The Altai Mountainsby
and the Katun River
Grigory Choros-Gurkin The Altai, Siberia 
He is not a simply mountains,
woods, rivers, waterfalls,
but He is a Living Spirit,
who is generous rich Giant.
He is fairy-tale ’beautiful
in His colorful clothes
of forests, flowers, grasses.
The mists, which are His transparent thoughts,
are running away to all countries of the world.
The lakes, it’s His eyes, looking into Universe,
Waterfalls and rivers, these are His speeches
and songs about the Life, about beauty
of Mother Earth,
of Mountains …”
- Translated from Russian
The Altai and the River Katun
by Grigory Choros–Gurkin , 1915
- translated from Russian by W.CARTER II.
Piles of mountain peaks are thrown in all directions,
with rocky multi-coloured ridges, true to their locale.
Pressing tightly one against another,
they stretch away into a boundless expanse,
losing themselves in a blue haze.
Their sheer bluffs are fissured with deep canyons.
Everywhere, menacing rocks overhang precipitously yawning abysses,
ready at any moment to hurtle down,
starting a fearsome avalanche.
Higher up, ledge upon ledge,
mammoth crag's climb towards the clouds.
And, farther and higher still,
right under the blue canopy of the sky,
like a troop of legendary warriors,
soar the white-capped kings of the highlands.
Their regal mantles spread about,
they dazzle the eye with their sparkling glacier-crowns,
ruby-red at dawn, emerald-green in the early evening.
Necklaces of bizarre rocks lie on their breasts of packed snow.
All around primeval, grandiose, majestic
— in a mighty ring these peaks have spread
and departed into the infinite distance.
Soft lines now join, one on another,
mix in a labyrinth of contours,
shrink in the elusive vastness
of the azure air.
Everywhere what space
and what might!
It is you, enchanted,
morose, regal Altai!
It is you, wrapped in mists
which, like thoughts, stream
from your mighty brow
down to unknown lands...
You it is, heroic figure of old;
you've been dozing through the ages,
craggy eyebrows drawn,
thinking your solemn kindly thoughts...
And now in the midst of this mighty and bewitched kingdom,
amid this majestic nature, among the piles of purple mountains,
among the dreamy dark forests, flows an emerald river-beauty,
the Katun [meaning "princess" in the Altai language],
along the golden floor of the Altai,
along gentle valleys fragrant with flowers.
It meanders, cutting its way to the very heart of the Altai
and between deep canyon walls, an emerald-blue band.
Rapid and irrepressible, it noisily makes its impetuous way
forward over the chest of the old giant...
No force, it would seem, might check its flow,
could raise a barrier to its onward impulse,
to its powerful rapid stride.
Now it is autumn,
and in the mountains of the Altai
the weather is warm and fine.
The whole of nature now dons its finest festive garb.
Larch and birch trees, sheathed in gold,
stand flaunting their charms
and overflow into hundreds of colour-tones
beneath the sun's rays of light.
A sky that is azure, deep and clear;
air that is mellow, transparent.
A harmony of soft, gentle hues spreads
in all directions...
This is the magic festival of golden autumn.
This is the last song - of the departing summer.
This is the farewell kiss of nature
until the next spring...
Majestically, and in full consciousness
of its strength and noble birth,
the radiant Katun proceeds between its festive banks.
It is not now so noisy and turbulent as in spring,
but rolls its turquoise waves with elegiac calm.
They splash softly against the rocks along the banks
and against the cold facets of the silent cliffs.
The river now seems to taking it easily,
to be enjoying a respite from the reckless hurry of summer
and saving its strength for the following spring...
All around quiet, the sense of peace and well-being.
One feels that within nature
some sort of great magic spells
are ripening and at work.
The chest breathes freely,
the heart bursts in delight,
striving to somehow reach unattainable heights,
another life, into another world,
into the realm of thoughts and dreams,
towards an unfathomed,
and very much hoped-for,
Those birds of passage, the summer holiday-makers
who have their vacation dachas here,
have long since flown away,
leaving behind them motley memories.
Only the peaceable long-settled Altai farmers are left,
busy on their small barley plots,
hurrying to take in the harvest.
Now and then a troupe of mounted hunters
will pass unhurriedly along the river, smoking their pipes.
Or an Altai woman, wearing the traditional chegedek,
will canter past on a chubby piebald horse,
with a clanking of metal ornaments in her plaits and on the saddle.
And again silence reigns,
again there is only the whispering of nature
and the wavering billows of gentle colours.
Again the Katun's song swells undisturbed,
again the chest breathes freely,
and no sad thoughts darken the mind.
Within sight, roll and ripple onward
the waters of a river; a mountain river lives.
Reflected in the gleaming surface of its pools,
its banks look even brighter,
even more picturesque than in real life.
