Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Dalai and I

Dalai and I

The moment we crossed the border from Cambodia to Thailand we realised 2 things: the first, from now on and for the rest of this leg we’ll be driving on the left side. Finally, Boudicca is on the correct side of the road.

Yes dear Americans, Z Jermans, froggies and any other anti-natural national drivers: you can argue as much as you’d like that driving on the right is the correct way. But you’re wrong. Save your words as it will never change the fact that keeping your right hand on the steering wheel while the left hand is busy with the other necessary activities while driving is just a lot safer. And we Overlanders want you to be safe.

Face it, unless you’re lefty (which, without discriminating, puts you in a very small group), you have more control on your vehicle when your right hand is holding the steering wheel while your left hand is busy changing a gear, a song, picking your nose, fishing the tea bag out or just showing your middle finger to that idiot in the Toyota Land Cruiser who just merged from the right without looking.

The reason some of you still drive on the right is only a colonial slip-up. Keep your strong hand on the wheel – drive on the left.

Anyway, the first thing we realised when we crossed the border is that we are going to drive on the left side again (and therefore that Thai people have more control on their vehicle but really, let’s drop it now).

The second thing is that we’re now back to ‘modernisation’: highways, facilities, 24/7 services and road signs. A welcome change, we must admit, after long weeks of dirt roads, dust and potholes.

We’re heading to Ko Chang, a resort island south of Bangkok. It’s a small detour that we’re happy to take to spend our last few days with Lady D, our wonderful companion  since... well,  forever.

There’s not much to say about Ko Chang, only that this is where Jen got ill with Dengue fever and that one needs a lot of imagination to see that the island was once a beautiful piece of earth. Now it’s an over-touristy place where one can shop for dead crocodiles’ skin, take pictures with exotic but chained sad-looking animals and party with lady boys. Not our cup of tea, so we’re moving on.

Thailand is not exactly a ‘travelling’ destination. Everything is just too easy here. It is, however, a great country for holidays, chilling out, culture and history activities and for what westerners call ‘Thai Food’. Our next destination, we agree, should combine it all.

chilling out

At this point we decided to continue with our motto: to have a number of dynamic options instead of a firm plan. We love this motto; it keeps us open to any changes, moods and improvisations on the road – I like to simply call it ‘freedom’.

One of our options was to drive north, towards Ayutthaya. So we did.

The Thai roads would have been excellent if they weren’t underwater. But they are. Another set of floods hit Thailand a few weeks ago and large sections of the country are still a huge bog.

These recently-more-than-occasional floods are not a great surprise for a country that used to be completely covered by a thick rainforest. Nowadays less and less sections of the country are still forested and with no trees to take the monsoon rain... you get the picture: the locals do.
The signs of flooded plains are quite surreal: murky water all around, islands of debris and rivers running through houses and abandoned shops. People with their few belongings are crowded in improvised shelters on the side of the highway or on roofs, sitting anywhere that is still above the water level – for weeks. 

We’re counting another Environment Disaster, # 4391 on this journey alone.     

Floods in Thailand

Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Siam, is still a marshland. The local government thought it’s better to keep this World Heritage Site swamped as part of their strategy to save the industrial district of Bangkok. Money talks – the rest sinks. So we take a tour in a World Heritage Site underwater and actually, were quite enjoying it.

We’re the first tourists in town since the flooding and locals are happy to have us. We get special treatment everywhere, Lady D is spending her last Bahts on massages and Jen is recovering well from the fever. With high moral and wet feet we kiss D for goodbye for now and continue north, to Chiang Mai.

It’s great to be in Chiang Mai again. It’s a city of contradictions: street stalls next to healthy food restaurant, ugly local girls hung around with fat old Europeans, Yoga studios located above polluted noisy streets and golden temples are a safe home for a pack of bad looking dogs. It’s a city where the old market, selling traditional hill tribes artefacts, attracts more human traffic than the air conned, shiny shopping malls with its fashionable items from London and Rome. I like Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai

But I feel like it’s time to do something different – something with a distinctive character, low paced but high well being. Low key but high note. Maybe feed my spiritualism a little.
I’m turning to my old dear buddy – Google. Quick search. Finding a Buddhist temple in the forest up on the mountain – just outside the city. Reading. Monks came down from the remote mountains of Burma are now teaching how to meditate. 

