Altai Trip Summary Return to Rachel's page


The Altai region is an ancient crossroads between east and west, and it retains a startling mixture of peoples, languages, and religions. The inhabitants of the Altai Republic include several ethnic groups, including Altaians, Kazakhs, and Russians. They speak a number of different languages, though the schools are taught in Russian. Altaians primarily live in the mountain valleys and observe a combination of shamanist traditions, Buddhism, and Russhian Orthodoxy. The area around Kosh Agach is predominantly Muslim Kazakhs. The Russians are primarily Orthodox, and there are enclaves of the Old Believer sect, which broke with the Orthodox Church in the seventeenth century. (Photos by R.May, J.Gibbs, K.Page, M.Foley, Ch.Almashev)

ethnic Altaians


A mosque in Kosh-Agach


Left: It is part of the shamanist tradition in Altai to show respect to sacred natural features of the landscape by tying white ribbons on a tree.

Humans have inhabited Altai for many millennia. Archaeologists have found remains as old as 35,000 years in nearby regions. A recent excavation uncovered a 2400-year-old tomb of a princess on the Ukok Plateau. Evidence of the long human history of the area is evident in the landscape. Standing stones and kurgans (burial mounds) are abundant, as are petroglyphs.

Most petroglyphs are found on horizontal rock formations, where they are subject to defacing and erosion.

The tradition of native crafts is very much alive, especially in the Kazakh regions of Altai. Women make rugs, or srmaki, by felting wool from their sheep, dying it, piecing it together in intricate traditional patterns, and embroidering over the seams. They also make elaborate embroidered wall hangings to go over the beds of newlyweds. These crafts are mostly done for personal use and for dowries for the craftswomens' daughters, but there is also some limited trade in them. Male craftsmen do elaborate wood carvings, mostly to adorn houses.

Above - srmak detail. Right - the floor of the house where we stayed in Dzhazator was covered with magnificent srmaki, all made by our hostess (who appears in the bottom right corner of the Kazakh picture above).