Stop living in the past: Irkutsk now (Part 5)
OK, perhaps it’s time to be a little less … lyrical, and a little more practical (or perhaps not … how exactly do you tell?) A round-up of the various points of interest in and around Irkutsk may be of some actual, pragmatic use… so let’s give that a spin. Then I’d say, on to Lake Baikal, which is so significant a location that it deserves it’s own section I’m sure. Well, there are the ground rules established, so …
Call me biased (hey, it’s my party …) but I’m going straight back to those wooden Decembrist-style buildings again, mentioned in previous blogs. First port of call: “The Taltsy Museum of Wooden Architecture and Ethnography”. It’s on the road to Lake Baikal actually, around 47km out of town. I read a “user” (…?) comment on Taltsy, stating that if you take a bus, you can be dropped you off but you’ll “most likely” have to hitch-hike back! This is then euphemistically described as “not that safe”. … OK, thumbs-out then Grandma and off we go … Er, no … ‘best go by car, preferably owned/organised by someone you can trust… but who would that be? These comments were written in 2007 so maybe things have changed since then … maybe.
Anyway, I’ll leave the minutiae of getting there and back alive down to your own discretion. Whilst at Taltsy you may witness 78 “monuments of architectural heritage and 8,000 exhibits of high historical value” … apparently. Siberian life-styles and dwellings of Russian, Buryat, Evenk and Tofalar cultures are on display representing civilian, defensive and religious functionality A rough cross section would include: a school, a jail, a farmstead and estates across three periods of history, the combined result is an assemblage from various snapshots in time and location rather than one literal town or village. Remarkably, some of the structures date back to the late 1600s and were physically re-located in kit-form to this open-air museum, ensuring their preservation. Amazing. Originally located in the Angara valley, their transfer was necessitated by the region’s flooding during the construction of the Bratsk and Ust-Ilimsk Dams that spanned the mid ’60s to the mid ’70s. In turn, their prior survival had been facilitated by virtue of their relative isolation … being a little “out of the way” spares you from the ravages of “development”, of course.
As well as “regular” (if such a term applies …) houses, there is also the Saviour’s Gate Tower of the Ilimsk Ostrog (fort) and a still-active “Church of Our Lady of Kazan”. Time for another superlative: “Incredible”, … that’ll do fine … Enjoy these minaret-ed, slatted, ornately window-shuttered wonders in all their relative authenticity. Yes, there some elements of modern re-construction in there too.
As mentioned earlier, the range of Taltsy is such that it encompasses the physical and spiritual lives of indigenous Siberians too: hunting camps, storage facilities, fur and hide treatments, and even displays of Evenk air and land burials styles.
Although the green-light was given for the museum in 1966, it wasn’t until 1980 when it became part of the “Irkutsk State United Museum” that the first visitors were received. This sounds so bizarre … Well, these things take time … Since January 1994 the museum has operated independently, mercifully surviving the Soviet gruelling transition to trial-by-market-forces … That’s what happens when the rug of state-funding is yanked from beneath your feet … Phew.
The museum site covers around 67 hectares … which is just over a quarter of a square mile (in real money …) or 7.48558087188E-27 square light years (aren’t online converters really clever?)
Also, costumed locals do their traditional … thing. And lots of it. There’s a calendar full of themed events and celebrations; you can even get married there.
I’m not sure about that whole issue … not the conversion to square light years; but dressing up and selling a plasticised version of your own heritage in order to provide a quaint afternoon’s distraction for the tourists. Isn’t a whole cultural history somehow worth more than that?
But here, of course, I’m on the edge of the classic “conscientious-Westerner” trap … These folks are trying to get by, hopefully making a living, … hopefully more. Such quandaries are often “issues” borne of (relative) affluence wagging a politically correct finger in a self-referential attempt to be seen (… most important) doing that “right-on” thing … Meanwhile, the subjects of their apparent concern take off their costumes, go home, pay rent and buy bread … So why not visit and help enable them a little toward those ends?
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 66) Stop living in the past: Irkutsk now (Part 5)
[Photo by seseg_h]