Interesting –reading on.

The programme: 7 days, all inclusive – meditation lessons, introduction to Buddhism, accommodation, breakfast, lunch. ...And dinner? No. Buddhist monks don’t eat after midday. No dinner, no teatime, no afternoon snack, no supper and definitely no midnight munch. Mmm... a problem. I have superfast metabolism, so I must feed the monster every 4 hours. ...At least. Will I survive?

I’m thinking about this again:  a chance for starvation - but - a temple on the mountain with Monks meditating all day; definitely low paced, surely some potential to increase my well being and no question about feeding my spiritualism there. So I’m booking the meditation. Que Serra.     

Pack a rucksack, down 7 breakfasts, put on pure white clothes and head up to the mountain and the temple. Driving to a meditation retreat in a Land Rover Discovery – irony. 

I’m in the temple. Tropical greenery. Birds’ song in the air. Incense aroma. I like. And here’s a young woman, down the footpath, sitting, relaxed, eyes close, focused. So this is meditation. Right. I could do this.

Welcome ceremony. I’m meeting my teacher monk. He looks like a slightly younger Dalai Lama. Smiling, he’s telling me about the principle of meditation, the technique and the timetable for the next week.

Outline of the principle: generally, to reach nirvana. More practically, to reach inner peace, mindfulness and silence the mind. Important things indeed.

The technique: Stop the ‘thinking-thinking’ action and focus on breathing only; raising-falling. 15 minutes walking meditation, 15 minutes sitting meditation, 15 minutes break and repeat. Cool, so when’s food time here..?

Timetable: wakeup at 5am and the rest I didn’t hear. 5am?! Ok... I really need to kill Que Serra one day. There are also Dhamma lessons, chanting, monks chat, lots of meditation and absolutely confirmed and double-checked: no dinner. 5am...

First lesson: sitting in the lotus posture. Stopping the ‘thinking-thinking’ action. Focusing on breath. Raising-falling....

I’m failing immediately. Millions of thoughts are running through my head. Starting again. Sitting. Stopping ‘thinking-thinking’
... thinking about the Land Rover, pizza and that lady on the footpath. Not good. Trying again. And again. I am now discovering how difficult it is to stop thinking. Impossible. Where’s that Dalai Lama chap, I need to figure out how it’s done.

I can’t turn my brain off – I tell him. He’s laughing. You cannot turn the brain off on your first day of meditation. Meditation takes a long time and plenty of determination. You should start by first ‘acknowledging’ the thought when it comes in and then ‘put it away’.
Ok, thanks Dalai.

Back to my pillow. Sitting. Practicing. Again and again. I skip the other activities. Concentrating. Raising-falling.

Evening. I’m entering my room, sitting on the bed. Raising-falling. Thought. Acknowledge, Put aside. Raising-falling.


Night. Exhausted. Hungry. Closing my eyes and without thinking on a thing – I’m falling asleep.
Early morning. Sleepy. Starving. Breakfast. A plate of rice. Not enough for me. I’m sneaking into the kitchen, spotting the pot and loading 3 more plates of rice. Much better. Back on the pillow again, raising-falling. Thought. Acknowledge, put aside. Raising-falling.
Raising-falling... Raising-falling...

Dalai in Dhama (5am...)


The days are passing by. Fewer thoughts slip in. Dalai is teaching me a few more stages. I get to like it. Mindfulness. Balance. Build the centre. Avoid building the inner fire – don’t get upset if something pissy happens. Instead, acknowledge, put aside and carry on – mindful. Good stuff. I keep on practicing again and again.  


All of a sudden it’s the last day of the retreat. I jump out of bed. I’m awake and relaxed. I’m eating my single plate of rice slowly and peacefully. Finally – quiet. I’m saying goodbye to my teacher monk. Don’t forget the balance, the centre and stay mindful – he’s advising as I leave the temple. I won’t forget.

