This summer a big event happened in Kalmykia (Oirat Mongolian republic in the European south of Russian Federation), when more than 60 people saddled their horses and took part in Horse riding festival “Daichin Tengri”, to ride more than 1000km and visit sacred places.
The festival was organized by a group of young people, who are working on equestrian tourism development in Kalmykia. The journey had cultural and pilgrimage aim. The two main destinations of the horse voyage were sacred mountain Bogdo Uul and the “Khoshut Khurul”, the only Buddhist temple that was built in the 1814-1818 by Oirat-Kalmyk Prince Serebdjab Tumen and had not been destroyed.
The horse journey started on 8th of June in the city of Elista and consisted of two stage. During the first stage the group of riders travelled from one village to another, that were on their route. In the villages they met with locals, rode kids on the horses and invited the most brave to join their journey. Being nomads and perfect horse riders for a thousand years, Oirat-Kalmyks became a settled nation during the Soviet times, and unfortunately the tradition of horse riding currently becomes vanishing among them.
The second stage of the festival started with a concert and entertainment program in Tsagan Aman village, located on Volga River. It is the last Kalmyk village on the way to Astrakhan region. On the next day the horsemen and horsewomen crossed the Volga on a ferry, but the next river, Akhtuba, they crossed ford on the horsebacks.
“I had a little experience in horseback riding, but I didn’t go on long distances. My father told me about „Daichin Tengri“ and I decided to challenge myself. Most of all I liked to cross the Akhtuba River on a horse. During the journey I was responsible for myself and for my horse,” says 15 years old participant Tseren Andzhaev.
There were two Buddhist monks among the participants, who had a special mission. They read prayers for peaceful life of all live beings and did rituals with offerings at the sacred mountain Bogdo Uul and the Khoshut Buddhist temple.
The equestrian travel finished on 23th of July, when after more than a month on the way and 1200 km of steppe roads, the participants reached Elista.
„The number or participants kept changing. Somebody did not manage to go through the long distances, sometimes we covered about 160 km per day. The others have a households and can’t leave it for a long time. Because of the 40°C heat we were moving in the early hours from 3 to 11 am and had a rest in the nearest villages during the heat. People were very hospitable and cooked for us and fed our horses. Other days we would camp in the steppe.
For me first of all it was a people’s festival. We had horsemen of all kind of age, men and women. The oldest one is 65, the youngest one, Kirill, is 11 years old. During the journey one farmer presented him a young horse as a gift.
I hope that “Daichin Tengri” festival will be the impetus for the development of equestrian tourism in Kalmykia, because our homeland is rich with vast steppe landscapes and horses, but our traditions are increasingly forgotten. I am dreaming that more and more of young Kalmyks will get in contact with the horses, love this animals and learn riding. Next year we are planning to invite much more participants,“ says Tseren Basangov, the main organizer of equestrian journey „Daichin Tengri” .
The main attribute of the festival is a flag that was made in traditional style and depicts ancient Mongolian deity – Daichin Tengri, who according to traditional beliefs patronized to all Oirat-Kalmyk warriors during their war campaigns.
Do the modern Oirat-Kalmyks prepare to a war? My answer is definitely „no“. But I hope that the spirit of Daichin Tengri will help our people to resist the assimilation process and to stand for the preservation and revitalization of our nomadic worldview and culture.