My first experience of Russia was the Tuva Republic, which borders northern Mongolia. It’s best known for throat-singing (khoomei) and for being the geographical center of Asia. Although, because of debates over the geographical definition of Asia and the many ways to represent the world’s layout on different map projections, China also makes the same claim saying it’s somewhere near Ürümqi, Xinjiang Province. These Tuva photos cover my 2015 trip to the area. Russia’s pull on me began back in 2010, while I was in Central Asia on a climbing expedition to make a first ascent in Kyrgyzstan’s Tien Shan Mountains. Over the five years that followed, I ventured further into more remote corners of Central Asia and into countries existing on the perimeter of modern-day Russia.
Each place I visited and the unique people I encountered fuelled my fascination with the region: a camo-clad Siberian driving through the western Mongolian town of Olgii, heading towards the Altai Republic with two freshly shot adult wolves lashed to the hood of his UAZ 4×4, blood trickling from their noses on to the streets; two Russians who bombed their way enthusiastically across the eastern Kazakh steppes in an old beater car to cheerily greet my friend and I with a toast of vodka as we journeyed across Kazakhstan on horseback in 2013; or Radik, a boisterous and good-humoured man originally from Russia who became a camel breeder and herder in the Kyzyl Kum desert of northern Uzbekistan. My interest in the world’s largest country grew with each new incident.
Apart from viewing these Tuva photos, you can learn more about the republic by watching Kushkash-Ool (Bird Boy) shot in 2011 by Tuvan filmmaker Vladimir Kopush. The ethnographic film explores the life of Sean Quirk, an American who has been living in Tuva for many years, speaks fluent Tuvan and managed the Alash Ensemble — one of Tuva’s most famous throat-singing bands.