I’m driving down the mountain and back to the valley. In Chiang Mai again. Hordes of tourists, crowded streets, busy traffic, street stalls... I acknowledge, put aside and stay mindful. Raising-falling. Haaa...And it’s all quiet again.

Thank you, Dalai.

Jen & Noam
More photos, stories and action in our website

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The story of the Break Bone fever

The story of the Break Bone fever

Here’s the story of the Break Bone fever. It begins with a little mozzie called ‘Little Bugger’.
Little Bugger used to live in the heart of the Kardamom jungle in Cambodia. From this sentence you can already assume that either Little Bugger is dead or the jungle is no longer there. In this case, both are - almost - correct.

The Kardamom is a truly amazing jungle. It stretches from the mountains in North Cambodia to the Gulf of Thailand in the South. It has gigantic trees, exotic birds and it’s the last jungle in SE Asia where tigers and wild elephants still roam free. This jungle was also where Little Bugger used to fly happily around and suck tasty blood from passing mammals – or from the odd jungle trekkers, in our case.

But Little Bugger is now dead. I killed it. I smashed it against my leg, splashing streams of blood and inner mosquito bits on my hands.

I’m certain it neither thanked me after finishing sipping my western-flavoured blood nor a moment before it spread its wings to fly away. Too bad. If it had stuck around for a bit longer it might have still been alive. But it didn’t.    

Unfortunately it was also too late for me. And for Jen. We both got bitten by Little Bugger.
The Dengue virus that was injected into my blood didn’t spread immediately. There’s no rush apparently when it comes to Dengue. After 10 days the incubation period ended and the first sign finally appeared: high temperature.

Then it all came at once. Symptoms: horrible muscle pain, bones, joints and brain ache, weakness, extreme temperatures and then the horrifying realisation of ‘so this is why Dengue is called Break-Bone fever’.

It definitely feels like it: body is immobilised, sight’s disabled. Appetite vanished, brain’s screaming in agony. The only piece of though that’s still hanging around like undesirable requiem is ‘why am I not dead yet, Moses, why am I not dead...?’

I was laying in bed for 10 days, recovering from Little Buggers’ gift. 10 days is enough time to think about our jungle experience and decide if it was worth it.

Was it?

If jungles were cars Kardamom is definitely a Land Rover; Mighty, powerful and full of surprises. To penetrate it we needed to get a local guide, a bag of determination and a good pair of boots. The team: Lady D, Jen, Anna, another British backpacker we met on our way, and I.

Our first stop was a little remote village of hunters and loggers called Chi-Pat.
The only access to the village is through a long muddy track, endless plantation areas and a number of river crossings. The village itself looks like it was taken out from the classic fairytales: one main dirt road with wooden hats alongside, small herb gardens, a few paddy fields in the back and a tiny market. Smell of fresh food mixed with livestock and dried fish. Locals wave to us, kids chased us to greet hello, dogs barked to us, chickens run away from us and only the pigs ignore us and kept playing in the mud. I loved Chi-Pat from the first moment.

We spent the night in the village, linked up with our guide and set ourselves to our jungle exploration: packed our bags with food, hammocks and enough mosquitos repellent to crack another hole in the ozone layer.

And into the jungle we went.

We rowed a little boat upstream. It was early morning and the jungle was awakening. Bugs were zooming, birds tweeting, huge Hornbills flying above and orang-utans jumping from tree to tree. Magic.

After a couple of hours we arrived to a little clearance and it was time to disembark and leave our boats behind. We started to walk.

And immediately – leeches. Millions of them. And they are all crazily obsessed: “Blood! Blood! We want your blood!!”

Sensing our footfalls they’re crawling fast on the jungle floor, climbing on our boots and finding their ways through leather and socks. Then pinching the skin to get to their favourite juice and suck it until they’re about to explode. Hey you – leave some for Little Bugger, he needs a drink too!

In the beginning we fought back. Armed with sticks, knives and a flame-thrower we stood firm and bravely manned the defences. We beat them, sliced them and burned them. But there were too many of them and soon we had to give up to those parasites and accept our own bloodshed – Jen won the beer for been dined on the most with 9 leech marks.

During the day we came across several monkeys, big cats’ paw prints, elephant’s beds and a huge pile of what they left after digesting their massive breakfast.          

