Offerings for Deity
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?”
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?”
“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.