FOBOS: Weather in Kyzyl/Tuva
Kyzyl Weather

Frequently Asked Questions
About Tuva

Archive-name: cultures/tuva-faq/part1
Posting-Frequency: monthly
Last-modified: 2001/02/28
Version: 1.50

Anyone wishing to take a shot at improving this should go ahead and send the edited section along to me. Thanks to Bernard Greenberg [BSG] for his numerous additions and edits and to Bernard Dubriel [BD], Alan Shrives [AS], Kevin Williams [KW], Albert Kuvezin [AK], Dr Oliver Corff [OC], Mike Vande Bunt [MVB], Ralph Leighton [RL], Masahiko Todoriki, Alan Leighton, Ken Simon, and Sami Jansson.

Alt.culture.tuva FAQ Version 1.49,
Part 1 of 2 (October 15, 2001)

Table of Contents - Part 1:

1: How can I get a copy of this Frequently Asked Questions list?
2. Are there any WWW sites for Tuva?
3: What is Tuva?
4: What is all the fuss about?
5: How can I contact X in Tuva?
6: What's this about two voices from one singer?
7: Where can I find out more? (Friends of Tuva)
8: Are there any video tapes about Tuva?
9: Does anyone still collect the old Tuvan stamps?
10: What can you tell me about travel to Tuva?
11: How can I learn to sing khoomei?
12: How did the "Tannu" get into "Tannu Tuva"?

Table of Contents - Part 2:

13: Any recommended reading about Tuva?
14: Any recommended reading about Feynman?
15: Are audio recordings available?

Questions and Answers:

1: How can I get a copy of this Frequently Asked Questions list?
A: You're reading it, aren't you? :-) Save it! The FAQ is posted monthly to the Usenet newsgroup alt.culture.tuva. The latest version is also available online at the Friends of Tuva WWW site (see below for the location).

2. Are there any WWW sites for Tuva?
A: Try the Friends of Tuva site at

This has all of the old Friends of Tuva Newsletters, along with all kinds of neat stuff like the HTML version of this FAQ and numerous photos.

Other recommended sites are:

3: What is Tuva?
A: The Republic of Tuva is the former Tannu Tuva, a country in south Siberia absorbed by the former USSR in 1944. Tuva was at one time an oblast of Russia, and then the Tuvinskaya ASSR, and is now a member of the Russian Federation.

Tuva is arguably in the centre of Asia, nestled just north of Mongolia between the Sayan mountains in the north and the Tannu Ola mountains in the south, with an area of 171,300 square kilometres, somewhat larger than England and Wales. Tuva lies between 89 degrees and 100 degrees east longitude, and 49 and 53 degrees north latitude.

Tuva's population is 308,000 (about 64 percent Tuvan and about 32 percent Russian). The capital city of Kyzyl (pronounced stressing the second syllable) (population 75,000) lies at the confluence of two major forks of the Yenisei River.

Tuva was known under its Mongol name of Uriankhai until 1922 and deserves interest for the fact that it was twice annexed by Russia within 30 years without the world paying the slightest attention. The first annexation came in 1914 when Russia proclaimed Tuva a protectorate of Russia, and the second time was in 1944 when the People's Republic of Tuva was transformed into an administrative unit of the USSR.

Since 1992 the Republic of Tuva has been a member of the Russian Federation, but this does not imply a large degree of independence from Russia. As one would expect of a Russian republic, the working language in the capital and other larger centres is Russian, but in the countryside and in less formal situations the working language is Tuvan. The Tuvan language is closely related to certain ancient languages (Old Oghuz and Old Uighur) and modern ones (Karagas and Yakut). Tuvan belongs to the Uighur group of Turkic languages, forming a special Old Oghuz subgroup with Old Oghuz, Old Uighur, and Karagas.

