The autonomous socialist republic of your dreams

TUVA DAYS

Kyzyl - I should come clean. This is not really about Tuva. At least not about the Tuva on the map - designated as either Tannu-Tuva, Tuvan Autonomous Socialist Republic or the Autonomous Republic of Tuva.

The Tuva I want to talk about exists mostly in the mind, in messages on the Internet and fringe forums dedicated to the memory of a dead American nuclear physicist and the oddball Californian cult he left behind.

I did visit the real Tuva, some 2,500 miles - and two rock-hard in-flight Aeroflot chickens - from Moscow. Nestled in the mountains next to Mongolia, Tuva is blessed with spectacular scenery. It is cursed by one of the highest crime rates in Russia (if you include cattle rustling) and lethal supplies of asbestos.

The other Tuva is far more romantic. I encountered it first at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport, starting point for overnight flights to all the most remote outposts of Russia's still sprawling empire. In the Intourist departure "lounge" a small red sticker announced the cult motto and the title of its canonical work: "Tuva or Bust".

The whole thing began with Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who, between helping to design the first atom bomb as a Manhattan Project member, performing as a safe-cracker and jazz drummer, and working out why the space shuttle Challenger blew up, developed a fixation with travelling to Tuva. He never made it.

More successful was his drumming partner, Ralph Leighton. A former high school teacher from Pasadena, California, he now runs "Friends of Tuva" - described on the Internet as "the central clearing house of information and Tuva-related merchandise". (Among merchandise on offer is Tuva T-shirts, a collection of lectures on nuclear physics, the greatest hits of Tuvan throat-singing, the annotated English translation of a German ethnographic study and posters of Professor Feynman dressed for a fancy dress party as a Buddhist monk.)

As well as Friends of Tuva, there are splinter groups: The Richard P Feynman Memorial Bicycling Society, last sighted somewhere in Cheshire, and the Tannu-Tuva Liberation Front, also known as the Tannu-Tuva Collectors' Society, a group of hard-core Tuvan stamp collectors based in Florida. Further from the mainstream is the Society for Creative Anachronisms - New Age groupies who roam Pennsylvania in yurts, Tuvan-style nomadic tents made of felt.

While Feynman never got to Tuva, a small tribute to his enthusiasm was put up in Kyzyl in 1991: a stone plaque glued to a wall near a Soviet- era monument hailing Tuva as the "Centre of Asia". I went to look at it on my first night in the capital.

I must now report the bad news. The plaque has gone. All that remains is the stain of glue carried from California to try to secure Feynman's immortality.

This is what the plaque said: "Richard Feynman 1918-1988. His attempts to reach this spot in the lands of his dreams inspired others to set foot here."

The Tuvans, baffled by all the fuss, are dreaming of reaching a far more exotic faraway land. In the local parliament building operates the headquarters of a new cult: Friends of America.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home