In the evening we set up camp. We washed in the stream, cooked our meals and got into the hammocks, slung high above the jungle’s floor. It was then, while changing our sweaty clothes, that Little Bugger spotted the opportunity of its lifetime to taste some of that exotic Westerner blood.
He came, he tasted, he died.
No hard feelings, Little Bugger. You did what you needed to do and I did what I needed. You suck blood, I killed you.  

Night time. Light breeze puffed fresh air through the dense jungle, bringing smells of green and moist. The jungle was switching shifts. Night shift is on. A beautiful harmony of creatures singing lullaby, late bird calling its partner and fireflies were flying around my head, getting attracted to my torch. So relaxed. So remote. What a beautiful night. And the Dengue virus has just started to feel comfortable in its new host.    

The bad guys of this story are, again, the Chinese. A new development is currently underway to transform this jungle into a lively complex of resorts. In the next few years these trees will be bulldozered to clear way for 7 new holiday cities. Yes – 7 cities.

On the agenda: beachside towns with exclusive shopping malls, restaurants with the best selection stretching all along the coastline. Airports, coaches, high speed trains connecting the boulevards to the fluorescent lighten hotels and the pearl in the crown: a gigantic massive casino, the biggest even built in SE Asia – how exciting.  

This is just another of the disasters the Chinese impose on our nature as part of their blindness race to ‘develop’ the world. For Little Bugger it won’t matter anymore but for the elephants, Serval, monkeys, hornbills and other endangered creatures of the Cardamom jungle is will simply be the end.

So was Kardamom worth the visit?

Was it worth the Break Bone fever?
Probably yes. Sadly, the last pristine jungle for a few weeks of sickness – it’s a deal I can handle.

Jen & Noam
Photos, stories and more on our website www.landroveroverland.co.uk

Note: In general we object to the killing of defenceless creatures. Mozzies, however, can fly, bite and kill therefore are not defenceless. 

Monday, 31 October 2011

China vs Laos

Location: under a coconut tree, by the Mekong River, Laos
Weather: morning warm breeze
Total mileage: 24,300
Status: passed relaxed, nearly lazy

There’re too many Chinese in China. They’re small, annoying, get tangled in ones hair and get caught in your feet.

They only want to have a nice life – though they don’t really have any meaning – but for the time being they destroy their culture, nature and those basic morals that are so important, especially while looking for a meaning.

They smoke, spit and shit literally everywhere and find it particularly fun to litter their rivers. Then they never wash their little dirty hands, including after blowing their little noses through their little fingers. It’s very hard for them to say “let me check it” when they can simply say “no!” and creative thinking must be avoided or they’ll end up in a dungeon deep under a mountain.

Good things about China #1: They do work hard 

And they have their generals. Sneaky generals, who move pieces on the map while plotting in secret bunkers how to take over this world. They don’t like foreigners driving around in their dictatorship, sniffing around. All foreigners are, surely, western spies trying to poison their peoples’ minds with stories about other parts of the world, where human beings can actually live more freely. No; they must not let that happen.

So because we want to get from Mongolia to Laos, we need to drive through China. To drive through China we need to have a personal guide, certified by the Party, sitting in our car, over our heads, telling us where we’re allowed to drive and where we are not. The spies who got caught, great way to travel. In addition we’re limited in time – must respect the itinerary, must be in a certain place at a certain time. Yes indeed: annoying and getting caught between our feet.

Good things about China #2: Yunnan people, though they're not actually Chinese

China used to be a great place. A long time ago palaces were built, great walls and temples, for the benefit of the people. But today those sites are surrounded by newer, higher walls and fences, so no one can enter without paying the extortionate fee. But it’s not too bad because locals are no longer interested in temples or other spiritualism when instead they can go to the shopping malls to photograph themselves.

But we’re not in China anymore. Now we’re in Laos. And the Lao people are great and we can do anything we want.

And so, we’re doing everything we want: days of off road driving through jungles and mud; finding an ancient site that was left forgotten for 2000 years; wild camping by the waterfalls; trekking for 2 days to visit a mountain tribe – the wonderful Khmu people. Rock climbing, kayaking, dark stalactite caves, loads of tropical fruit shakes and finally – millions of pancakes with banana, coconut and Nutella.

