Our first stop in Russia was a village in Buryatia province, Eastern Siberia. Buryatia is special because (Intriguing Fact #1) it’s the centre of Russian Buddhism. This is something most Russians don’t even realise.
This region was once a part of Mongolia, but transferred to Russia in 1689 and 1727. It’s home to the Buryats, a Mongolic people and Siberia’s largest indigenous group.
This village where we stayed is special for two reasons: it’s the home town of Agvan Dorzhiev, who was the teacher, advisor, and ‘debating partner’ to the 13th Dalai Lama – that’s the one before our current, eternally smiling Lama.
Intriguing Fact #2: In 1913, when Tibet and Mongolia were both trying to gain independence from China, Dorzhiev was one of signatories to a treaty between the two states declaring mutual recognition and allegiance. This may have helped Mongolia gain its independence. (It didn’t work out so well for Tibet.)
A few years ago on the outskirts of this village, some Buryats built a nomad camp to demonstrate how their people traditionally lived: games, songs, clothes, Buddhism, and yurts. For example, yurts are always arranged on the cardinal points: The door faces south. Inside, an altar is put on the north side, and a chair for guests. On the west side, men of the family hang out or work. On the east side, women of the family.
We spent 2 nights in our own yurt – of course keeping to our respective sides at all times. During the day we met all sorts of local characters at the nomad camp. One day 1 it was two ungulates (of the Bactrian variety) that really enjoyed posing for selfies. And on day 2 it was a Buryat (of the friendly-giant variety) who took us out into the steppe, collecting empty vodka bottles from the roadside along the way. We then shot them with his Kalashnikov.
It was the most Russian. Day. Ever.
<–> <–> <–> <–> <–> <–>Check out the photo gallery below from Buryatia. [Spoken in the strong Russian accent, with a Kalashnikov in my hands]: I highly recommend you click the images, to open them full-screen. Use your arrow keys to move between them.
Thanks for getting all the way down here! Your reward:
Intriguing Fact #3: The Russian word for shooting a gun comes from archery; it literally means “arrowing”.
Intriguing Facts #4, #5, and #6: In 1947 Mikhail Kalashnikov designed the famous AK47 (hence the name). Why design guns? He had survived WW2 and overheard too many soldiers complain about the reliability of existing Soviet guns. In his childhood, as the seventeenth (!) of nineteen kids, he actually dreamt of becoming a poet; he blames the Nazis for making him become a gun designer. He once said he’d have preferred to invent more helpful machines than guns, “For example, a lawn mower”.