Within the steppes of Tuva, close to the Valley of Kings, you can find a Feynman diagram carved into the rock. You can’t help but wonder how this mark of theoretical physics wound up there.
In 1977, physics Nobel Prize laureate Richard P. Feynman challenged his young friend Ralph Leighton with the question, “What ever happened to Tannu Tuva?” This led the two friends to try to reach the remote land, which at that time was an autonomous republic within the Soviet Union—and not exactly a place an American could visit during the Cold War.
Sadly, Feynman passed away in 1988, just before he would have been allowed to travel to Tuva. But the spirit of his plans lived on.
Leighton and his fellow travelers finally reached Tuva in 1991. In honor of his friend, Leighton installed a memorial plaque near the Centre of Asia monument in Kyzyl, though it was soon destroyed. In 2018, Leighton returned with family and friends and found this special place to install a lasting memorial to Feynman and his unfulfilled wish to reach Tuva.
The whole story of this endeavor is written in Ralph Leighton’s book Tuva Or Bust! Richard Feynman’s Last Journey.
Know Before You Go
Today, the Tuva Republic is part of the Russian Federation. You can best get into Tuva by flying to Abakan and taking a taxi to the Tuvan capital Kyzyl. On the main road from Abakan to Kyzyl, just before reaching the village of Turan, you turn right in direction of Arzhan, also sign-posted (in English) to the Valley of Kings. At the archeological site of "Arzhaan 2," you turn left on a track road, past a farm, follow the power lines up to a small pass between rocky hills. Park your car on the pass and walk some 200 meters on a footpath in a southwestern direction. With sharp eyes you can find the diagram, about one meter wide, on a flat rock facing south.