throat singing and nomadic culture
Barnaul – Karakol Valley – Chuisky Trakt – Kosh Agach – Ak Dovurak – Kyzyl
This tour is offered on a regular monthly basis from May through October. Let us know your desired departure month by clicking on the learn-more button below: we will match your preferences with the next relevant scheduled group departure. If you are still unsure about your desired departure date, then simply tell us a period or a season of the year and we will provide you a range of scheduled group departures: just pick up yours!
Our scheduled group departures don't suit your plans? If you are travelling with more than 4 friends, you can set your own departure date: we will arrange a bespoke tour just for you for the same price per person advertised below. If you are travelling solo or with less than four companions, we will then organise a slightly more expensive tailored tour according to your time schedule and specific geographical preferences.
DAY 1 - Barnaul
Our tour guide will meet you in the arrival hall of Barnaul Regional Airport (exact meeting time will be communicated well in advance per email in accordance to your flight schedule).
Introductory briefing about the region, the route and the set of rules to observe while travelling in Altai.
We'll spend the entire day touring Barnaul, the capital of Altai Krai (not to be confused with the namesake republic further south).
Barnaul is exactly our cup of tea and we couldn’t have asked for a better start to our tour: a quintessentially Soviet city full of grandiose monuments, Lenin statues and WWII memorials as well as remarkable examples of socialist architecture and public art (mosaics and bas-reliefs).
In the evening we'll go out for a musical concert either at the Philharmonia or at the Orchestra of Russian National Music Instruments or - if you are more into independent venues - we will assist to a show of one of the many young indie bands enlivening the town's nightlife.
Dinner and overnight in Barnaul.
DAY 2 - Topolnoye
Right after breakfast we will start our trip to one of the most interesting area of the Altai Krai: after a 3-hour drive southwards we will find ourselves surrounded by the beautiful highlands of the Altai mountains.
After a lunch at a small family-run dairy factory, we'll then continue our trip to the picturesque village Topolnoye: the people of this village are descendant of the Old-Believers who separated in 1666 from the official Russian Orthodox Church; most of them moved to the secluded corners of Siberia in the 17th century and have kept living in a traditional way for centuries.
During your time in the village we’ll have the unique chance to meet with local farmers and artisans, who will share with us their food, their home and the mystic secrets of their endangered culture.
Dinner and overnight in Topolnoye.
DAY 3 - Karakol Valley
After breakfast we will drive to the border between the Altai Krai and the Altai Republic proper.
Along the way we will visit the world-famous Denisova Cave: a true Eldorado for palaeontologists as this is the very place where a fossilised phalanx of a girl’s finger was found and the subsequent DNA-analysis showed that it belonged neither to the extinct Neanderthals nor to Homo Sapiens, but represented a separate branch within the evolution of our species.
After lunch we will eventually enter the Karakol Valley, a sacral place among the Altai people, the Turkic-speaking Mongolic nation of shamanistic traditions constituting the titular ethnicity of the autonomous republic we've just entered.
We will stay for the night at a local family and learn about the traditions and the rituals of Altai people.
In the evening we will also meet the local kaichi (shaman-cum-dance-cum-singer) and enjoy a concert of throat singing accompanied by national musical instruments such as the topshur and the komyz.
Dinner and overnight in the Karakol Valley.
DAY 4 - Chuisky Trakt
In the morning we will enjoy some sightseeing around the Karakol Valley: ancient petroglyphs, Scythian burial mounds and mysterious monoliths.
We will also pay our respect to the Groundhog Monument, erected to thank the fluffy rodent for having saved - with its flesh - the local population during the WWII famines.
We will then travel along the Chuisky Trakt, a stunning road connecting Russia with Mongolia: the National Geographic magazine named this scenic and surprisingly well-paved transportation axis as one of the six world's best drives.
During our journey we will, of course, stop at several picturesque tiny Altai villages of traditional wooden yurts (also known as ails) and Soviet nostalgia such as Boochi, Bichiktubom and Kupchegen.
Dinner and overnight at a local guesthouse along the Chuisky Trakt.
Day 5 - Kosh Agach
We'll continue our drive down the Chuisky Trakt and cross en route the Kurai Steppe, a very beautiful intermontane basin where you can admire, depending on weather conditions, impressive views of the mighty Chuisky Ridge.
Exiting the Kurai Steppe we will explore the coloured mountains of Kyzyl-Chin, also known as Mars, and the melancholic Altai town of Chagan-Uzon.
Besides the usual stops for food, toilet and photography, we'll break the long haul by visiting stunning natural attractions, such as the Blue Geyser Lake and the Red Gate rock formations, as well as a few more Altai villages and towns like Aktash and Chibit.
We will then enter the Chuya Steppe and head to the end-of-the-world settlement of Kosh-Agach, where we will tour the market full of smuggled goods from Mongolia, the traditional wooden mosque of the local Kazakh community and the mandatory Lenin statue.
Dinner and overnight in Kosh-Agach.