The ethnic composition of the Tuvan people is complex, comprising several Turkic groups, as well as Mongol, Samoyed, and Ket elements, assimilated in a Turkic-speaking element. These ethnic traits (Mongol, Samoyed, Ket elements) also apply to the language. There are many Mongol loan words in Tuvan, and many words having to do with modern Western culture has been borrowed from Russian. The Turkic elements are common to the Tuvan, Altai, Khakas, and Karagas peoples.

4: What is all the fuss about?
A: In 1977 Nobel Laureate (Physics) and raconteur Richard Feynman asked "What ever happened to Tannu Tuva?" One of his friends, Ralph Leighton, helped Feynman turn their search for information on this country into a real adventure, as explained in Leighton's book "Tuva or Bust". Feynman's interest originated in the 1930's when Tuva, in a philatelic orgy, issued many oddball stamps memorable for their shapes (diamonds and triangles) as well as their scenery (men on camels racing a train, a man on horseback with a dirigible above him, and so on).

When they looked Tuva up in the atlas, they saw that the capital was Kyzyl, and decided that any place with a name like that must be interesting! They also soon found out that a monument near Kyzyl marked the centre of Asia, and that some Tuvans sang with 2 voices - one voice usually a lower drone and the second voice a high pitched flute-like sound, both from the same person. This information piqued their curiosity and things snowballed.

5: How can I contact X in Tuva?
A: If you have additional addresses to share, please send them in.

  • The Lyceum in Kyzyl can be reached at:
    16 Lenina Street,
    667001 Kyzyl, Republic of Tuva,
    Russian Federation
    tel: (39422) 3-65-30
  • The Lyceum's students have made the first Tuvinian web-site in Russian at:  
  • Khoomei scholar Dr. Zoya Kyrgys can be reached at:
    Director, International Scientific Center "Khoomei,"
    46 Shchetinkin-Kravchenko Street,
    667000 Kyzyl, Republic of Tuva,
    Russian Federation
    Fax: (7) 394-22 3-67-22.
  • Anyone in Kyzyl can be FAXed at:
    Kyzyl Business Center: 011-7-39422 36722
    Keep in mind that the recipient has to pay a fee to pick up the FAX.

6: What's this about two voices from one singer?
A: It's called ``khoomei'', or throat singing, and numerous CD's are available. This is not unique to Tuva - singers come from Mongolia as well, and the Tantric Gyuto Monks of Tibet (now living in India), also practice this two-note singing in their chanting. They also have several recordings available.

7: Where can I find out more (Friends of Tuva)?
A: Friends of Tuva is an organization headquartered in Tiburon, California, founded and run by Ralph Leighton. It is a central clearing-house for information about Tuva and Tuva-related merchandise.

The FoT newsletter is no longer available by mail, but is available only on the WWW at the FoT site (see elsewhere in this FAQ for the address).

FoT also has a variety of wonderful things for sale, including many of the recordings and videos listed here (recordings, books, maps, etc.). The goods are very reasonably priced, and anyone seeking to learn more about current news related to Tuva would do well to browse through the back issues of the newsletters available on the WWW.

Friends of Tuva can be reached at:

Friends of Tuva
Box 182, Belvedere, CA
94920, USA
phone or FAX (415) 789-1177

8: Are there any video tapes about Tuva?
A: Yes, there are. Many of these are available from Friends of Tuva.

1. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

A NOVA episode about Richard Feynman. It, as well as "Fun to Imagine" and "Last Journey of a Genius" are about Feynman, although the set of Tuva-heads and the set of Feynman-fans has a large intersection. The Association for Cultural Evolution  has a scheme through which the first two tapes may be rented in the USA; the third may be purchased.  See for details.

2. They Who Know: Shamans of Tuva

A Belgian production in English featuring "45-snowy-I" Ondar Daryma.

3. Tuva TV

Over 7 hours of broadcasts from Tuva TV, all in colour, with a written guide to describe the action.

4. Tuvans Invade America

Alt.culture.tuva's own Jeff Cook had a large hand in this informal documentary on the visit of 3 extraordinary Tuvan performers to California for the Rose Bowl Parade on January 1, 1993. (90 minutes, videotape)

5. Lost Land of Tannu Tuva

Another famous PBS show, narrated by Hal Holbrook.

