The most memorable attractions in Kyzyl are ephemeral - meeting shamans, hearing throat-singing or watching a wrestling competition. Tuva's capital may grandly claim to be the 'centre of Asia', but architecturally it's mostly disappointing Soviet-era concrete. Fortunately, the central area's streets are pleasantly tree lined. From the riverside are quietly picturesque views across to a tiny Buddhist shrine on the unpopulated north bank. Behind that the steppe is backed by a horizon of arid, low mountains.
The town was founded in 1914 as Belotsarsk (White Tsarville). Whether to be pedantic or humorously ironic, the Soviet regime changed the name to Kyzyl, a Tuvan word which simply means 'red'.