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Vienna | 1.2.2008 | 17:22 
God, what's happening in the world! A reality check on the web.

Chris, DaddyD, Zita

  In the last Century Siberia was the dumping ground for political dissidents (or anyone the authorities didn't like). Rasputin was born there and you still may come across an old Shaman. But what now for this vast region east of the Urals?
dpa/EPA/Sergei Ilnitsky
From Giessen to Sedelnikovo
  My mind turned to Siberia over the last fortnight when I heard that German authorities were sending a violent 16-year-old guy to Siberia, hoping that the tough, outdoor life there would help improve his behaviour. We're told, "If he doesn't chop the wood, his room is cold. If he doesn't fetch water, he can't wash." But Siberia is more than cold tundra wastes (and German rowdys on temporary placements). It is also the land of Rasputin, so called old-believers and Shamans.
Siberian Extremes
  Let's get the amazing facts and figures out of the way. Siberia is huge, in fact it's as large as China and India combined but it contains about the same number of people that live in Poland. It can get cold - the lowest temperature at any inhabited place was recorded in Siberia: -72 Celsius. But if you hit some of the southern cities in mid-Summer it's hot and watch-out for the rather nasty ticks; they are a serious problem in June/July (good advice from the Lonely Planet's Mark Elliot) who also told me:

"take the Trans-Siberian Express, stop off at one of the unobvious places and ask about a home-stay (living with locals in a village house)... and if you end up in Western Tuva make sure you take a local guide with you. In your average hospital here about 50% of hospital inmates have been knifed" (Gulp!)
Colin Thubron
  On the short list of great contemporary travel writers - Colin Thubron ranks highly with his work "In Siberia". So it was to Colin I had to turn for the low-down of Siberia mysticism; his own quest to find an authentic Shaman wasn't easy.

"They were virtually eliminated by Stalin during the 1930s, they were shot or exiled or simply vanished. In the part I was in (the South of Tuva), there was one old man whose father had been a Mongolian hunter who had known quite a bit about Shamanism. He had studied Buddhism and Shamanism together but I could never quite discover from him whether he had ever been able to enter the trance in the classical sense of flying the underworld, but he had the regalia - the drum & the mirror"
  Hear more about "Siberian Encounters" with Steve Crilley on Reality Check, this Saturday at 12 midday (or click here and download the podcast after the show).
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