6. Throat Singing In Tuva

This 30-minute documentary from the Tuvan Ministry of Culture (in English) features masters past, present, and future. Historical footage from the 1950s shows Tuvans appearing in Moscow for the first time; contemporary scenes show Kongar-ool Ondar (pre shaved-head) and some of his students, including Bady-Dorzhu Ondar.

7. Tuva - Shamans and Spirits

Tuva is the setting for the reemergence of ancient spiritual traditions after their near extinction under Soviet communist repression. From the capital of Kyzyl to isolated nomadic yurts in remote alpine mountains, the Tuvan people are rediscovering their indigenous Shamanic and Buddhist rituals and healing arts. A group from the West is invited to participate in the first public forum and display of previously forbidden practices. A good insight into Tuva's recovering shamanism after years of Soviet repression as well as an interesting Tuva travelogue.

Produced in conjunction with the 1993 visit of Foundation for Shamanic Studies members to Tuva, the documentary was completed in 1994 but was not available to the general public (non-members of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies) until 1996, which is a shame; I would recommend this to all those interested in spiritual life in modern Tuva.

The documentary is great. Filmed in Kyzyl, Todje, Chadaan, and elsewhere, it is a mini-travelogue of Tuva that showcases various landscapes of the country. I would highly recommend this for anyone who wants to see for themselves what Tuva looks like (albeit on TV).

The video interviews numerous practitioners and shows them at work, explaining the significance of their dress or actions. The video is as realistic and life-like as can be expected without actually being there. The shamans are open and willing to share their histories and their feelings about their work; a man who is both a Buddhist monk and a shaman provides a unique insight on Tuvan attitudes towards health and healing.

55 minutes VHS videotape, completed 1996. $30US including tax, shipping, and handling within the USA. Contact: Tom Anderson, PO Box 1119, Point Reyes, CA 94956, USA. Fax (510) 649-9719, or call (510) 649-1485.

8. Tuva - Two Short Videos

Ben Lange ( has produced two short videos made during his two visits to Tuva; one is a general video of little more than 7 minutes about the beauty of Tuva, and the other is about a winter ceremony by a female shaman (also little over 7 minutes).

These videos have been shown at the Ethnographic Museum in Antwerp, Belgium, since October, 1997, and they are available for purchase from Oibibio, the new-age centre in Amsterdam. The video is no available directly from the producer: NGN produkties O.Ph.(Flip) Nagler Korsjespoortsteeg 16 1015 AR Amsterdam Netherlands tel: +31 (0)20 638 2633 fax: +31 (0)20 638 9199

The video format is PAL (NTSC can be arranged for North Americans). The price is 40 NLG (Dutch Guilders): 30 for the video and 10 postal charges. Currently, this would be about US$20. People can obtain a tape by sending a money order to the producer in Amsterdam, with the amount given above and with their name and address. The tape will be mailed after receipt of the money order. Eurocheques are also accepted.   This tape is now available via the Tuva Trader.

9: Does anyone still collect the old Tuvan stamps?
A: Yes, many stamp collectors are devoted to the old diamond-shaped and triangular stamps of Tuva from the 1920's and 1930's. These stamps feature many fanciful images of people, animals, machinery, and nature (sometimes all on the same stamp!).

TTCS member Eric Slone has produced The Tuva Files, a Windows and Mac CD-ROM with philatelic information and other data. The philatelic contents include high-resolution scans of Tuva's stamps (early and modern issues), postal cancels, postal stationary, covers, postcards, a collection of Tuvan philatelic literature featuring Blekhman's postal history of Tuva (in English) and more. The many other items of interest to Tuva-philes include Tuvan fonts, a nearly-complete archive of all posts to alt.culture.tuva, the contents of a few WWW sites, several maps, and more. Contact the Tuva Trader  ( for more information.

10: What can you tell me about travel to Tuva?



Some flight information is available online at .  This includes data on the fabled and feared Yak-40 jet airliners.

