Buryatia. The land of ancient legends and beliefs. The world of gods and spirits. The land of high mountains and boundless steppes. The land of miracle-working springs and roaring waterfalls. The land of medicinal herbs and honey motley grass. The land of Buddhist sanctuaries, Orthodox churches and pagan monuments.
And the land of Baikal, the fairytale of the resuscitating water, ice-cold and transparent, invigorating and bringing longevity, purifying the spirit and washing away all the ailments. Probably, that is the reason why people are attracted to Baikal to try its sacred water and to plunge into its chilly waves, to replenish the energy, to revive and to fortify the spirit.
Buryatia is an expansive land, «embracing» northern Baikal, its western shoreline and going as far as the southern shore along the eastern Sayan mountains.
Buryatia, which in olden times was called Bargudzhin-Tukum, is an ancient land. It bears the traces of primitive peoples, hordes of the Hunns and the Kurykans, numerous Mongol tribes; according to the legends, the great Genghis Khan - «the Shaker of the Universe», made his way across this land...
Buryatia is called «The Land of Geser» - this is where they created the legends about a hero, protector of his mother land, his deed being glorified by the Uligershins - folklore fabulators.
Scientists suppose that the Buryats settled in Pribaikalie in the 13th century. They were predominantly cattle farmers (although they didn't shun agriculture, too), shepherding herds of horses and bulls in the green steppes, alongside with herds of sheep, goats, huge long-haired yaks and even Bactrians.
At that time they used to live in yourts, in summer the yourts were felt-covered (the rich had white felt with brims decorated with multicoloured hair laces), in winter they lived in wooden yourts. The Buryats on the one hand keep their traditional way of living, rites and beliefs, but on the other hand they are forgetting about the good old yourts, which still can be found in different nooks and corners of Buryatiya, in the steppes and along Baikal shores.
Different religions and confessions coexist peacefully in this country. The most widely spread and traditional ones are Buddhism, Orthodox religion and Shamanism.
Since ancient times the Buryats were the Shamanists. They believed that all the events in life are caused by the activity of spirits. Eternally Blue Sky was considered to be the supreme divinity. Special sacred importance of Baikal and vast territory nearby explains why it got a special status «Ikh-Khorig», sacred land of the ancestors. Shaman tailagans were conducted in highly honored places.
In the 18 century the Buryats turned to Buddhism. At the foot of Hamar-Daban mountains at the distance of 30 km from Ulan-Ude there is spiritual capital of Buddhism Traditional Sangkha of Russia - Ivolginskii datsan. Gold-plated temples sparkle in the sun, greeting the pilgrims and guests from afar. The fast running time seems to have stopped here, and the air is filled with harsh and spicy bouquet of the Orient. Special services (khurals) are conducted in datsan. They are devoted to the events of Buddhist history, some of them are daily rituals and rites, protecting the believers from the evil. Now this monastery complex is a place of great attraction for pilgrims and tourists. The altars and interiors of the temples are decorated with real art masterpieces. Datsan is under state protection as a monument of religious architecture. Ivolginskii Datsan houses incorruptible body of Khambo-lama Itigelov, who passed away in 1927.
Orthodox religion came to Transbaikal region more than 350 years ago. It was brought by the Russian relocatees, which were followed by orthodox missionaries. In the 18th century Old Believers came to Transbaikal region, here they were called «semeiskiye».
The Buryats have preserved the traditions of oriental hospitality and amiability. That is why tourism is developing so fast in the Republic: cultural-educational tourism, sport tourism, cruise-tourism, agricultural and medicinal types. Hundreds of sources and mineral water springs made the Land of Geser famous as a unique resort area - by the amount of medicinal springs Buryatia is the second after Transcaucasia. People from all over the world come to improve their health to Goryachinsk, Enkhaluk, Arshan, Northern Baikal, Barguzin valley, Shumak... There are two places on the shore of Baikal marked out for the future tourist-recreational zone - a separate chapter is devoted to this topic.
About 60% of the population of the Republic live in the cities nowadays. And more than one third of the population lives in the capital, Ulan-Ude.
One of the main Buryat holidays is the celebration of the New Year, the so called Sagaalgan, holiday of the White month. It is celebrated in accordance with the lunar calendar and lasts the whole month. It is conventional to put one's festive attire on, come to visit each other; it is of particular importance to remember to congratulate elder family members, even though they live far away from you. White dairy food is thought to be the best treat at all. Buryatia collects of visitors of all region of our country. Ded Moroz from Velikiy Ustug and Chisshan from Yakutia visited the celebration.
The main summer holiday is the so called Surkharban, «Three games of men». It includes horserace contests, archery and Buryat wrestling. Beside that, those present compete in singing, they dance in a ring (yokhor) and treat themselves to traditional Buryat cuisine.
Wherever you would go around Buryatia, everywhere - by the road, big stone or stream you will see a tree or a bush, if not a specially placed column, all wound with motley ribbons of fabric or lacing. They are attached by everybody entering this land. They do it to pay a tribute to the traditions, it is a sign of appreciation and respect for the Buryats who have been living in Pribaikalye (fore-Baikal area) since olden times and have laid down their traditions here.
There is such cultural heritage preserved by years as cave drawing, religion, musical art, holidays, language, way of life - everything that makes up historical memory of people.