The itinerary was similar to previous trips but had some new twists and surprises. The group established themselves at the east end of the 800 square mile Uch-Enmek Nature Park, where they were welcomed by SEN’s main indigenous Altai partner and guide, Danil Mamyev. After visiting and blessing many sacred sites at Uch-Enmek they met with shaman Olga Erekenova who blessed them on their next day’s journey to the remote and serene Arikem Lake. They spent a night at Arikem, which the locals revere as particularly sacred, and which is fed from underground springs warm enough to swim in.
About 4 hours south of Yeti Cave is the juncture of the Katun River and the Chuya River. Not far down the road is a nature park called Chu-Oozi where Galina and Ruslana Toptigina have been offering their generous and warm hospitality to SEN staff and guided groups for years (see small grants article on page 9), It is in this region that the Altai landscape gradually turns from mostly forested to mostly desert. Many stone circles, petroglyphs, and monoliths can be seen not far from the main road.
The final highlight was visiting the shaman Maria Amanchina at the furthest point south who has really dazzled groups with her good-natured humor and spiritual power. She commented, “There is still tremendous value in practicing the ‘old ways’. When you [Westerners] respectfully explore my homeland and take the time to thank the Spirits it makes our people feel good. The Russians [modern people] want us to live in the cities where our youth want cars and money. When you come you remind us that our traditional life is worth something.”
“I am SO filled with Gratitude and Honor for the Embrace of the Altai, and All I met there.... There is no single experience but All Experiences, strung together like a string of sacred pearls, that have allowed this trip to SO resonate within my Heart...The Hospitality, the Welcome, the Profound Silence, the Laughter, have left an indelible mark which I celebrate each day... I am transformed, as only Powerful trips might do, that even the way I see the ordinary is extraordinary... I notice when I look at trees or a bird, or hear the story of wind on my face, there is a difference, and I Feel the Altai with me, and I smile..” -Vincent Nuccio
In July of this year, five intrepid souls traveled to the Altai region of Siberia with SEN trip leader Bill Pfeiffer. Bill has traveled to Russia nearly 40 times and commented that, “Instead of these trips becoming boring or routine, they are becoming more fascinating. Our relationship with the land and people keeps getting stronger, especially in the Altai. I can’t wait to go back!”
The group then headed west to Ust-Kan to visit the museum of the well-known Altai scientist Nikolai Shadoev, with a detour northward to visit two shamans that had rarely met Westerners. Both shamans had a strong impact on the group in different ways. Before heading south towards Mongolia, the group stopped at the famous White Stone cave (a.k.a. Yeti Cave in Altai). The Russian archeological guide there confirmed human habitation in the cave being upwards of 200,000 years (!) more than three times what was previously thought.
Half-way from Chu-Oozi to the Mongolian border the group went east into a new area for Bill, the Ulagan region. Danil said that the particular Altai clan inhabiting this almost inaccessible region, the Telengit, had a similar reputation as the Apaches, very tough on their enemies, very friendly to their friends. Rumor has it they shot down a Soviet helicopter in the 80’s… Fortunately, the SEN group was in the latter category and they were treated like celebrities at a huge cultural pride festival near the town of Ulagan.
Here are some comments from a few of the trip’s participants:
“Everything was simply amazing, it was wonderful to be on a trip where every place we visited held so much magic. Nothing stood out as being exceptional because everything was so special in its own right…just being on the land was incredibly healing and nurturing and encouraged an openness in me. The other thing that really struck me was the real sense of trust established between the group and the shamans and wisdom-keepers that we visited with... we were received because we came with an intent to learn and serve.”
- James Powell
“The Altai, and I’m sure all Siberia, is a powerful place and the people are the most open and giving anywhere. Anyone who is able should leave the comfort and familiarity of their usual lives and lifestyles and let the place and the people touch their hearts like they’ve never been touched before.” - Diane Lipartito