In Moscow in 1995 it was possible to purchase a ticket to Kyzyl for about $150 US (cheaper than a flight from Moscow to Abakan, which costs about $250 US). As of February, 1998, the asking price according to Victor Akiphen is $500 US for the return flight.

The entity that used to be Aeroflot doesn't exist any more, and several smaller (more regional) airlines are filling in the holes; some even lease their planes from Aeroflot. The Aeroflot in Kyzyl is a different company than the one in Moscow, and that's still a different company from the one in Montreal.

Yak airlines flies once a week to and from Kyzyl, from Moscow. There are stops both ways in Omsk, lasting about 1.5 hours. Route 727 flies from Moscow to Kyzyl on Saturdays. Route 728 returns from Kyzyl to Moscow on Sundays. The quoted price is $148.00 each way (please note: in general, in Russia and the former Soviet Union, there is no such thing as a ``round trip rate''. Round trip is simply twice the one-way rate.

The Yak Flight Director, Victor Akiphen(r?), is a nice guy, a mountain climber, and speaks some English. He can be reached in Moscow at 151-66-92 or 151-89-86, or by fax at 956-16-13, and will be happy to provide further info and assistance. By the way, Yak's planes are OK, and the service is pretty decent by Russian standards. If you contact Victor, please give him Steve Sklar's regards.

As of November 1997, there were weekly flights from Moscow to Kyzyl on Sundays, leaving Vnukovo Airport (take Bus #511 from Metro Station "Yugo-Zapadnaya"), at 21:45 (9:45pm) on "Yak Service" flight IB 727, arriving in Kyzyl at 08:15 Monday mornings. Flights from Kyzyl to Moscow are on Mondays at 12:25 pm ("Yak Service" flight IB 728), arriving in Moscow at 14:45 (2:25pm) Monday afternoons. This is presumably the flight that previously departed Moscow Saturdays (listed above) and stopped at Omsk enroute to Kyzyl.

As of April, 1999, Yak Service from Moscow Vnukovo to Kyzyl is now non-stop. Current cost is supposedly 1500 roubles (cheap like borscht!). Flights are still Sunday evening to Kyzyl, Monday morning to Moscow.

Other flights are still available via Abakan. Khakkasia Airlines fly as follows to Moscow Domodedevo:

Moscow to Abakan Wed, Fri, Sun, dep. 22:55, arr. 07:25 1450 roubles Abakan to Kyzyl Mon, Wed, Fri, dep. 07:05, arr. 08:00 250 roubles

Kyzyl to Abakan Mon, Wed, Fri, dep. 08:40, arr. 09:30 250 roubles Abakan to Moscow Wed, Fri, dep. 09:30, arr. 10:20 1450 roubles Sun, dep. 19:30, arr. 20:25 1450 roubles


In Moscow, use the blue Aeroflot transit busses to go from any airport to the central Aerovokzal (Airstation) where you can either change to another bus to another airport, or get on the Metro (nearest is 'Aerport' station on the 'V. I. Lenin' - pale green - line). The Aerovokzal is next to the Aeroflot hotel.

Busses to and from Vnukovo cost 12 roubles plus 3 roubles for luggage, take 70 minutes and leave hourly between 06:10 and 23:10.

Busses to and from Sheremetevo cost 12 roubles, 3 roubles for luggage, take 45 minutes and leave every hour between 07:15 and 23:15.

Busses to and from Domodedevo take 1 hour 40 minutes, cost 18 roubles plus 5 roubles for bags and leave hourly between 06:30 and 22:30.


From Novosibirsk, trains head south to Abakan where there are frequent buses to Kyzyl. The bus between Abakan and Kyzyl takes about 7 hours and costs 85 roubles (as of April, 1999). Some prefer the daytime bus, not the overnight, to arrive in Tuva overland, and later leaving by air to get the morning bird's eye view. Be warned, the bus ride looks long and challenging.


