Monday, April 26, 2010


Kalmykia is a country in Europe.

No, really. At least it's a state, a Republic in Southern Russia. I don't think I had ever heard of it before. It's in the Caucasus, one of those many obscure tribes that live there in the mountains, mostly hating their neighbors. There are a dozen dialects among the 300,000 Kalmyks, if that tells you anything about the level of fellow-feeling in the homeland.

I may have heard of it before, because it was one of those groups that Stalin internally deported in entirety to Siberia and Kazakhstan, which I did know about. But Stalin did that to lots of groups, so I may be confusing them with someone else. Kruschev allowed them back during destalinazation, but apparently clumps of them had already settled in Belgrade or Sofia (frying pan, fire) and Paterson, New Jersey (slightly better) and weren't coming back.

I thought being a tourist there, however briefly, would be quite a novelty. I mean, everyone's been to Romania these days. The Kalmykia tourism sites had pictures of two very interesting Buddhist temples, so I thought it worth exploring further. But apparently, these are the only two interesting buildings in the country, as they are the only ones mentioned, no matter how many sites you go to. Kalmykia also has a nature preserve of some sort called the Black Lands that has a unique antelope. It's on the Caspian Sea but you can't go there, as the Russians have the access guarded. The national beverages you are urged to try are a milk tea with salt, a sour horse milk, and milk vodka. I'm seeing a trend here.

You can get there from Volgograd by minivan taxi, but you have to wait until all four seats are filled before they'll go. There is a weekly flight from Moscow. The category of how to get there by car is blank. I guess if you rent a car in Calais and get on the E40 to Kazakhstan, you could take a side trip out of Astrakhan. Maybe there's a road or something. I wouldn't mention your plans at the car agency, however.

Don't ask how I stumbled on all this.

1 comment:

Gringo said...

Comment 1: a troll.

The sour milk and sour milk w vodka sounds rather Mongolian. Perhaps some of the former conquerers settled down here. Which might also explain the Buddhists.