THE YENISEY RIVER:
FROM STEPPES TO THE FROZEN
Kyzyl, the capital of Tuva, claims to be the centre of the Asian continent. Indeed, if you cross the Sayan Mountains into Tuva, you find yourself on the cusp of a vast, dusty steppe that looks convincingly like a Central Asian heartland. But whether Asia’s true heart can be pinpointed in Kyzyl is open to debate. While one monument marks its location here, a different monument denoting a second geographical “centre of Asia” is situated 631 miles away as the crow flies, near the town of Ürümchi in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of Western China. In 2009 world attention was briefly focused on this city when clashes occurred between new Chinese settlers and the local Uyghur population. Ürümchi also happens to be the world’s most inland city—located 1,500 miles from the Bay of Bengal. Two obscure, isolated places far from their national capitals claim to be right in the middle of something. It is probably no coincidence.
Kyzyl’s monument, an obelisk situated where the Yenisey river is formed by its two sources (the Bolshoy Yenisey and Maly Yenisey), may not