Bring lots of new bills. Outside of Moscow and a few other large, western Russian cities, they don't accept American Express. Or Visa. Or traveller's checks. Or anything. You must have 1990 or newer dollars, preferably very new, and they must be unwrinkled, untorn and unmarked if you don't want difficulties.

Although the exchange rate in Kyzyl is theoretically higher than in Moscow, you may want to exchange at least some money in Moscow. In previous years Kyzyl's banks sometimes had no roubles to exchange.

The exchange rate "on the street" in Moscow may be better than that in the bank in Kyzyl or via official channels in Moscow, but be careful. Exchanging money on the street is illegal and the penalty includes a fine as well as confiscation of your money. You also risk being cheated (robbed or given counterfeit bills) or you may get a worse exchange rate than that offered by the banks.

Recent travellers advise that when possible, you should exchange your money in a bank. Problems with the availability of roubles do not exist any more.

As of the summer of 1998, there is an ATM in Kyzyl - in one bank only, for now. It is in a main street backyard establishment (ask for it, in front of OVIR and Bank of Tuva). It works with Visa cards.


Buy your maps in your home country, or in Moscow. Topographical maps are hard to come by in Tuva. When you meet people along the road and in villages, you will be proud to show off with your 1:1 000 000 scale map from the US Defence Mapping Agency.

The Lonely Planet guidebook for Russia is has seven pages on Tuva (seven among 1200) but they are useful and include a map of Kyzyl.

Some experienced travellers are now leading tours into Tuva. We can not give first-hand recommendations for anyone, but we will not list anyone who has not already travelled into Tuva.

  • Gary Wintz
    • 1247 Lincoln Bl. PMB 232 Santa Monica, CA 90401 tel/fax 310.822.7908 email:  
  • Sasha Lebedev


You don't need to have Kyzyl listed on your visa any more, but it is advisable and will generate less hassle.

There is a classical process to obtain a visa in order to travel freely through all Russia. The classical process makes it almost impossible to travel there independently and without personal invitation. The Lonely Planet guide for Russia has a section on visas. This section is very complicated but details the best (quickest) way to get a visa - this has worked for some correspondents but be warned that there is some question as to whether this approach is completely legal.

Patience and flexibility are the greatest of virtues. Practice the mantra ``we will wait, and we will see''.

11: How can I learn to sing khoomei?
A: It's not easy; the best singers begin their training before they can walk. However, it's not impossible to learn later.

  • Dan Bennett has volunteered his advice, reproduced below.
  • Steve Sklar ( has some online instructions at
  • I also recommend an excellent pamphlet, "Khoomei - How To's and Why's" by Michael Emory, PO Box 648, Westbury, NY, USA, 11590. Michael's illustrations, while not exactly helpful, are fantastic. His text is quite useful.
  • Teachers are available for seminars or workshops in North America. Steve Sklar is both reachable online ( and willing to travel to teach.

The absolute best advice was offered by Ralph Leighton, namely, listen to masters and imitate.

How to Sing Khoomei (by Dan Bennett, )

Khoomei is easiest for men. I *have* heard a recording of a Mongolian Kazakh women singing khoomei, but it's simply not so easy or spectacular, because of the higher pitch of the female voice. (Sainkho Namchylak can sing khoomei too.)

1. Sing a steady note while saying "aah" (to start with). Pitch it in the middle of your range, where you can give it plenty of energy, i.e. - Sing it loudly.

2. Aim to make the sound as bright - not to say *brash* - as you can. The more energy there is in the harmonics, the louder and clearer they'll be when you start singing khoomei. Practise this for a while.

3. OK, with this as a basis for the sound generation, you've got to arrange your mouth to become a highly resonant acoustic filter. My style (self-taught, but verified for me by a professional Mongolian khoomei singer I had a lesson with in Ulaanbaatar) is as follows:

Divide the mouth into two similar-sized compartments by raising your tongue so that it meets the roof of your mouth, a bit like you're saying "L". Spread your tongue a bit so that it makes a seal all the way round. At this point, you won't be able to pass air through your mouth. Then (my technique), break the seal on the left (or right) side of the mouth, simply to provide a route for the air to get through.

