Four Buryats and Klyukovka

Offerings for Deity

After staying some days in Ulan-Ude, I decided to hitchhike to the city of Chita, where another friend was waiting for me. I left Ulan-Ude early in the morning on a marshrutka (a type of public transportation). When on the road, I had to walk a little bit to find a suitable spot to start hitchhiking. Got a lift in 5 minutes. A Buryat family drove me to the Kyakhta junction. While in the car, we talked about Buddhist and local pagan traditions and beliefs of Buryat people. From Kyakhta junction I had a 30-minute walk, because there were few cars passing by, and all of them had passengers already. Maybe there was a holiday, I don’t know. I kept walking, singing Beatles songs and hoping to catch a ride as it was pretty cold outside.
But soon, realizing that it might take long, I put down my backpack, took out the thermos with hot tea, thinking of having another breakfast. But at that very same moment, when I got the thermos, a van passed by me and stopped on the roadside about 10 meters away. then they drove back and stopped right at my side, softly touching the backpack. There were 4 Buryats sitting inside. One of them opened the window.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m hitchhiking to Chita.. Can you give me a ride?”
“Get in.”
 


That’s how I found myself inside the van, surrounded by four Buryat men. We had a lively conversation. I’ve been telling them how I hitchhiked from Moscow to Ulan-Ude, they were telling me about their life and job, sometimes also about villages we were passing through, quite often using the word “semeyskiye”. Semeyskiye is the word Buryats use for Old Believers of Russian Orthodox church.
“You see these wooden houses with carved windows? These are the houses of semeyskiye. They are such a closed communit. We are strangers for them. See, you go and ask them for a cup of water, right? They will give it to you, but after you drink the water, they will throw the cup away, because it’s defiled by a stranger. That’s who the semeyskiye are”.

In one of those villages of the Old Believers we stopped by a roadside store. Two of the Buryats left the car, but soon came back with two bottles of klyukovka, strong alcoholic drink made of cranberries. Driver started the engine.
“Yeah, I remember, last summer we were like this, four of us, driving to our datcha. And we picked up a hitchhiker. So he joined us for three days. We were drinking a lot that time. And that poor guy had to drink with us. On the fourth day, apparently, his liver gave up. He packed his belongings and left. But he was a brave one! It’s not easy to drink vodka with us three days in-a-row,” said the driver. After a little pause he continued, “So, maybe you also would like to join us? We will heat the banya for you, you’ll rest for few day. There’s nothing to do in Chita, anyway.”

I thanked them but refused as I had no wish to drink vodka three days in-a-row.
A bit later, while riding up the mountain road, we made another stop. All of them left the car, took one of the bottles and some food they had in a plastic bag. I thought that guys are probably hungry and want to have a lunch, so I stayed in the car, waiting for them. But one of them called me:
“Hey! Why are you sitting there? Come on! Come here! Why are you acting so strange as if you’re not one of us?”
I got out of the car and joined them. The youngest of them opened the bottle and while moving clockwise, dropped a little bit of klyukovka on the ground. Then filled the cups. One of the cups was for me.
“Oh, thank you. But I don’t wanna drink, sorry. Still have a long way to hitchhike.”
“What? Take the cup! This is a burkhan! It’s a holy place! You must follow our traditions.”
Without saying a single word I took the cup and emptied it. For health and for wealth.
Burkhan is a deity of the land. Each place has its own burkhan. The alcohol is used as an offering to the deity to please him so that the deity will not make any troubles. Apart from alcohol, also tea can be used. Usually, you have to stop at the holy place, but when drivers are in hurry they drop coins or rice while passing by the burkhan. Buddhism in Buryatia is mixed with local pagan beliefs, and as a result of this mix you get a unique Buryat culture.

When we were done with offerings, we drove further. But after 10 km we parked at the roadside again. Another holy place. Another circle of offerings.
“New place – new bottle,” said one of them, getting the second bottle of klyukovka.
And we drank again. This time the toast was for my safe trip to Chita. I was filled with joy (I guess, alcohol was doing its job). Standing at one of the many of holy places on the Buryat land, together with four Buryats whom I knew about an hour only, I was drinking klyukovka as an offering to a local deity, and Buryats were drinking for my safety.

