Katun in Autumn by Choros-Gurkin, translation here by Joanna Dobson
In contrast to tourist river rafting (see previous post on the Altai in the Guardian Travel section)
It is you Altai, heroic figure of old dozing through the ages, craggy eyebrows drawn, mulling over your solemn, kindly thoughts. Now it is autumn and in the mountains the weather is warm and fine. Nature everywhere dons its festive garb. Larch and beech, sheathed in gold flaunt their charms overflowing in a hundred different tones beneath the sun’s golden rays. The sky is deep and azure, the air mellow and clear…Such is the magic festival of autumn, the last song of summer, nature’s farewell kiss. Katun*, aware of its power and nobility flows onwards between its festive banks. In spring noisy and turbulent, in autumn its turquoise waves roll with elegiac charm.
All around there is quiet and a sense of peace and well-being and it seems as though some great magic spell were brewing and beginning its work. The chest breathes freely, the heart bursts in delight and striving for some other life, some other world in the realm of thoughts and dreams, for some unfathomed but very much hoped-for happiness…The holiday makers, birds of passage, have left their dachas leaving scattered memories behind them. Only the peaceable long-settled Altai farmers remain, busy with their small barley plots, hurrying to take in the harvest. Now and then, a troupe of mounted hunters passes smoking pipes, or an Altai woman in chegedek* will canter past, the metal ornaments on her saddle and in her plaits clinking as she rides. Then again silence reigns. There remains nothing but the whisper of nature and the wavering billows of gentle colours. Katun’s song swells undisturbed and again the chest breathes freely with no sad thoughts to darken the mind. One may stand spell-bound longing to call out to all: “Leave everything and come to this valley, if only on the wings of your imagination! Behold the virginal purity of Altai and its maiden the enchanting Katun, symbol of eternal life and striving.”
In her waves one feels the heartbeat, the spirit of the universe, awakened there at the very creation of the earth. She is turbulent, passionate, a splashing, emerald stream playing with all the colours of the rainbow. She is filled with magic strength, movement and life. Fragrant pines cluster her banks, stretching their curling boughs towards her and from on high, cliffs and mountains watch their reflection in her crystal-clear water. The Katun river adorns the Altai with good fortune. The Altai people worship her, compose songs eulogising of her beauty and hang her banks with ribbons*.
Katun bids ‘farewell’ to the mountains as she passes, to all Altai. One can hear her soulful sighs growing fainter as they retreat into the depths of the blue and misty mountains, ceasing altogether as they reach the heart of the giant. The day draws to a close and evening falls. As if by the manipulation of some great hand, light dove-coloured shadows begin creeping along the mountain slopes until only the distant snow-caps sparkle in the golden air. The colours deepen, the mountains change and Katun rolls ever onwards, lulling her waves to sleep. In the depth of midnight, when all is asleep, a heavy ‘groan’* escapes from the bowels and chest of mighty Altai. Deep and rumbling like thunder, it races through the sleeping taiga* and echoes in the silver ripples of Katun’s rapid flow. With a quiet sigh she answers her loved-one and presses still more tenderly, ever more tightly to his chest.
* Katun – the main river running through the Altai Republic * Chegedek – part of the traditional Altai costume worn by women of married status
* ribbons – used in ritual. See ‘A rags to ribbons tale’ in the May issue * groan – this sound is said to be the conversation of the mountains. In Altai they say ‘taika adyshtyat’ – the mountain spirit is groaning * taiga – the part of the mountains above the tree-line