You stand as if spell-bound under the wing of magic nature,
and feel like calling out to someone in delight.
Maybe to those people who live
in the far-away and dusty, stuffy cities,
or to those who are slaves
to the everyday hurly-burly and to petty cares,
soiled by the drudgery of ordinary living
— or perhaps to someone else:
"Leave everything and come to this valley,
at least on the wings of your imagination!
Behold the virginal purity of the Altai
and its beautiful maiden, the enchanting Katun,
this symbol of eternal life
and eternal striving forward...
In its waves you will feel the heartbeat of life,
you will become aware of the Spirit of the Universe
that has been awake in it since the Creation of the Earth..."
There it is, turbulent and passionate, overflowing,
a splashing emerald stream that plays
with all the colours of the rainbow.
All full of magic strength — all movement and life.
Fragrant pines cluster on its banks,
stretching their curly boughs towards it.
And from on high, crags and mountains
watch their reflections in its crystal-clear water.
The Katun is the good fortune and the adornment of the Altai.
The nomad worships it, composes songs eulogising it,
and hangs its banks with yalamas [sacrificial ribbons].
And the impetuous Katun, as though aware of all of this,
hurries forward, sounding with triumphant glory.
On the way it says its "farewell" to the mountains,
to all of the Altai... You can hear its soulful sighs,
which grow faint as they retreat into the depths
of the blue and misty mountain country
and cease altogether on reaching
the heart of the giant.
A day is drawing to its close, evening is falling.
As if by the manipulation of some magic hand,
light dove-coloured shadows start to creep along the mountain slopes.
In the rays of the setting sun, the distances drown in the transparent haze,
and just the far-away snow-caps sparkle in the golden air.
Colours deepen, the mountainscapes change.
And the Katun rolls quickly on,
lulling its waves to sleep.
The night has descended quietly
and spread its dark, soft wings,
has enveloped and clothed the Altai
in a secretive mist.
Silent stars begin to shine brightly above,
they gather like a chorus and pour a silver light
on the sleeping earth.
The giant peaks have shrunk and frozen in the night stillness.
The waterfalls have become quieter, the lakes do not shine,
and the tall, strong cedars make no noise.
Surrounded by strata of korum , the taiga  slumbers.
The night evokes strange tales and dreams...
In the weak light of campfire embers,
an Altayets [Russian name for a member of the native Turkic-speaking Altai ethnic group].
And dreams appear.
There appear before him old and peaceful years.
His mighty native land blooms, lives in health and purity.
Reborn are legends of a deep, grey antiquity,
about epic tales of old, about great heroes.
Songs sound, shamans' drums throb, sacred sacrifices
are offered up to the creator of the Altai, Uigen.
The wholesomeness of the people defends Yaik, Kurmush
and the mountain spirits from the dark and evil Eriik,
king of the under-regions.
And life in the Altai flows peacefully and freely.
There is no poisonous envy, the simple folk live as brothers.
The years fly quickly. The picture of life changes.
New people appear, envy rages, there is deceit, enmity, oppression.
Mercilessly are cut and burned the forests,
protective home to the noble moral (Altai elk).
The Altai, his provider of nurturance,
is being plundered and laid waste.
And deep misgivings remain in his soul...
In his prayers and songs the Altayets pours out his complaint,
but to many it is strange and not understood.
However his protector, the regal Altai does not sleep,
but stands on alert, listens to all the complaints of his sons,
knows their inescapable misfortune.
Awake and watching with him is the river Katun.
She also struggles on her way,
hurries to carry the Altai's grief out into the wide spaces
and to sweep it through the great world.
In deep midnight, when all is asleep,
from the bowels and chest of the mighty Altai
there escapes a heavy "groan."
Deep and rumbling like thunder,
it races through the sleeping toi^a
and echoes in the silver ripples
of the fast-flowing Katun.
With a quiet sigh she answers her loved-one
and presses still more tenderly,
still more tightly to his breast.
by Grigory Choros–Gurkin , 1915
NOTES (as provided by Gurkin in the original catalog)
1 korum — rocks that have fallen down from the mountains.
2 taiga or taika — in the Altai' language, those parts of the mountains above tree-line.
3 Uigen — supreme and good magical power.
4 Yaik — spirit protecting the home. He is an intermediary between the good man and evil spirits.
5 Kurmush — a good spirit protecting the Altai.
6 In the belief of the Altai people, this represents a conversation between mountains.
They say, in Russian, stomt dukh gory (the mountain spirit is groaning)
or, in Altaian, adyshtyat.
MY THANKS! are to my Siberian academic correspondent
Sasha in the regions of Novosibirsk
Grigory I. Gurkin (1870-1937) - Further Resources