Novice tourists strive to get to know the world in all its various forms. To do this, they travel to all corners of the planet, marveling at unexplored cultures, climate, nature and incredible places. Experienced travelers treat the choice of routes more consciously and deliberately, therefore they pay attention to lesser-known places that have retained their flavor and amaze with their pristine nature. Such places include an amazing land – Kalmykia, which brings down an avalanche of unexpected emotions and impressions on the tourist.
Although it is located very close (neighboring the Astrakhan, Rostov regions, Stavropol Territory and Dagestan), during a visit one gets the feeling that the traveler is not only on the other side of the planet, but also on a completely different pole of civilization and culture.
The Republic of Kalmykia, located in the Southern Federal District of Russia, has a slightly less than 300 thousand population. Despite such a small population, its territory exceeds the area of the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium or Denmark. There is a lot of information about all these countries, and tourist flows do not dry up there. At the same time, they don’t talk about Kalmykia in the news, they don’t write in well-known Internet publications, and even with all the desire to learn something new about it, it’s quite difficult. But this does not mean at all that there are few amazing places here. It’s just that Kalmyks are a people who lead a rather closed lifestyle, not trying to praise themselves or flaunt their merits.
Kalmykia appeared on the world map in the 17th century, when the Western Mongols or Oirats, as the Kalmyks call themselves, left Dzungaria and founded the Kalmyk Khanate in the same place where they still live. The reason that forced them to leave their former homeland was the shortage of pastures where you can graze livestock. The new territories were ideal for this: you can still drive across the Kalmyk steppes for several hours without meeting a single person, but watching the endless steppes outside the car window.
Already in the first half of the 18th century, the khanate became very powerful. Peter I, during his reign, in every possible way distinguished the Kalmyk Khan from his many subjects and even entrusted him with the protection of the southern border at the moments when he spent a long time abroad.
Although Kalmykia has never been populous, external enemies have always feared military clashes with it, because such selfless warriors, capable of sacrificing their lives for the freedom of their people, can only be found in China and Korea.
Oasis in the steppe
A third of the total population of this republic lives in Elista – the capital, which is the youngest regional center of Russia. Its name sounds like it’s Greek, but in fact this word is translated from the Kalmyk language as “steppe”. The city got its name from the name of the river that flows along the capital.
The city was badly damaged during the bombing of the Second World War, so very old buildings in the city cannot be found. Nevertheless, it can surprise even seasoned tourists.
In 1998, an amazing object was erected in Elista – the “City-Chess” Chess Town. It was built to host the XXXIII World Chess Olympiad. The central object is the Chess Palace, which is made in the form of a wagon. In 2001, the Museum of Chess Glory was opened here, which is visited with pleasure not only by chess players, but also by people far from this sport.
In this town, which meets all European standards, residential buildings are being erected, a thematic landscape design has been developed, which makes it a unique public, cultural, business and tourist site.
Love and respect for chess is cultivated among Kalmyks at the general educational level: the head of the republic, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, during the reformation of the educational system, made the study of the basics of playing chess mandatory for all schoolchildren of the republic.
All guests of Kalmykia note how many amazing traditions associated with cuisine and gastronomy exist in this republic. The main characteristic feature is the satiety of all dishes, since during the nomadic lifestyle that this people led for centuries, it was often impossible to eat. Often lunch was the only meal. Plus, great physical activity forced people to make all meals as high-calorie as possible. A tourist who orders food in a restaurant in Kalmykia needs to be prepared for the fact that even behind the usual name, something completely unexpected can be hidden.
For example, few people, when ordering tea, will be ready that they will bring him a strong brew with the addition of not only milk, as is customary in many countries, but also with the addition of butter, salted and pepper ground pepper, seasoned with cinnamon or nutmeg.
In the composition of many Kalmyk dishes, you can find giblets and intestines, which at first glance repel people whose culture does not accept such “exotic” ingredients. But after they decide to taste these dishes, everyone notes their pleasant taste.
Botanists know that there are 140 species of tulips on earth, and the largest number of them in the wild is not in Holland, as many believe, but in Kalmykia. There is an amazing island located inside the Manych-Gudylo island, where you can meet 100 different types of tulips. In spring, the protected island presents an unforgettable palette of lilac, red, yellow, white and burgundy colors. Having seen this amazing sight once, it is already impossible to forget the blooming paradise.
The presence of this beauty prompted the government to hold the Tulip Festival every year in April, which attracts a lot of tourists who want to see this impressive sight. Before visiting this event, you need to familiarize yourself with the main rule: picking tulips is strictly prohibited, you can only admire them.
According to an old legend, in the steppe you can find a blooming black tulip, which is able to fulfill the cherished desire of the person who discovered it. Such a flower can be met for the only time in your life, and this meeting will become a guarantee of mandatory happiness and long years. The main thing is to keep secret the place where the black tulip was found.