Good things about China #3: Laos is just across the border

And there’s also no time pressure in Laos. I can get up in the morning, stretch in front of a mountain, have a slow breakfast and play Bach on the guitar again, ‘Air’ in C major. And there’s surely enough time to chill out, relax, and write to the blog too.
So I’m chilling out, relaxing and writing.

Look people, the world is beautiful. True, some parts are better than others and some are truly rubbish and lack heart. Like China. But eventually, if you keep on and don’t give up, you’re guaranteed to get out of the shit. If you’re prepared to go even further you may find a hidden paradise just around the next corner. Like Laos. That is – evidently – worth it all.     

Go and travel.

Jen & Noam

Good things about China #4: Leave it and have some fun in Laos

Good things about China #5: Enjoy some flavour after Mongolia

Good things about China #6: Street food

Good things about China #6: More street food

Good things about China #7: The mountains have less Chinese, though it is actually Tibet (which is not really in China)

Good things about China #8: Tiger Leaping Gorge trek is not (yet) over-developed

Good things about China #9: Animal cruelty is not always good for the business
Good things about China #10: Start early in the morning, before the streets get too crowded 

Sunday, 2 October 2011

An arse kicking in Mongolia

Total mileage: 23,000m
Location: among millions of people somewhere in N China
Day: about 170? (We really stopped counting a while ago)

We’re in China and it’s a mad race. No time for morning Yoga, a chord on the guitar or the comfortable search for the suitable campsite. It’s a rush. Time is money, every minute has a price, every second counts. Just like millions around us, we’re running from one place to another, hardly taking the moment to stop and look when we’re finally there. But let’s stop it all for a moment, return back in time and talk about Mongolia.

6 days trekking

Mongolia is the only place on earth where one gets his arse completely kicked, bruised and beaten but somehow and after all learns that that was an excellent experience.

Why and how? Check it out.

Let’s begin with the most important: food.

On any standard Mongolian menu one would find the only following item, with no distinction between morning, lunch and dinner: an old threadbare piece of sheep well-boiled in greasy salty milk.

Hmm, no; not grilled barbequed or fried but simply – and plainly – boiled. Why boiled? Because there’s no other way one would be able to chew and swallow this poor dry animal that’s been fed dull grass for 3 months in a year and ice in the rest.

See, it starved
And why boiled in greasy salty milk? I’m not too sure but I do too wonder why it’s being taking over 2000 years for spices from China to cross through border control.  

So please mark Arse-Kick #1: canned food only.

On (hardly) a full stomach we’re now ready for some exploration. But when the only road in Mongolia is blocked by hundreds of pills of dirt (why?!?!), the only direction one has to follow is through millions of dirt paths zigzagging the land.

The first 200 km is fun; off road, feeling the landscape etc. The next 500 are bearable. But then bones start to detached, parts break and sanity fades. After 1000 km the brain is gone, the motivation’s dead, vehicle’s shrill and the only input accepted is: why on earth is the only perfectly driveable road is blocked?!?!

Mark again; arse-kick #2: off road only.

off road only

One should take any navigation aid; maps, compass, GPS and, if available – a few pigeons. Anything to avoid getting lost as the only creatures to ask around are grazing yaks, wild horses and camels. Seems unlikely, but it’s still a better option than attempting to communicate with the locals.

Oh, dear locals. Ask for direction and they’ll point to another. Purchase an item and they’ll quote for 10. Order rice, get mutton. Ask for water, get mare milk. Confirm it’s diesel, get 95. Have a perfect road, block it completely. I love you Mongolians, and not in the good way.

About half of the residency of this country is still traditional; migrate with the seasons, herd livestock and live in Gers. Once upon a time I’ve heard about their great hospitality and the warm treatment to visitors but since then they apparently figured out that it’s a lot easier (and profitable) to put their guests on camels for a photo to get some revenue.

Arse-kick #3: no communication and dollars only.

Enough with the asre kicking; now, to retain credibility, I need to tell why it was all so worth it.

