November 2004, His Holiness Dalai Lama visited the Republic of Kalmykia in the Russian Federation. This event revives my long but latent interest in this republic situated in European Russia, with a size comparable to Scotland, and surrounded by the Caspian Sea and Astrakhan to its east, Stavropol and Dagestan to its south, Rostov to its west, Volgograd to its north.
What makes Kalmykia special is the somewhat obscure presence of Tibetan Buddhism in this ethnic and religious enclave in continental Europe. In this vast steppe between the Volga and the Don, one does not seem to expect Tibetan Buddhist temples in which incense are burnt, and monks recite prayer in Tibetan scripts. Even the national flag of Kalmykia features a lotus - the very symbol of Buddhism, and colour yellow that signifies the Geluk sect. In this republic, steppe law is the constitution.
The Kalmyk are descendants of a Mongolian branch called Oirat. After the fall of the Mongol Empire in 14th century, the Oirat moved slowly across the Siberian Steppe and settled down by the Caspian near the mouth of the Volga. They called they land Qalmg Tangc, while the Russian called them Kalmyk, and thus the name of the Republic. The Asian identity of the Kalmyk is nothing more obvious than the face of the current president of the republic Kirsan Ilumzhinov.
The trip to Kalmykia will be more challenging than any journeys taken previously for the following reasons: the nation is not a tourist spot and is not covered by any travel guide book in the world, as oppose to those seemingly remote destinations such as Timbuktu. Thus transportation, accommodation and other daily issues must be fully researched before departure. Another outstanding challenge is language. Unlike other third-world but tourist countries, few here will be expected to speak English. This poses an issue especially for a trip with a research intention. Finally, most Russian republics inherit the bureaucratic system from the soviet system. Ordinary Russian visa may not be good in this region. All the above problems will be addressed in the detail plan section.
in Wikipedia - an overview of the country
Kalmykia Embassy in Moscow - includes useful general info, history, culture etc.
Kalmykia Government's Website - not much information
Kalmykia President's Website - President Ilumzhinov's rather amateurish personal website
Kalmyk American Society - simple but may be useful to find contacts
St. Petersburg Times' Featuring Article about Kalmykia
F.U.O.K - opposition voice against President Kirsan Ilumzhinov but contains some practical travel info
South Russia: the Heart Land or Softbelly - a geopolical thesis
Francois Grin, Kalmykia: from Oblivion to Reassertion?, Working Paper, European Centre for Minority Issues 2002
Russian Buddhism on the Internet - contains some interesting photos
Photo Gallery for Dalai Lama Visiting Kalmykia