Kalmykia is the only country in Europe where Buddhism is the main religion. People who want to touch the secrets and culture of the East do not have to fly to distant countries, they can plunge into Buddhism here.
The faith that the Kalmyks profess is reflected in their character and worldview. They philosophically and calmly endure all the hardships, hardships and sudden joys. Jealousy and schadenfreude are not characteristic of these people, but they have the wisdom and amazing peace that is inherent in Buddhism.
The Kalmyks do not stop keeping in touch with the Dalai Lama, despite the fact that they are separated by vast spaces. He visited Kalmykia several times, and although these visits were short, they are very important for the local population.
Seven Days Pagoda
The amazing sights of this republic are associated with Buddhism. In 2005, the Seven Days Pagoda was opened on the central square of the capital, which is not inferior in beauty to the most beautiful pagodas in the world. This building marks the exit from samsara to attain nirvana in Buddhism.
Inside the pagoda, there is a huge drum that is used during prayers. Its height is 1.8 m, and its diameter is 1.2 m. Such a gift from Kalmykia was made by Indian lamas. The instrument weighing 2 tons is encrusted with gold letters, and inside it are stored 75 million mantras.
Fountains are built around the pagoda, and no traveler can resist taking a souvenir photo against the backdrop of this beautiful architectural masterpiece. But the main attraction is the Golden Abode of Buddha Shakyamuni, which is the largest Buddhist temple in Europe. The premise of the temple is so huge that it easily accommodates a museum, a library, several conference rooms, a nine-meter statue of Buddha, the residence of the head of the Buddhists of Kalmykia, and much more.
Even nature is supportive of the Kalmyks in their faith, therefore, on the territory of the Caspian zone, you can see a beautiful sight here – amazing lotus fields. The lotus is an iconic symbol of Buddhists, and for the local population, the preservation of these natural thickets is a very important mission.
From 1993 to 2001, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov became the head of the Republic of Kalmykia four times in a row, who is greatly appreciated by the Kalmyks. He is an interesting and worthy person, but he singles out an amazing fact from the general line of Kirsan’s politicians, which he announced in 2001 on Radio Liberty.
Ilyumzhinov claims to have been in contact with aliens. Later, he repeatedly confirmed this fact, to which different publications relate with varying degrees of confidence. One thing is certain: Kirsan Nikolayevich became the only politician of such a high rank who made such statements.
Remaining an active and energetic person, Ilyumzhinov is an honorary member of the Russian Academy of Arts, since 1995 he has been the head of the FIDE Chess Federation, and in 2013 Kirsan Nikolaevich took part as an actor in the series. In his honor, grateful compatriots named one heavenly body. It is likely that choosing among all the inhabitants of Kalmykia, the aliens would have chosen just such a versatile and interesting person.
An amazing natural phenomenon – the Big Yalshatinskoye Lake – a place where people come not only in search of impressions, but also in an effort to improve their health. The people call this reservoir the Salt Lake, although in the old days it was called Dzhalginsky. It feeds on storm water, melt and underground streams.
Back in the 19th century, salt was mined from it on an industrial scale. At that time, a huge production was organized on the coast, which employed 500 workers. Most of them were retired soldiers who suffered from rheumatic diseases. After finishing their work in the salt production, most of them were surprised to find that the health problems that had plagued them for years were gone. Since then, people have begun to use the salt of this lake for treatment.
The composition of the salts of the Yalshatinsky lake was repeatedly studied, the last large-scale study was carried out by scientists in 2001. Its results have confirmed that the therapeutic characteristics of the Kalmyk Lake muds are superior even to the famous mud resorts of the North Caucasus. Here you can not only improve the functioning of the circulatory system, heal from inflammation or improve the state of the nervous system, but also rejuvenate the body, therefore, the mud of the salt lake is used for cosmetic procedures.
The so-called “Singing dune” is located 150 km from the capital, which is the highest dune in the Caspian zone. They call him singing for a reason: if you get into this amazing place during strong winds, you can hear a strange sound heard between the elevations. It resembles playing some unknown wind instrument. Since calm weather in these places is rare, you can often hear the “invisible musician”.
The sandy landscape, reminiscent of the deserts of Egypt or Africa, is complemented by the figures of camels living here in freedom. They are under state protection, so they are not afraid of people and let them get close enough. It is impossible to call this place deserted: there are excellent locations for filming films, clips and advertisements, therefore, quite often here you can find film crews creating new videos, and photographers with cameras taking amazing shots for famous publications.
Visitors to this republic in a short period of time can learn and see so many amazing places, facts and get unexpected emotions concentrated here at every step. Here, the progressiveness of youth and deep respect for the roots of their people, the beauty of flowering steppes and the harshness of constant winds, modern residential areas and Buddhist temples that pop up between them, incredible self-control of the Kalmyks and their unshakable faith in their own strengths are surprisingly combined.