Guardians of the Sacred Valley

The nature park I’m volunteering at is called Uch Enmek Indigenous Nature Park. It is named after the Altaian sacred mountain (within the protected park boundary), which according to native Altaian traditional knowledge serves as the umbilical cord of Mother Earth, through which vital energy and information flows from the cosmos. The park encompasses the Sacred Karakol Valley, home to massive ancient burial sites of Scythian and Altaian cultures, cliff-side petroglyphs, and ancient stone monoliths that indicate the social and technological sophistication of the ancient cultures that inhabited these lands.

Something remarkable is that the ancient burial mounds, called kurgans, were built with thousands and thousand of large, heavy stones that were transported dozens of kilometers from outside the vicinity of the sites as research analysis shows they are not indigenous to the sites themselves. The stones have varying degrees of magnetic content and, according to research by local indigenous park geologists using modern technology, were layered in a circular-pyramidal magnetic fashion, ranging from the lowest magnetic content stones at the bottom to the highest magnetic content stones at the top. Aerial view of the shape of the mounds indicates mimicry of magnetic fields deep underground caused by significant magnetite mineral deposits throughout the valley. This indicates that the ancients who built these mounds knew about the magnetic fields underground and the magnetic qualities of the stones they built the kurgans with.

The stone monoliths, or stelae, towering three meters above ground with three meters buried below ground, stand tilted at an angle similar to the angle of the magnetic pole line running from Earth’s magnetic south to magnetic north. Scientists debate whether this is mere coincidence, a result of the gravity’s impact over millennia, or further evidence of sophisticated awareness of the magnetic energy fields of the Earth they were on.


Photo Credit: Arita Baaijens

Walking through this valley (with the blessing of the indigenous park managers) of sacred sites dating back thousands of years, built by sophisticated ancient technological means and in a manner that is indicative of an intimate relationship with Mother Earth that is mostly foreign to modern western minds, it is hard not to be impressed on the deepest level with the sanctity of this place. Foggy images of ritual and ceremony that these relics were most certainly the sites of float through my mind. I walk through here with reverence for the spirits of the land and the present-day guardians of this sacred valley.

Uch Enmek Indigenous Nature Park was founded by native Altaian community leader, Danil Mamyev. He left his native lands and earned a degree in Geology at Tashkent University. He worked for twenty years in Uzbekhistan until feeling the call to return to his homeland. He understood that with the fall of the Soviet Union, and the import of capitalism and corporatism to Russia, that the tourism industry would make its way down to Altai and buy up their native lands unless they organized to stop it. Danil’s strategy was to beat the tourism industry at its own game; to set up ethno-cultural nature parks for tourists, which would be under the jurisdiction of and run by indigenous Altaians. He faced a great amount of pushback from his own people who didn’t share his foresight and thought that he was trying to bring Russian tourists down to Altai and profit off of them. They didn’t want their homeland, their villages, their sacred sites, to become tourist attractions. They didn’t want outsiders who didn’t understand or respect their traditional ways to inundate them.

Danil explained to them that the tourists were going to come regardless and that they had a small window of time to choose who would be in control of the land and access to it. Still they resisted. A prominent shaman of the Karakol Valley who carried the respect of the people, after praying and meditating on the subject, came to Danil’s side. He share with the people that he saw Danil is right, his intentions are good, and this is what is needed to protect the land, the people, and their cultural heritage. Danil then had the support from his people he needed to lobby the regional government to establish a nature park protective territory around the sacred Karakol Valley. After years of dedicated work, Uch Enmek Nature Park became a reality.

Along with being a guardian of the land, Danil also guards the traditional knowledge and wisdom of Altaian culture. The land of Altai and traditional Altaian knowledge are intimately tied, so one cannot be guardian of one without being a guardian of the other. Danil founded and directs the Tengri School of Ecology of Soul, dedicated to the “revival and transmission of traditional knowledge and beliefs of Altai people.” Altaians tragically experienced cultural genocide, and at times not only the cultural form of genocide, under the Soviet regimes. The Tengri school is mending and healing what was broken and lost culturally through those times.

An acquaintance of mine who met Danil years ago told me, before I arrived in Altai, that Danil is truly what in Jewish tradition we refer to as a Tzadik (a righteous person who is a channel for divine flow to bless the world). Upon meeting Danil, speaking with him, and seeing what he’s done and continues to do to protect this sacred valley and other sacred sites of the Altai, I understood that she is right. Danil’s vision for Altai is huge. There are hundreds of sacred places in these mountains, beyond this valley, that he and his people are working to protect. The threats they face are from developers, the growing tourism industry, and a government-backed oil industry that wants to run a massive pipeline through the heart of Altai. Danil and his people need capital to build the infrastructure for the additional parks that could protect them and their land from these looming threats.

If these stories have inspired you and you would like to help fund their efforts, or if you know someone who would be interested in funding their efforts, you can donate to The Altai Project – a U.S. based organization that supports the indigenous guardians of Altai. I’ve spoken with the director herself (she’s the one who connected me with Danil and Uch Enmek Park) and give her and the organization my endorsement.

If you want to learn more, check out this feature on the Altai from National Geographic:

1 thought on “Guardians of the Sacred Valley

  1. Pingback: Journey Roundup | In the Lands of the Ancestors

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