High-nosed antelope, chess and therapeutic clay: what is special about the Republic of Kalmykia?

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Source: buddhistdoor.net

This steppe region with its arid climate is famous for its blooming tulips and lotus flowers, the “singing” sand of the dunes, the high quality of its therapeutic mud, and its love of chess. Relevant tourist brochures have been prepared and we know why it is worth going there now. But before your departure, you need to get your Russian invitation and Russian visa first.


Can you find the exact location of the Republic of Kalmykia on a map of Russia? It is not “somewhere near Mongolia”, but not far from the centre, in the Volga region. It is surrounded by Astrakhan, Volgograd and Rostov regions, mining cities of the Caucasus, Dagestan and the Caspian Sea.

The Kalmyk Republic has so many “neighbours”, but it is unique and unlike anyone else – the whole region is an endless arid steppe, and only on the coast of the Caspian Sea the landscape is brighter – with sandy beaches, flowers and greenery. -there are beaches, flowers and green vegetation. In summer it is very hot and arid on the steppes and the air is dry; in winter it is cold again and there is usually no snow.

The capital of the Republic of Kalmykia is Elista and the best time to visit the region is from April to May and July to August.

Traditions of the Republic of Kalmykia

Source: https://rtd.rt.com/films/kalmykia-buddhism-monk-steppe/

In ancient times, steppe and nomadic peoples lived on the land of today’s Kalmykia. Cimmerians (or Cimmerians, Cimmerians), Scythians, Sarmatians, Huns, Pechenegs (or Patzinaks), and Kipchaks bartered at that time. Chincha Khanate (also called Golden Horde) appeared here, and they were followed by Western Mongol-Walla people. The descendants of the Kurgan people remain in the land – they are a valuable source of information about ancient traditions.

The folklore of the Kalmyk Republic – the epic poem “Jangal” about “Bomuba” (the ideal land, i.e. the land of the ultimate salvation of a short and absurd life) has been handed down to this day.

In 1943, the Kalmyks were relocated to Siberia. For a long time, the Kalmykians have stopped using their own language, dancing their own national dances and sewing their own national costumes, and at least a third of the population has died. Yet young people now proudly call themselves Wallachians, teach the Kalmyk language, and evoke the memory of a nearly lost national culture. A clear example is the “Tulip” folk dance and song troupe.

The current Kalmyk Republic has two cultural pillars – chess and Buddhism. There are many Mongolian monasteries in its territory, which are spiritual and cultural centers, and centers of Oriental and Tibetan medicine are developing.

The most popular activity and profession for the contemporary Kalmyk people is playing chess. People are drilling in schools and playing chess everywhere in the streets and parks. It is curious that the former leader of the Kalmyk Republic, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, fulfilled the “dream” of “Ostap Bandar” (the movie character) to turn Elista into the chess capital of the world by building a Chess City. In the main building there is a comfortable, modern tournament room, and there is a museum.

National and religious festivals of the Republic of Kalmykia

Old Khurul Syakusn-Syume (Sәkүsn-sүm). Photo by Anton Maksimov juvnsky on Unsplash

At the end of February and the beginning of March the Kalmyk people sing and dance away the cold winter and welcome the blossoming spring, and celebrate the “Tsagaan Sar” (Mongolian New Year).

In April, tulips bloom on the steppes of the Republic of Kalmykia, and the flowering period dedicated to the holiday lasts for a month.

The third weekend of April is the National Steppe Day of the Republic of Kalmykia. The main theme of the festival is to state the need to treat the fragile ecosystems seriously and responsibly.

In May-June, the Buddhist festival “Vesak” is celebrated, during which the main events in the life of Siddhartha Gautama took place, the exact date of the festival depends on the lunar calendar.

May 29, 2018, is the date of Buddha Shakyamuni’s Christmas, attainment of Buddhahood and Nirvana.

If you are not a Buddhist and want to visit the Kalmyk Republic in the summer, do it in late July or August. This is the time when you can see the incredible beauty – the lotus pond in full bloom.

On the third Saturday of September, the citizens of Elista celebrate “City Day”. Around this time, the “Jangalida” equestrian festival and the Buddhist “Jangalup” ceremony for prosperity and wealth are held.

October 27 is the birthday of the living Buddha of the Kalmyk Republic, Erdeni Basanovich Omphadikov. In mid-autumn, a ceremony called “Tolkiak” is held to remove the obstructive and ambiguous consciousness of Buddhists. Genghis Khan’s birthday is considered a big holiday, and each year, the date varies according to the lunar algorithm, but generally falls in early November.

The end of the year is celebrated with the arrival of the Buddha from the “Dushan” and the Kalmykian New Year “Zul”, before which the ritual of praying for longevity is usually performed.

What to see in the Republic of Kalmykia

The Golden Abode of the Buddha Shakyamuni (source: rbth.com)

The most striking man-made sight in the Republic of Kalmykia is the “Zakura” (Institute for the study of Buddhism) in Elista, called the “former residence of Buddha Shakyamuni”. It is the largest Buddhist monastery in Europe, built-in 2005. It has the largest statue of Buddha in Europe, covered with gold leaf and precious stones. There are more than 30 Mongolian monasteries in Kalmykia. They are all interesting for those who are interested in them.

To enter the temples, you need to take off your shoes, so in cold weather you need to wear woolen socks.

The most unique place in the Republic of Kalmykia is Chess City in Elista with its halls for lessons and tournaments, thematic statues and the “Mikhail Tal” (former Soviet and Latvian chess player, eight-time chess world champion) Chess Museum. The chess city is full of plants from other countries, which you can admire but are not allowed to touch. Also, please do not forget to see the statue of “Ostap Bender”.

Chess City

In Elista, it is worth seeing the statue of the cunning old man from the folk epic “Kayeda”; the “Seven Days” pagoda (pagoda); the “Golden Gate” in Friendship Park (the “Golden Gate” is called “Alten-Bosch” in Kalmykian); the interactive museum of Mongolian culture; the 11-meter high Stupa of Enlightenment – a repository of sacred Buddhist relics.

The most visited place in the Republic of Kalmykia is the One Tree on the steppe. This is a 140-meter-tall poplar tree planted by a monk at the beginning of the 20th century. Next to it there is a cultural building – the Stupa of the Wheel of Time. Please come and touch the bark of this amazing tree, remain silent and stay a little while. This unique poplar and the sacred stupa are located near the town of Khar-Buluk.

If you want to get acquainted with the traditional way of life in Kalmykia, go to the tourist complex “Oiratskii Stan”. There you will be entertained with national cuisine, invited to tea and archery, and people will tell you about horse and camel breeding.

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