Arshan, Buryatia and Siberian Shamans

Note: some posts as this one are not in chronological order.

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I had heard about Buryatia only marginally without any clear idea about its location, culture or anything else, until I actually found myself crossing into the area. Buryatia feels like a separate state with its own language, culture and buddhism as an official religion, plus Buryats look more like Mongols than Russians. There are even remote areas in Buryatia, where Russia’s power is virtually nonexistent and local laws are what counts. I went to a place called Arshan, a small resort village in Tunka valley in the base of the Sanya Mountains. It is a mixed village of Russians and Buryats. Such a mix is not exactly a healthy option, as both groups dislike each other. The head of the family at which place I stayed in is a very smart man, but some things he said about Buryats were simply mind-boggling.

Arshan is mostly known for its foul-tasting lukewarm mineral water, which flows out of the ground (free of charge too!) and as a base-camp for hiking in Sanya mountains. The valley itself is a spectacular sight, a vast field with few trees and rare scattered villages. The valley is guarded by mountains on three fronts, which isolate the villages from outside world and are responsible for a local micro-climate. As for the mountains they are majestic: massive, high enough not to be boring (with the highest peak being more than 3km), a picturesque Kyngyz canyon with a mountain river flowingand numerous waterfalls. I was lucky to get two sunny days, providing enough time for exploring nearby areas. It snowed once too showcasing the mountains in a completely different light. It was nice to get a small taster of Siberian winter without feeling it in the full force except those extremely chilly/moisty mornings and strong winds once. Apparently it winds very rarely there, but when it does, it is nothing short of a hurricane. Numerous fallen trees up in the mountains confirmed this.

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There are a couple of shamans in the village with the most powerful one aptly named Rasputin. The guy is very popular and people are coming to visit him from Irkutsk. After brain-storming the question for two days, I decided to pay a visit him, but by the time I got there (before 9 in the morning), the line was too long to wait. Plus the morning chill made queuing less than pleasant. Oh well, maybe the next time. On the other hand I met a practicing zen buddhist in the village, who invited me to his place. The fellow claimed to be almost one hundred years and made an impression of the person in the know. Definitely one of the most interesting encounters so far.

All in all, loved the mountains. Arshan is a mixed bag, but rather fine. I would love to visit it once again, in the summer time and equipped with camping gear. Pictures coming as soon as I figure out NextGen Gallery.

PS: For all practical purposes I could not spot any differences between Finnish sauna and Russian banya (баня).