th July 2017
On Day 9 we’ll depart Katazy early in the morning and descend deeper in to the Sayan Mountains passing through the impressive Cheeks Canyon and then camp 1km downstream from the confluence point of where the Balyktyg-Khem River joins the Kyzyl-Khem River which has its source in Northern Mongolia. It’s also at this point that the river officially turns in to the Kaa-Khem (Little Yenisei). Time permitting we may be able to prepare an infamous banya (Russian sauna) inside of our forest campsite.

Days 10 and 11 will see us power through exciting Class III and IV rapids and pass by two more Old Believer villages called Uzhep and Erzhey/Sizim. If you have enough energy after two long paddling days, you can trek your way to the top of one of the numerous peaks overlooking Erzhey/Sizim and look out far in to the taiga back to where you started a week previously.

Day 12 and 13 will see us continue to flow westward back towards Kyzyl. With all of the major rapids behind us now you’ll have time to witness the terrain change from forested mountains to wide open steppe. As we pull in to Kyzyl we’ll land right back at the Geographical Centre of Asia Monument and head to the ger camp for the night.

Overnight in Aldyn-Bulak ger camp.

Distance: 250km
Hours: Maximum 6 hours per day (paddling)

Day 14 – Kyzyl
Friday 14th July 2017
On your arrival in to Kyzyl the previous day you will have descended over 400km of river. If you have the energy there will be further opportunities during the day to visit the local black market, a shaman ceremony in the forests outside of the city and even a hike or drive to the top of Doo-Ghey Mountain on the outskirts where you’ll be able to get miles long views of the Yenisei out to the west.
Transfer back to Abakan can be arranged for this day or Saturday 15th if you are not joining us for the Western Tuva Add-On.

The trip includes:
International guide and river guide provided by Untamed Borders
All accommodation
All camping equipment
All meals
All Transport (including 4 x 4 vehicles)
Rafts
Permits

The trip does not include:
Visas
Visa Support
Insurance
Flights
Drinks
Tips

Cost: US$4050
To reserve a place on this trip we need a deposit of US$400 per person.

As this trip requires travelling through the Russian-Mongolian border zone we cannot accept bookings after Friday 28th April 2017 as we are required to submit all border zone applications for guests two months before the trip’s departure date.

Flights:
We do not directly arrange international flights or train travel in Russia. We can however suggest routes and operators.
You can also contact the Untamed Borders dedicated team at Flight Centre for suggested routes.
Mail: untamedborders@rtwexperts.co.uk
Phone: +44(0) 844 560 9966

Visas:
You will require a Russian visa for this trip. We will provide visa support and advice on how best to obtain this visa. If you are based in the UK or Australia then we can recommend using The Visa Machine as a visa agent.
Visit the Untamed Borders page at their website – untamedborders.thevisamachine.com.

Food:
We include all meals during the trip.

Accommodation:
We do not and cannot offer a uniform accommodation standard on our itineraries. We consider comfort, location, design, character, historical interest and whether the money we spend will go into the pockets of the local community when we make our choices of where to stay.
The accommodation will be based on 2 people sharing a room or a tent.

Transport:
When we choose our vehicles and drivers we take into consideration the road conditions, the length of journey and the competence of the man behind the wheel. Whilst this journey is mostly by river and off-road vehicle where necessary, we can assure you that your comfort and enjoyment of the journey is our first priority.

Guides:
On this trip you will be accompanied by an international guide from Untamed Borders, as well as an international river guide.

Security and Alcohol:
Russia is a very safe country on the whole. Nevertheless, our client’s safety is our primary concern. We must state that the tour leader has the final word with regards to changes in the itinerary for safety reasons. Whilst the route we have chosen passes through areas of river which are all safe, we may have to alter our route or cancel sections of the trip depending on weather/river conditions.

Please note that at times when you are in Russia – and especially in Siberia – you will sometimes be given warning by the people you meet to be wary of drinking socially and sometimes even told that people can be threatening when drunk or generally a risk. Please don’t be too alarmed if you hear this. As long as you avoid getting heavily intoxicated with strangers you’re not comfortable with, don’t walk through Kyzyl’s streets at night and keep your eye out to avoid anyone drunk, you’ll have no problems.