We parted as if we were old friends. We shook hands warmly. They wished me the best of luck on my trip. I thanked them and wished them all the best. One of them then said:
“See, if you’ll take this road (we were on a junction) and will walk about 3 km, you’ll get to a little village. Our car is easy to find there. If you get stuck here, without any hesitations come and join us. We’ll be happy to host you. Ok?”
“Ok, thanks!”
“Take care then.”
As I closed the door, they left. I still had 500 km to hitchhike to Chita. There was no one around me. The road was empty. I walked forward along the road. The sun was bright. The air was cold. And I was happy.

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12 thoughts on “Four Buryats and Klyukovka

  1. “And that poor guy had to drink with us.. On the fourth day, apparently, his liver gave up…” LOL _ some great encouragement there ๐Ÿ˜€

    The windows in that second picture look so pretty!

    “…but after you drink the water, they will throw the cup away, because itโ€™s defiled by a stranger.” There are similar beliefs in some parts of India – if a widow drinks from a cup, they throw it away lest some married women drink from the same cup and end up being widowed themselves. Regardless of how modern times may become, some beliefs are strongly ingrained.

  2. The windows, it’s a traditional Russian wooden house.. I’ll make a post later about them ๐Ÿ™‚

    Widows in India are in very miserable conditions.. Have you seen the movie Water?

  3. Oh yes, please post about those windows ๐Ÿ™‚

    Yep, I’ve seen that movie; it was pretty controversial in India. But yeah, it shows the miserable conditions of some of the widows there.

  4. Such a good story! But…
    I really wonder, how is it to be hitchhiking in the freezing cold?? How do you manage to stay comfortable or alive?
    2 months ago while i was hitchhiking to Syria, i was almost freezing in a cold night in Ankara… Well, i am Turkish who is from Mediterrian sea, maybe thats why…
    I am planning to hitchhike to India, the only thing that i really worry is that it will be in January, so it will be very cold, around 0 to 10 C. ๐Ÿ™‚ Your writing&pictures are giving me a huge encouragement to go and hitchhike in January…

    Well, i have been blogging in turkish for a while but i ve just started an english blog. it ll be up and working in a day.

    All the best from Istanbul.
    Umitb

    • Well, 0 to 10 C is not really cold for me.. I’ve been hitchhiking in Siberia at -45 C once ๐Ÿ™‚ 20 to 30 C was usual ๐Ÿ™‚ But I suppose you’re not used to the cold at all, so you gotta prepare very well..

      First of all, your clothes.. they must be warm enough.. and your feet. keep your feet warm always. good shoes and socks.. also thermos.. with a thermos you will always have hot tea with you.. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Thank you so much for the answer. ๐Ÿ™‚
    But another question; how and where do you spend the night in a very very cold night when you are on the road?
    In Turkey it is Ok since most of the gas stations has a prayer room, so you just ask nicely if you can sleep in…
    But i cant think of a way if there is not any shelter. A tent, and a good sleeping bag and a good mat would be ok perhaps.
    But they will be very costly, and since you will be dead in a cold night like that, i think you have to prepare well. Eastern Anatolia and Northwestern iran can be as cold as -15 in January! OMG.

    • Well, if you have a really good tent, a really warm sleeping bag and a mat, you can try.. But I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone..

      There’s a rule! Never get off the car in the middle of nowhere in Siberia if it’s winter.. The right way to death ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s not funny, by the way.. So if you’re hitchhiking in regions of extremely cold weather, always ask driver to drop you at rest area, petrol station, road police station or a roadside cafe, where you always can spend the night and get some food.. I often spent the nights in roadside cafes.. it’s warm, they always have hot tea or a soup ๐Ÿ™‚ Only once I slept in the snow, but have no wish to repeat that experience.. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Good rule! Thats very essential to stay alive i guess.
    I guess the pleasure that comes from hitchhiking in winter is not anywhere close to hitchhiking in summer.

    • It really depends on a hitchhiker.. I love winter hitchhiking.. Of course it’s crazy, and hard.. But to see winter in Siberia, or the Baikal lake under ice.. very beautiful ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Pingback: The Siberian Hitchhiking Trip – 2009 « On The Road

  8. Pingback: The Siberian Hitchhiking Trip – 2009 | On The Road

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