With the Telengit herders in Argut Gorge, Altay
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We stopped for the night with the Telengit sheepherders at their winter-range camp in Argut Gorge, just downriver from the confluence with Yedyghem.
The Telengit people use grasslands of Argut riverbanks to graze sheep and yaks in winter. The winter is so dry in the intermountain valleys of Altay that the snow is completely gone by mid-winter, evaporated despite the constant below-freezing temps. The winter horse trail passes the narrows, and crosses from one river bank to another, on river ice. Once the ice at these extreme-class whitewater rapids begins to melt, the trail closes the season. It takes 3 to 4 days of mounted travel to cover the entire trail, and it is the only way to procure any vodka.
In mid-March 1988, when we met the Telengits, they were already on the move upriver, to the spring pastures, in anticipation of the ice melt. We did not use their stock trail, finding it faster and more fun to ski the river ice, but we stopped at their riverside camps twice.
The Telengits (and closely related Teleuts, also collectively known as Chuj-kizhi i.e. Chuya Basin People) have been recently officially recognized as a distinct indigenous people od Russia. In the earlier used, they were lumped together with Altay-kizhi taiga dwellers, their neighbors to the North. Telengit language is an archaic and Mongol-influenced Turkic, and their dominance over the steppe intermountain valleys of Altays dates back to the upheavals of early Tang dynasty era, and to the obliteration of Eastern (Blue Turk) Qaghanat by the ascending Emperor Taizong in A.D. 630.
After the campaign of 630, some ex-Qaghanat tribes of Tele (Chin. Dingling) moved to Altay and subjugated Qarlug of Irtysh Basin and Kyrgyz of Enisey Basin. In the following decades, expeditionary forces of the Tang destroyed Tele's regional dominance, but they held on to their Altay heartland ever since.