Fyodor Konyukhov: ''If you go down Everest, your mind changes''

Legendary traveller tells Realnoe Vremya about UFO he met, modern icon painters and how to avoid going mad alone

Fyodor Konyukhov: ''If you go down Everest, your mind changes'' Photo: vistanews.ru

Famous Russian traveller and artist Fyodor Konyukhov was going to beat his record in Rybinsk on 25 January: to fly a balloon and remain in the air for over 50 hours. The most important thing that weather allow it, because the start was postponed many times for this reason. He recently participated in Dreams Come True charity project of a Petersburg hospice for kids and acquainted the kids with his works. After meeting with young pupils, the traveller talked to a correspondent of Realnoe Vremya and answered his questions. Particularly he told about future records, idols and friends from Tatarstan.

''People are also a prayer''

Mr Konyukhov, we visited the museum within Dreams Come True charity project, and you mentioned your pictures.

Yes, I am an artist.

The majority of readers know you as a traveller.

Yes, I have many pictures. Yes, I have a degree. Yes, I have a title. I am a member of the Academy of Arts. A lot of work was given in the USSR, nobody knew what kind of work it was. When I looked, I felt that somewhere here, at the museum, artists thought about art or expressed not themselves (it sounds dramatic) but their thoughts, nerves and vision. Most of us expressed their education: we were taught to paint that way – and we did it. We express our education that I can paint, I can make a composition. Now you look at old icons, it seems that something is wrong there – hands. And you understand that the icon painter did not have a degree, but he painted icons praying and fasting, he put his heart and soul into his work, and the icon had a spirit, he prayed for it, so to speak. Another thing is when you look that a person painted beautifully, everything is correct. Gold was added, a hand was featured correctly, the image was copied correctly, but there is no spirit, the icon painter neither prayed nor fasted, and he can paint.

''Yes, I have many pictures. Yes, I have a degree. Yes, I have a title. I am a member of the Academy of Arts. A lot of work was given in the USSR, nobody knew what kind of work it was. When I looked, I felt that somewhere here, at the museum, artists thought about art or expressed not themselves (it sounds dramatic) but their thoughts, nerves and vision.'' Photo: planetguide.ru

I read in your interviews that you were afraid of being alone and going mad during your first trips. Now you travel to stay alone. This is why I have two questions. How did you manage to avoid going mad being alone? Why do you need loneliness now?

No, I don't travel to stay alone: I like people, I don't escape from people. But I understand that I must be alone during an expedition. I change. I have been travelling for 50 years. If you go down Everest, your mind changes. You are different because your mind changes. It is clear that I changed as I became older. What was difficult when I was young – being alone – became easy. If earlier I spent my free time at gyms, exercised on the treadmill and in the park covering 50 km, now I spend my time in another way: I pray, fast, meet with people because people are also a prayer if you want to look into them correctly…

How did not you go mad when you were afraid of loneliness?

A drowning man will catch at a straw, so to speak. I was with saints whom I prayed for and God, this is why I did not go mad.

Why are you building a ship that looks like a cathedral?

It is a ship that looks like a cathedral in terms of architecture. This is why church is a ship in ups and downs of life. Why were all apostles in our Orthodox church sailors and fishermen? In other words, sea fishes, chains, anchors, ships and sails are our symbols. I just want a cathedral that looks like a ship.

Records, dreams and ideals

You also said you did not like to speak about the past but future.

The past is behind.

Today in the talk with guys you told about some of your plans: gliding and diving… Could you tell us in detail Fyodor Konyukhov's proximate plans?

There are big and small plans. For instance, we will set a world record in Rybinsk at the end of January – to be in the air in a balloon for 54 hours. A balloon is built for me in England, so I will be able to reach the stratosphere. It will be ready in 9 months. It will the biggest balloon on the planet – 100,000 cubic metres. Englishmen built the biggest balloon with a capacity of 65,000 cubic metres in 2006, and mine will have 100,000 cubic metres. I want to reach the stratosphere. It is like the Mariana Trench. How much soil was brought from the Moon? A lot of soil was brought from the Moon: robot stations, Americans and Russians in our country did it. There is no piece or stone from the bottom of the Mariana Trench because there were only two immersions: in 1960 when Yury Gagarin was alive, they dived 10,800 metres till a plateau. But there is a fracture of 11,250 metres. And James Cameron dived in 2012, he was there for 2 hours and went up. He wanted to have a sample, but his robot and onboard engines broke down. It will be a big achievement for scientists. There are lots of things to solve the puzzle of our planet – two plates join there (it is more valuable than the Moon or Mars).

''We will set a world record in Rybinsk at the end of January – to be in the air in a balloon for 54 hours.'' Photo: vk.com/fedor_konyuhov

Would you like to be the first space tourist?

No, I am a realist. I don't have this kind of ambitions that are impossible. I will prepare only for expeditions. I called Valentina Tereshkova… I wanted to see a scientific programme here. I think competitions are real. I don't see any reality in space. First of all, it is late, I am old. To tell the truth, I would like people to go to space, dive into the Mariana Trench, go to the Moon, Mars, any spaces, build underground cities, travel and paint. If only people did not fight on the planet. In the 60s when I was a kid, Gagarin went to space. Korolev wanted to build a huge spaceship to go to Mars when we lost the Moon. Americans went to Mars, we built Tolyatti and KAMAZ. The movement was so fast. On the Moon, people started to plan how scientists would live, what cities scientists would live in. It seemed to us that we would not drive cars in the 21 st century (it was in the 50s). But there was nothing but radio and air conditioner… As for the Moon… What can I say? There was no money. If we look at the USSR, the budget in the 60s, the budget at the end of the year was smaller than the budget of Moscow today. In the Soviet era, there were not billionaires, millionaires, there were not good roads, cars, clothes – people wore jerseys but dreamed and flew.

