13 Aug, 2009
Posted by: Scott In: The Rally
Instead of heading in a diagonal line towards Kazakhstan we decided to go south and then over so that we could see Kalmykia, the only Buddhist province in Russia. Situated in the middle of the jut of Russia that contains Volgograd, Kalmykia is a mostly agricultural province with an extremely high Asian-population. As we headed out of Volgograd the change was immediate. All of a sudden the people were Asian and there were plains and livestock everywhere. It was a big change from Volgograd. I’m not sure as to why there is a Buddhist province in Russia, but it’s there!
We arrived in the capital city after nightfall. Our attention was immediate drawn by a large Asian-style pavilion in the center of the city square, with a pray wheel in the middle. There were throngs of people out and about on that cool night, and it was amazing to realize that we might as well be in the middle of China! Almost everyone was Asian, and there were many inquisitive stares as we walked the length of the park. We were searching for accommodation, as we didn’t have anything booked for the night. Unfortunately for us, there are rarely signs that actually say ‘hotel’ on them–they usually just say the name of the hotel in Russian (as they do in the U.S., in English of course). This makes finding a hotel quite difficult if you don’t know your way around. We asked a a taxi driver but he was less than helpful as we were in no need of his services. We decided to get back into the car to see what we could find outside of the city center.
Heading out it seemed as if our choices were few. We decided to get some gas and perhaps ask the attendant if he knew where a gastinitza (hotel) was. Collin went in to pay for the gas while I manned the pump. An old Lada comes screeching into the station and stops at the pump opposite. A young blonde-haired guy gets out and comes over to me with his passport, speaking Russian, asking if I had a marker to do something to his passport with. I had no idea what he was talking about, but he was obviously extremely drunk. His more-sober friend came over and asked about our car and I explained what we were doing and that we were looking for a hotel. He offered to lead us to one, and we followed him back to the city center (after the drunk one jumped in the car and did a half-donut in the gas station lot to show us the power of the car…right in front of a cop who proceeded to scold him but do nothing else).
We found a pretty expensive place in various levels of disrepair right across from the city square we had just been in. Seeing as we were tired and wanted to find someplace quick we paid up and threw our bags into the room. The drunk guy kept mentioning something about us giving him $5 for helping us, but I refused and acted like I didn’t know what he was talking about. Once I explained that we were doing a charity rally he stopped asking for money and instead shook both of our hands. I think he thought we were rich and doing some sort of rally for prize money. The two guys joined us by our car for some drinks along with the sober one’s sister and girlfriend. Again, no one spoke any English, but we kept some sort of dialogue going for quite some time before a cop came over and talked to the guys about drinking outside. I thought it was OK in Russia, but apparently not. This kind of killed the mood, and they headed off home while we headed off to our crappy overpriced room for the night.
The next day we wandered around town a bit more and visited a large Buddhist temple still under construction right outside the city.
Pictures have been posted in the gallery.