Monday, June 20, 2011

Elista _ Kalmykia Republic

Many tourists coming to Russia will never imagine that buddhist republics exist here.Afterall, majority of the population in Russia are orthodox christians.

I brought up the idea of checking out Elista (Chess city) of Russia to a friend whom I met in Moscow,Alma.(Alma means apple in the Kalmyk language!)I met Alma during Kickboxing class in Pleshka ( academy where I did my university study exchange in 2009).She is from Elista and she invited me to stay with her during my time in Elista.

After my studies in Petrozavodsk in May 2010, I took a train down to Moscow to catch a bus from Moscow to Elista , on route to the Ukraine where I will be spending 12 days.

It was a 20+hour bus ride from Moscow.Alma had arranged the bus tickets for me with the bus driver.Most of the people on the bus were asian looking.Yes!Asian looking Russians.I felt just at home.Blending into the crowd,except that I was in very shabby backpacker clothes and carrying a huge backpack.

Alma and her brother Maxim greeted me at the bus station and brought me to their very nice apartment in the city center.Her father is the head of the village which rears the best cows.Very impressive indeeed.I wished that I got to see the village too!

Elista indeed does have some impressive attractions.

The golden temple is known to be the biggest temple in Europe.It is a procedure for Buddhists to walk one round around the temple spinning the drums.spin each small drum 3 times and spin the big drums once.Leave a bronze and silve kopek(russian coins) near the drums for blessings.There was a delegation from Saint Petersburg visiting the temple as well.A Kalmyk man was leading them and came up to talk to us when he heard Alma speaking to me in english.He is a lawyer from Saint Petersburg and was showing his delegation from Saint Petersburg the temple.A woman in his delegation has even been to Singapore and she told me about how impressed she was with my country.She spoke about the conference which she attended there and Orchard Road.He even asked the monks to stop and take a photo with me.Priceless!

My gracious hosts later brought me to the famed Chess city.It was 6pm and Chess city was extremely quiet and there was few people in sight.A modern building and many new houses built around it.They were all new,but eeriely empty.These houses are used to house chess players when they come to Elista for chess competitions.A relatively new establishment.This is the brainchild of the currently Kalymkia president who is a huge fan of chess.Kalmykia has churned out some chess prodigies and the students from the city are known to be extremely intelligent as well.Whether this will attract tourists, remains to be seen.But at the point of time when i was there, it was empty, silent and looked like a waste of money....

Alma and her brother brought me out for Shaslik at Elista's best Shaslik eatery that night (barbecued meat-caucasus).It was then i found out that Buddhist people in Russia eat beef but do not eat pork.It seems quite contradictory to the dietary habits of buddhists in Singapore.They invited their cousin, a doctor in Kalmykia along.A charming young man, i hope he earns a decent salary in Elista working as a doctor ( even though i know that doctors are severally underpaid in Russia ).I got to try the famed Kalmyk tea.A tea brewed with horse milk and butter.The tea at this eatery reminded me alot of mushroom soup.It was really unique and good.But it was hard to call it tea for it was so rich.The meal was fantastic and to top it off ,my hosts refused to let me pay the bill.Such graciousness!
 The one attraction that is extremely interesting in Elista is the national museum.Paintings of local Kalmyk artists were featured and there was an exhibition on buddhism as well.The museum has even put up some exhibits of a traveller who had traced the route of Ghengis Khan on a horse.Can you imagine a man riding a horse across different countries these days? Well, that actually happened.Those crazy foreigners!

Elista has some interesting statues showcasing the sufferings of war.Wagons which was used to send the Kalmyks to Siberia during the Stalin regime.There is also has a small russian church at the russian district.The ethnic russians belong to the minority group in Kalmykia.

The problem for tourism in Elista is that the different attractions are pretty far apart in the city and is so much easier to see only if you have a car.My hosts were driving me around to see the best of Elista!

Just before I left Elista,they brought me to a Kalmyk resturant the next day where their ethnic food was cooked.Mutton soup.It was similar to what we had in Singapore.I remember the meals fixed by Alma's granny.A really cheerful lady ,always smiling and in a good mood since her grandchildren are back home.The borshiki (you tiao equivalent ) , the plov, Kalmyk tea and mantis.

It felt like home.And it was fantastic being around warm and friendly people who want to show you the best of their city.

I bought a huge book of Kalmyk fairy tales.It is in Russian and very nicely illustrated.It has been 1 year since i had the book.I've only read 1 page!I swear that i'll get started on reading a chapter this weekend!

I left Elista happy .Happy to meet Alma again,happy to find out that Elista is indeed one of Russia's jewels and such an amazing city!

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