How to sleep in a yurt and stay in the saddle during a wild Altai rodeo
Day 1. From Gorno-Altaysk to Aktash
The drive to Aktash was a long one and took approximately 6 hours. We stopped in Chemalsky District to sail down the Katun in a boat. In June, the water turns stunning emerald green. Our first encounter with Altai was invigorating.
We got to Aktash in the evening. We spotted a herd of horses by the yurt – they came to the watering hole – and a handful of cows strolling down the road. What an incredible place!
Sleeping in a yurt was a bit unusual – its white walls and the absence of corners were irritating at first.
But later, looking out at the big stars through the hole in the roof, I felt the irritation subside and give way to an all-encompassing sense of freedom and lightness.
Day 2. Mount Belkenek
We climbed Mount Belkenek to admire the views of the Maashey and the Chuya rivers. The nature in these parts is absolutely magnificent: there is a lot of coloured shale at the top, and, down by the water, scores of sun-scorched larches. Local trees are infinitely picturesque and, even though perfect for construction, remain untouched by civilisation due to their remoteness. The fact that humans are rare guests in this neck of the woods is felt very acutely.
Day 3. Aktash Broadcast Relay Station and Lake of Mountain Spirits
The wild dance of a car across bumpy mountain roads and washed out pathways is an integral part of the adventure. At the end of it, however, a diligent traveller will invariably receive a generous reward: whether it be the dizzying panorama of the Kurai steppe, the harsh inaccessibility of the North Chuisky Ridge, the mesmerising power of the Ular Falls, or the majestic stateliness of the Mazhoy Cascade.
Do you remember the mechanical rodeo bull, the one you have to sit on while it bucks and spins you every which way? Today, on the crumbling road to the broadcast relay station, my ‘mechanical bull’ was extremely uncompromising. However, had I been thrown out of the car at any point, I would have landed on the softest carpet of moss covering the roadsides.
These views filled me with childlike delight, and the thrill of adventure carried me away.
We walked up towards Lake of Mountain Spirits enmeshed in dozens of legends. On the way, we met a woman selling calcite mined in local caves. The mystical mineral, it is allegedly good for transcending the boundaries of the ordinary in general – and consciousness in particular. Unless you are a sceptic – in this case, it can at least strengthen your teeth and bones, and relieve back pain. We finally reached the lake. For me, as an artist, the contrast of red-black slate and turquoise water is the purest visual ecstasy. I immediately forgot about the distance walked during the day and the blisters and calluses on my feet. My eyes were fixed only on what awaited ahead.
These days, every evening I collapse into bed, exhausted, and wake up before the alarm goes off every morning. I’ve stopped checking the pedometer for the number of steps walked throughout the day. The answer is always the same: a lot. Every day is like a little life, and an exceptionally real one at that.