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A giant chess set in Kalmykia's capital, Elista

Kalmykia [1] is a republic in Southern Russia and is most certainly the only Tibetan Buddhist "nation" of Europe.



  • Elista — the capital and Kalmykia's only "city"
  • Gorodovikovsk
  • Iki-Burul
  • Komsomolsky
  • Lagan — located near the Caspian Sea.
  • Tsagan Aman — located on the Volga River, Tsagan Aman is a popular fishing area and a fast developing spa-resort
  • Zundi Tolgi

Other destinations

  • Yashalta Salt Lake — located between Berezovoe and Solenoye villages of Yashalta district, it is known in Kalmykia for its therapeutic values. The administration of Yashalta district and republican authorities are planning to open a balneo-resort on Yashalta Salt Lake.
  • Chess-City — an administrative unit within Elista, it often serves as a venue for multiple international chess events. The Chess-City complex also hosts meetings of Russian state officials as well as Russian school olympiads.
  • "Black Lands" Biosphere Reserve — a nature reserve situated on the territory of Chernozemelsky and Yashkulsky districts. It is a refuge for ancient saiga antelopes.
  • Lola Horse Farm — situated not far from Elista in the quiet village of Lola — produces kumys (see Drink). During the Soviet era, this horse farm and adjoining clinic for respiratory treatment was very popular among communist party bosses, who traveled from Moscow, Saint Petersburg and from other far-way places in Soviet Union.
  • Khurul Monastery — a Buddhist Monastery located about 6 km north east of Elista.
  • The Ergeni Hills are located in the northern part of Kalmykia. Different from the sandy dunes and steppe regions of central and eastern part, the Ergenis represent 'forest area' of republic. Ergeni landscape area is filled with numerous heights, ravines, spring streams, and water-bearing sands. Popular for its mineral medicinal and fresh sobsoil waters, the Ergeni Hills are also home to endangered fish species and Kalmyk medicinal plants. In addition, it is the highest point in the republic which rises to 218 metres above the sea level.
  • The Sarpa Lakes — right next to the Ergeni Hills, in the north-central part of Kalmykia freshwater lakes called the Sarpa are dispersed. The Sarpa Lakes include lake of Sarpa 42,6, lake Barmanzak 25,8, lake Tsagan-Nur 23,5, and lake Batur-Mala 21,9 Not only it is a picturesque wild scenery of Kalmyk flora and fauna, but also a perfect place for hunting and fishing.


The Western Mongol Kalmyks, also known as Oirats, migrated across Central Asia from an ancestral home around Xinjiang, China and southeastern Kazakhstan and eventually arrived in Southern Russia, displacing the Tatars of the Astrakhan Khanate. Originally an independent khanate, Kalmykia's independence was slowly chipped away and it was eventually assimilated into the Russian Empire.

As more than half of Kalmyks are followers of Tibetan Buddhism, the country is often referred to as the only Buddhist country in Europe. Sadly, nearly all of Kalmykia's beautiful khuruls (Kalmyk Buddhist temples) were demolished under Stalin's massive campaign of cultural vandalism. In an act of genocide during WWII, Stalin deported the entire population of Kalmyks toKazakhstan and Siberia. The imported Russians then intensified the desertification caused by collectivisation and inappropriate agriculture. Those Kalmyks who survived the brutal deportation and exile were finally allowed to return home in 1957, under Khruschev. But despite these hardships, Kalmykia's khuruls are being rebuilt, and the people remain, and merit a visit.

Present day Kalmykia garners some press attention for the excesses of its flamboyant and dictatorial president Ilyumzhinov. Ilyumzhinov, a former Kalmyk statesman in the USSR and president of the World Chess Federation, has led Kalmykia since the break up of the Soviet Union, but has so far failed to deliver on rather grandiose promises to turn Kalmykia into a "Caspian Kuwait" in which there would be "a cell phone for every shepherd." He has, however, turned Elista into the claimed chess capital of the world by building a small district of Elista known as "City Chess" and by hosting successive chess championships in the capital.


Although the native language of the Kalmyk majority is Kalmyk (western Mongolian), it is mainly older people who are fluent, due to the effects of the 1944-57 deportation of the Kalmyks and the virtual destruction of their cultural cohesion. Nowadays just a few villages are mainly Kalmyk-speaking by all generations.Russian is spoken and understood everywhere - although not spoken by some of the very oldest Kalmyks.

Get in

The Republic of Kalmykia is currently a part of the Russian Federation. Therefore, when planning your trip to Kalmykia, you should apply for Russian visa.

By plane

The Elista airport is temporarily closed due to non-compliance with technical requirements of Russian Airlines Committee. Most likely, it will undergo the procedure of bankruptcy before being opened by new private owner first half of 2007.

Thus, travelers have two options to get to Elista by plane: via Astrakhan or Volgograd airports.

By train

The Moscow-Elista train route goes through Stavropol. However, the most convenient way is travel to Volgograd by train then on to Elista by an express minibus (marshrutka), which are cheap.

By car

By bus

Several private companies operate a daily bus service between Moscow and Elista. The pickup point in Moscow is Luzhniki Stadium. A one-way ticket costs about 1000RUR.

By boat

Get around




  • The republic's national sport is (by the will of President Ilyumzhinov) chess and locals play throughout school. Pick up games in parks are easy to come by.
  • Fishing, hunting (especially geese, apparently)
  • Attend a performance of traditional Kalmyk dance
  • Horseback riding


  • Borg — Kalmyk traditional dumplings are larger and contain more meat than your average meat dumplings
  • Bortsg — Kalmyk traditional bread
  • Makhan sheltagan
  • Kyur


Traditional Kalmyk drinks bear some similarity to those found in Mongolia, but are unique to the region. Try:

  • Dzhomba — milk tea
  • Kumys — a sour horse milk that is considered a cure for respiratory diseases like tuberculosis, asthma, etc.
  • Araka — a milk vodka


With tourism on the rise, travelers will have no difficulty finding good accommodation in Elista, although accommodations outside of the capital may be scarce or of lesser quality. It may be possible (and extremely rewarding) to arrange homestays in rural areas by asking around town or village centers.

Stay safe

Stay healthy

Kalmykia is known for its sunny weather and fresh air. However, visitors are advised not to drink tap water due to the high content of minerals and salt. Otherwise, Kalmykia offers a healthy environment, and delicious and fresh food — mutton and beef being specialties, which are prized as far away as Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

This is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!