Then (here's the most difficult bit to describe over the net - or even in person, for that matter!), push your lips forward a bit, and by carefully (and intuitively) adjusting the position of your lips, tongue, cheeks, jaw, etc, you can sing Mongolian khoomei!

Put it this way: the *aim* of the khoomei singer ("khoomigch") is to emphasize ONE of the harmonics which are already present in the sound generated by the throat. This is achieved because he is forming a resonant cavity, which (a) is tuned to the chosen harmonic (overtone), and (b) has a high resonance, or "Q" factor. By adjusting the geometry and tension of your mouth you can choose which harmonic you're emphasizing, and thus sing a tune.

12: How did the "Tannu" get into "Tannu Tuva"?
A: Several Mongolians and the band Ozum were asked about the word "Tannu"; they did not know the word or its source. Mongolians and Tuvans both answered "it may not be Tannu, it must be Tangdy". They opined that it must be a Tuvan term; it is certainly not Mongolian. Their guess is that Tangdy is the word printed on some maps as "Tannu-Ola" (in Tuvan dictionaries this appears as "Tangdy cyny" or "Tangdy-Uula"). As you may know, tangdy (ta"ng"dy) means "high mountain" or "taiga surrounded by high mountain" in Tuvan.

Here is some supporting information, mainly from a book by S. A. Shoizhelov (Matson), Tuvinskaya Noonday Republican, Moscow 1930. (Written in Oct. 1929).

Tuva was indeed called "Tang-nu Wulianghai". The Czarist Russians called Tuva "Uryanhai". P. 29-30 of the above mentioned book talks about a "Russo-Uryanhai regional meeting", in which, of course, a resolution was passed. This meeting was after, and supposedly in response to, the February Revolution of 1917. The meeting was held in Byelotsarsk, and was convened by the Immigrants' Administration (Pereselencheskogo Upravleniya).  Kyzyl was called  Byelotsarsk ("White Tsar Town") from 1914 until 1918, then was known as Khem-Beldyr until 1926, and has been called Kyzyl since then.

Article One of this resolution refers to "Tannu-Uryanh[a]i", obviously a corruption or Russianization of "Tang-nu Wulianghai".

Once the Russians decided to call the Tuvans "Tuvans" and not "Uryanhais", then it was a natural step for them to quit calling the place "Tannu-Uryanhai" and call it "Tannu-Tuva" instead.

In his discussion of the first meeting of the Party in Tuva, Natsov refers to the "Tannu-Tuva", but then afterwards it is always simply "Tuva". At the founding of the nominally independent state, it was called the Tannu-Tuvan People's Republic, but that soon afterward, in just a few years, the "Tannu" was dropped.

As we all know, the first Tuvan postage stamps, issued in 1926, have "Ta Ty" for Tangdy Tyva on them. The next issue, from 1927, has just "Tyva".

Baylan Cannol, a systems engineer from Teeli, Tuva, confirms that yes, "Tannu" is a corrupted form of "Tangdy". During the era of the Tannu-Tyva Arat Republic  (TAR) there was a division of Tuvan people into several parts, depending on where the Tuvan lived.  The distinct divisions included the  "Tangdy Tyvazy" (those living in Tuva) and the "Kalga Tyvazy" (Tuvans living in Mongolia).  In those times, Tuvans living in different areas had more  relations with each other as one people. Since the union of Tannu Tuva with Russia, Tannu Tuva has almost forgotten the Kalga Tyvazy and other groups.

Baylan also confirms that 'Tangdy Tyva' doesn't correspond with 'Tangdy Uula', and 'Tangdy Uula' is just a mountain in the south. The word "tangdy" means the same as the word "taiga" (subarctic coniferous forests, which are mainly in Tannu Tuva, not in Mongolia, China etc.).

[Heroic answers provided by Masahiko Todoriki and Alan Leighton with addition commentary from Baylan Cannol.]