Just back from a quick trip to Kazakhstan, where I was able to visit the World Ethnosport Confederation’s festival outside Almaty. Formed in 2015, the Confederation is made up of countries with a steppe tradition. On display in Almaty were riders from Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Hungary, Bulgaria, as well as singers and musical performers from Uzbekistan, Turkey, Buryatia and various other countries.
Traditional wrestling, archery and eagle-hunting displays were also featured in the festival, which took place in the countryside outside Almaty. The horse-riding skills on show were truly spectacular and much appreciated by the large crowds.
In two weeks’ time, on 3 July, together with six others, I will be setting off for Eastern Siberia to visit yet more places associated with the Atkinsons. This time our goal will be the Jombolok (sometimes spelled Zhombolok) Volcano Field, in the Eastern Sayan Mountains some 500kms to the east of Irkutsk and Lake Baikal. I have written about this place before, and particularly about one of Thomas’ paintings, which illustrates the nearby Kara Noor Lake – see my posting of 23 June last year.
Thomas and Lucy visited this region in the summer of 1851. As I wrote last June: “Now known as the Jom-Bolok volcanic field, it is actually located in Russia in the Eastern Sayan Mountains. In 2011 it was the subject of a major Russian study which you can read here. That article by Alexei V Ivanov et al notes: “Despite the fact that the Jom-Bolok volcanic field has been known for almost one and a half centuries , it is little studied and no geological information has yet been published in English.”
In an appendix to the article there is a historical note which states: “Initial information about the volcanoes in the East Sayan Mts. was published in a local Siberian newspaper in 1858 by an English architect, Thomas Witlam Atkinson. Later, he devoted a number of pages in his extensive travel book to the same volcanoes (Atkinson 1859). In 1852, Atkinson travelled from the inhabited Oka river area, along Jom-Bolok river (referred by him as Djem-a-look river) up to Haranur lake and the Hee-Gol valley. Apparently, he was among the first visitors to the volcanoes, because the local Bouriat people had great dread of that valley, and never ascended it except by compulsion. His report was used later by the Russian royal Peter Alekseevich Kropotkin, who was famous for both his anarchist philosophy and contributions to glaciology (see Ivanova and Markin 2008). He visited the volcanoes in 1865 and provided a geological description (Kropotkin 1867).””
I will be travelling with my good friend and photographer David O’Neill and with Steve and Gill Brown and their children David and Catherine, who are direct descendants of the Atkinsons. A friend of theirs, Maddy Brown, is the final member of the party.
This is going to be a testing journey. We will drive west from Irkutsk for about 500kms before completing the journey on horseback. It should take us nine days. When we arrive we plan to leave a memorial tablet on the top of Volcano Atkinson, one of four volcanic cones in the valley and named after Thomas in recognition of his role in discovering this important geological site.