Elista is the capital of Russian Kalmykia, the only Buddhist region in all Europe.

Modern Elista is a small town in Russia with the population of 100 000 people, which amounts for a third of the whole Republic population.

The history of Elista

The place, where Elista was founded, had been an ancient site of the Kalmyks. The territory of modern Kalmykia became a constituent unit of the Russian Empire when it expanded its influence on the southern regions. In 1845, the Russian Emperor signed the decree on afforestation of the Kalmyk steppe. This activity required extensive labor force and therefore Elista was founded in 1865. However, it had been a small village for many years to come. Only in the later 20th century it began to develop and finally turned into a town.

Things to see in Elista

This relatively small town has several cultural and historical landmarks.

The Golden Abode of the Buddha Shakayamuni

This Buddhist temple is the largest one in Europe. It also hosts the biggest Buddha Statue on the European territory (9 m/30 ft). It is covered with pure gold and incrusted with diamonds. There are also sacred mantras inside the statue.

Surprisingly, it took only 9 months to build this temple, which is 63 m (207 ft) high.

According to a legend, Genghis Khan’s (Temüjin’s) sword was walled up into its roof. This man is known for creating the biggest continental empire in the world – the Mongol Empire.

The Buddhist temple Golden Abode of the Buddha Shakyamuni

The Buddhist temple “Golden Abode of the Buddha Shakyamuni” 

The temple is surrounded

 The temple is surrounded with seventeen pagodas and the statues of Buddhist teachers

The entrance gate

The entrance gate to the territory of the temple “Golden Abode of the Buddha Shakayamuni”. There is an inscription on the gate, which quotes the well-known mantra Om Mani Padme Hum of bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. Buddhists worship him as a symbol of sympathy, shared by all Buddhas of three epochs

Lenin square

In the times of the USSR the central square or street in a city was always named after Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the world-first social state.

As a rule, his name is associated with magnifical Soviet architecture. However, the architecture of Lenin square in Elista, which preserved its initial name despite mass renaming of the Communist place names, will certainly surprise you. There you can find the Buddhist Pagoda Seven Days, the fountain Lotus and a huge chessboard with chess pieces in the open air (Elista hosted the World Chess Championship). Unfortunately, you will hardly play a game of chess since there are always many tourists.

The fountain Lotus near the Pagoda Seven Days

 The fountain Lotus near the Pagoda Seven Days

In the beginning of May chestnuts on Lenin square blossom.

Among other points of interest in Elista there is the 15-meters Golden Gate with twenty-eight paintings, which depict the history of Kalmykia, the Kalmyk temple “Syakusn-Syume” (it is 6 km (4 mi) from Elista; ask the monks who live nearby to open the temple), the Stupa of Enlightenment, the Monument “Exodus and Return” (it commemorates the deportation of the Kalmyks in 1943 and their return after rehabilitation) and numerous monuments.

You should definitely walk through the Golden Gate. If you come to Elista with your loved one then do it together as this walk will consolidate your union.

The Kalmyk steppe not far from Elista

The Kalmyk steppe not far from Elista

The blossom of tulips in Kalmykia

Elista is surrounded by steppes. In the end of April and the beginning of May the steppes get covered with blossoming tulips. Most of them are red and yellow. It is a truly amazing view!

Moreover, the Tulip Festival is held in the blossoming period where you can see the Kalmyks in their national dresses, learn how to shoot an arrow and participate in many other activities.

Try the Kalmyk cuisine: böreks – big dumplings, dotur – chopped guts stewed in water (it is a delicious dish!), the Kalmyk tea – tea with milk, butter, salt, nutmeg and laurel leaf, which quenches your thirst when it is boiling and warms you when it is cold.

Welcome to Elista, the capital of Kalmykia! 

Photos by Alexander Frolov

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