Put it simply, the Mongolian landscape is the most dramatic, exciting and inspiring I have ever experienced.

Volcanic Canyon

Right there, in the heart of the desert mountains, a volcano erupted, painting the valley in black lava, creating lush forest and deep blue lake full of life and colours. Then rugged sharp hill tops, shaped by wind and ice through millions of years, clearing way only to a gushing stream of white water. And then the Gobi. Often bright, mostly dark, shades of red, yellow and brown. Intimidating and remote, timeless and vast – a beautiful desert.

In Mongolia one can sit under the stars, listen to the wind and feel the world turning, feel part of it all; part of the earth and the sky, part of the present and the past, part of the galaxy and the universe. Feel alive.

And this feeling is definitely worth it all. So eventually and after all, thank you Mongolia. 

Jen & Noam

More stories and photos on our website


Thursday, 22 September 2011

Tuva, The National Anthem

“...travellers should be aware of Western Tuva’s fearsome reputation for wild lawlessness and unprovoked knife attacks.” Lonely Planet

 “It’s like the Wild West; we came across stories of locals attacking visitors, throwing stones on their vehicles... you should not go there” English traveler

“In Tuva there is a serious problem of alcohol and violence. I never dare going there” Russian ecologist & mountain guide

“Wandering Kyzyl’s streets after dark without local company is not recommended” Lonely Planet

 “...Tuva(n) people (are) bad, (and) dangerous.” A Tuvan person

“...Wow man, they can sing from their throat!” A good dear friend & musician

Ok, let’s go to Tuva.

We’re leaving Abakan behind and driving south. Last police check – nearly a border control: passports, car documents, registration and declaration. The guard needs to confirm that we are indeed intending to enter Tuva.

-        Are we..?   

After days we’re approaching out of the endless Siberian plains – goodbye claustrophobic forests. Bare mountains rise up, wild and rigid, far in the distance. Birds of prey circling the sky above and wild horses grazing on the horizon. Down there is Mongolia, in between is Tuva – Definitely picturesque.

310,000 Tuvans are living in an area as big as England. 100,000 of them in Kyzyl, the capital, and the rest are nomadic or semi nomadic. None of them would want me to say that but they’re pretty similar to their Mongolian neighbours; they live nomadic life style, they ride horses, they live in Yurts, drink salty tea, eat mutton and they love music.

And so, this is what we’ve been planning for Tuva: find nomads, ride their horses, stay in a Yurt, try their food and listen to their music – Easy...?

Part one: Anyone’s Nomad? 

We’re arriving into Kyzyl and starting to ask questions. Is anyone here nomadic? Or a Horseman? Any Musicians perhaps? We hear no word (and no sound) but the warm recommendations to sleep in a safe compound and stay away from trouble.

Tired and fruitless we’re retreating to our hiding place for some sleep.
No one tried to kill us during the night. In the morning, fresh and motivated, we decided to revise our tactics and focus our search only on music. Music will bring the answers to everything, I say. Yeah, poetic.

And indeed, in the local community centre we find the following: (1) the best musicians of Tuva (and they’re all great people) (2) An invite to join their rehearsal for the new Tuvan national anthem. (3) Djenia, a nomad and a horseman who’s inviting us to his family Yurt camp in the mountains and (4) Sean, American-Tuvan who’s telling us the story of the new Tuvan national anthem. – What a hit.

Part two: The Culture

Couple of hours later and we’re on the move again, driving west, into the Taiga.

We’re following Djenia’s Vaz through rivers and passes, valleys and forests. There are no roads here, no electricity or mobile phone signal and no signs of time to remind us that thousands of years passed since humans started to settle the earth. This is nomads’ territory.

There, far in the distance, three riders are approaching to greet us. And over the hill a young boy on a majestic horse is leading a flock of wooly sheep. And then a clear spring, decorated with colourful prayer flags. It’s a beautiful journey. Suddenly, tucked between conifer doted mountain slopes, the Yurt camp appears.

In the Yurt, a white rounded shelter, young girls make cream and butter. They’re inviting us in. We taste various products and sample an alcoholic drink while our horses are being saddled.