I read in your interview that you had an idol. And it is a Japanese traveller.

Yes, Naomi Uemura.

I was very surprised because people at your age have neither ideals nor idols.

I can't say he is an idol because I am Orthodox. Naomi Uemura is the first person in the world who reached the North Pole alone. Then a fight for the Grand Slam began. Uemura was the first person to open the era of travelling alone – he reached the North Pole alone in 1978. I went there with a team. In 1986, Jean-Paul Saint-Étienne (French) walked in the forest alone. In 1990, I was the first person from Russia and the third after Uemura who did it alone. So we started to compete: Uemura was on Everest, this why I started doing the same thing… There was a fight for the Grand Slam – who would reach Everest in various capacities, then the North and South Pole, travel around the world by yacht.

Why is he your idol?

Because he opened the era of lonely travellers. He was versatile: he rode a dog sled, was an alpinist, was going to travel by yacht…

Is it important for you to do it alone? Is it a way to be alone with the world?

Yes. When I was younger, a lonely traveller needed to know everything. If we were in the forest, one person fixed skis, another one cooked, somebody was responsible for walki-talkies, another person was a doctor. Lonely traveller is a navigator, radio operator, cook and doctor.

''Naomi Uemura is the first person in the world who reached the North Pole alone. Then a fight for the Grand Slam began. Uemura was the first person to open the era of travelling alone – he reached the North Pole alone in 1978. I went there with a team.'' Photo: nationalgeographic.com

I don't understand how you did not go mad.

I did not go mad because I am a religious person and I know there is no loneliness in the world – somebody is always present. There is a live ocean, fishes, dolphins, sky…

Who helps you?

Many people. I want to mention Sergey Kozubenko. He is a real beneficiary – he helps me as much as he can. He builds cathedrals, helps our athletes and sports veterans. He pays great attention to kids. He organised my visit here. He erected the monument to Vasily Shukshin in his homeland in Altai. He did many good deeds. Mr Kozubenko is a versatile and kind people. I wish we had more people like him.

Have you ever been in Kazan, Tatarstan?

Yes, I have. I would like to go to Tatarstan. I was there by car. I have friends there, I would like to visit them. It is a beautiful region, beautiful people. I would like to go there, I wish them all the best.

Can you remember any of your friends from Tatarstan?

Vladimir Belyakov, artists…

Doomed children

Mr Konyukhov, you met with pupils of the infant hospice. Who needed the meeting the most: children or their parents?

I think me.

Why?

Because when you look at kids and parents, you clear your soul. What would you do? Thank God you are in their place. You have also thought about it, right? How parents love their kids. There is this kind of children: Illarion was running. He will become a priest, he will go through it all. When we looked at Pavel, we understood the kid was doomed. I see how his mother loves him, she feels him. And I even look what beautiful hands he has, he has piano fingers. It was very touching to see such beautiful hands.

Did you hold back your tears?

You can hold them back, one can cry. It is written in the soul. It touched everybody.

''I dream of loving people more. This dream is difficult, you try going towards it. I will also pray here…and think about these kids. Probably I did not remember all their names but I do remember their faces. I will dream and pray that they, their parents, people who serve them and look after them will feel better.'' Photo: m24.ru

This campaign was called Dreams Come True. You made one of the kids' wishes real. I would like to know about your dreams. What is your greatest desire?

My dreams came true, you see, I have dreams. All people ask what I dream of. I dream of loving people more. This dream is difficult, you try going towards it. I will also pray here…and think about these kids. Probably I did not remember all their names but I do remember their faces. I will dream and pray that they, their parents, people who serve them and look after them will feel better. The chief doctor of the hospice said they had volunteers. I thought that nowadays we also had volunteers who come there and play with them for free. I would like to come here one day and spend it with the kids: to go for a walk with them, push a carriage, mould and paint with them, eat and sleep if they sleep after lunch. It is my dream – to pay greater attention to them including myself.

A boy who was sitting next to me (he did not have one leg) had scruples to ask you a question and made it to me. At first I was ashamed. Then I liked his question. ''Probably you travelled a lot and met aliens. Could you tell what you think about them?''

I did not meet just aliens. I met UFO. As an Orthodox and religious person, I know that God created our Earth, not only our Earth, he created the universe. Until we know that God created a person according to himself, a person is trying to know God's idea. We can't say we knew it. Humankind will have been living for thousand, two thousand years, it will always have to solve riddles. Once we will know UFO. For instance, we still don't know what ball lightning is as well as people did not know what lightning was two hundred years ago – but they knew it (they started to solve the puzzle when Lomonosov was alive). But they still don't know why ball lightning looks this way: it is so rare that scientists have nothing to start with. If you know what lightning is, it rains, it thunders, ball lightning can appear everywhere: I saw them in the mountains, in the balloon and I saw unidentified shining balls in the ocean. I think people will make discoveries every century. We studied only 3% of the world ocean, and I think we did even less, so to speak.

By Basyr Abdulov, Dilyara Akhmetzyanova