Day 6 - Chuya Steppe
Today we will explore the Chuya Steppe: we will pass along the River Yustyd, home to ancient burial mounds, and stop at the remote hamlet of Kokoryu, which hosts a mummified head of a Sarmatian warrior.
During our time in steppe, besides admiring the breathtaking and slightly surreal sceneries, we will also get acquainted with the Kazakh culture visiting the extremely remote Kazakh villages of Jana-Aul and Tashanta.
Dinner and overnight in Kosh-Agach.
DAY 7/8 - Tuva Track
We’ll leave Kosh-Agach in the early morning hours and set off for the most adventurous segment of our journey: the mythical Tuva Track, a surreally remote 4x4-only trail connecting southern Altai with western Tuva.
The bumpy and scenic drive along the Tuva Track will take us across an untouched landscape of whitewater streams, idyllic grasslands, imposing mountains, challenging passes, natural springs, solitary summer bivouacs and scant yak herds.
Under normal weather and “road” conditions it’s possible to travel the whole length of the Tuva Track in ca. 10 hours; we have, however, decided to throw in an extra day to allow for some buffer time in case of floods and/or breakdowns.
Exiting the most challenging section of the track, we will fist reach the tiny settlement of Kyzyl-Khaya and then move further west to the notoriously hostile village of Mugur-Aksy before eventually reaching the vast flatlands of Western Tuva.
Meals and overnights in traditional guesthouses.
DAY 9/10 - Western Tuva
From Mugu-Aksy we’ll travel further north to Ak-Dovurak, a surreal Soviet construct lost in the Tuvan plateau: concrete apartment blocks, socialist monumentalism, and buddhist stupas.
The next two days we’ll be entirely devoted to the untamed natural and cultural landscapes of the Tuvan Wild West, arguably one of the last few untouched places in the former Soviet Union.
Highlights of your stay in Western Tuva will include: horse herders settlements, nomadic encampments, shamanic encounters, mutton intestines and lots of Soviet melancholia.
Dinners and overnights in Ak-Dovurak.
DAY 11/12 - Kyzyl
From Ak-Dovurak we’ll move east to Chadan, a traditional Tuvan town renowned for its horse culture, and then onto Kyzyl, the national capital.
We’ll spend two nights and a full day in Kyzyl, a pleasant Soviet provincial capital with a unique Mongol flavour: Buddhist temples, socialist monuments, brutalist architectures, shaman houses, interesting museums and exotic bazaars.
The daily schedule will vary depending on whether you are going to travel to Tuva during Naadym (midsummer, exact dates vary from year to year) or outside the festivity period.
The festival program usually includes: throat singing concerts, handicraft workshops, horse races, archery competition, folkloristic parade, wrestling sessions and a best-yurt contest among representatives from the seventeen administrative provinces of Tuva.
Even if you do not travel to Tuva during Naadym you will still have the opportunity to pay a visit to the local shaman and witness khuresh (wrestling) and khoomei (throat-singing) performances: a truly mesmerising spectacle of ancient traditions and mystic rituals.
Meals and overnights in Kyzyl.
DAY 13/14 - Todzha
Early start from Kyzyl for the long overland journey to Todzha, an enchanted and secluded semi-autonomous area in the far north of the republic: a unique world of endless taiga, nomadic traditions and shamanic rituals.
Besides the routine stops for food, photography and physiological needs, we’ll break the long haul at the traditional village of Boyarovka.
In the afternoon we’ll eventually reach Toora-Khem, a picturesque wooden village functioning as the administrative capital of Todzha.
We’ll check-in at a local guesthouse and spend one-and-half day exploring the many natural and cultural wonders of mysterious Todzha.
Highlights of your stay in the area will include: otherworldly mountain lakes, boundless forests, traditional villages, reindeer herders and authentic shamans (and we do mean the real deal, not the dressed-up actors you may meet in those kitschy, touristic and irremediably fake ethno-complexes so popular among Russian tourists).
Dinners and overnights in Toora-Khem.
DAY 15 - Flight back home or transfer to further destinations
After enjoying a last Todzha-style breakfast together we'll take care of your transfer to the airport/station of choice.
For those flying out: transfer to Kyzyl Regional Airport for your flight back home.
For those wishing to take the bus to reach further destinations: transfer to the local bus station.
End of the tour.
3 to 8 participants: 3990 € per person
The price includes: double/twin room accommodation (breakfast included; single supplement: 20 euros/night), private transport in the region (jeep or minivan), entrance fees to the attractions listed in the itinerary, guiding and translation service.
The price does not include: international flights and any other flight not explicitly included in the tour price and itinerary, meals, drinks and tips, visas if required, entrance fees to attractions not listed in the itinerary, insurance.
The route of this tour has been carefully designed after several research trips in the region. It is, however, always possible to slightly modify the itinerary according to the needs and the suggestions of the participants. Our motto is flexibility.
where the heck am i travelling to?
BELOW you can see the different tour stages marked on a map of the region you are going to explore with us
POSSIBLE TOUR COMBINATIONS FOR THIS ITINERARY INCLUDE
Transbaikal and/or Yakutia