Cheese making
Jen on a horse

It’s a great day. We’re among nomads, riding their horses, eating their food and getting to know their life style. But I want to get an insight on their culture nowadays.

In the evening we’re sitting around the fire with Anehak, Djenia’s wife. She studied in Abakan University and speaks fluent English and French; excellent opportunity for a chat. So I’m asking about life in Tuva; about culture, the love of music and the close relationship with nature. Then we speak about social issues: the massive unemployment rates, alcoholism and the bad reputation of violence and depression.

I’m sadly learning a lot.

This is another Avatar case where the land is full of natural resources to mine and a huge fortune to make. Like the other stories, the bully will soon show up to take it all and leave the weak – the locals – with nothing.

So the Russians came. The natives were too primitive and incapable so someone had to take control. Someone had to help them to become more progressive, more educated, more modern – more Russian.

The Russians did what was necessary: Nomads were forced to abandon their lifestyle and relocate into towns, the education system has been reformed, political power and the administration are being transferred to Moscow and local leadership dispersed. Now, when Tuva is nearly Russian, it’s time to start harvesting those gold mines.

The land has been ‘leased’ to Russian constructors who employ Chinese workers. When the entire budget is routed to the mine fields there’s nothing left for local development. There’s no investment, no infrastructure and no employment opportunities. Many ex-nomads became poor, jobless and drunk. Very drunk.

Anything left for the future? I ask.
 “The only thing we’ve got left” – replies Anehak – “our culture”.


4 days later and the Naadam festival is about to begin. Horseracing, archery, wrestling, a Yurt contest and live music are all part of the celebration. It’s a colourful festival with traditional customs, local food and plenty of dancing. Tuvan culture is definitely alive and kicking, and tonight, as final verification, we’ll be witnessing the formal introduction of the new Tuvan national anthem.

Part 3: The National Anthem 

I’m exhausted. So far I’ve been driving through rivers and mountains, staying in Yurts, riding horses, celebrating, dancing, hiking, freezing, thawing, socialising, experiencing, learning, researching, sympathising and all awhile I’ve been eating mainly boiled mutton. Travelling’s a hard life. But tonight is the piece de resistance. Tonight is the premiere. Tonight the National philharmonic of Tuva will formally introduce the new national anthem.

With nationality being the pressing issue and music being ordinary obsession National Anthem is exactly what Tuvans need.

So here’s the story of the national anthem.

‘I am Tuvan’ has been the most popular folk hymn for years. Everybody knows it, everybody’s loves it and naturally it should be the official National Anthem of Tuvan. But it’s actually Mongolian. It was written by Tuvans who happen to live, quite simply, on the other side of the border.

This little geographic issue can immediately raise questions on copyrights and can lead to an unpleasant diplomatic disagreement with Mongolia around a stolen song. No; the tiny republic of Tuva wouldn’t want to provoke their dear neighbours from the south.    

So the best Tuvan composers gathered together and wrote a great piece of music. And it was indeed a great piece, tells Sean. But this is not how an anthem should be born – he adds. A true anthem should come from the people, from the public, rather than be imposed and chosen by a dedicated panel of artists and politicians. Sean man, I Agree.

The solution was so simple and daring that I truly and honestly loved it: Let’s invite the copywriters of ‘I am Tuvan’, ask their permission to use it as the new Anthem and tell the Mongolians to bugger off.

Evening, concert hall. 5 cups of coffee, 10 Bounty bars (sugar, sugar. Give me more sugar), getting the best seats from Anehak and I’m ready for the best show in town.

This is an amazing concert. A long line of the best musicians of Tuva is getting on the stage, dressed in traditional clothes, backed by popular guests from the past contributing from their repertoire. Traditional instruments are blending with electric guitars, throat singing with vocal harmonies, strings, percussions, double bass, flutes and guitars. The evening comes to a close when they are all joining forces to perform the anthem. Bravo – Excellent gig, wonderful anthem.


Ok, so this is not the most uplifting traveller’s story but I love the message: keep on moving, keep on playing, keep on with the music and save your culture. Good luck Tuva.
Jen & Noam Ben Tsion

more pictures and stories in our website www.landroveroverland.co.uk