he impression that the Aginsky datsan
left on me was universal! I’ve never expected to see something like that. But my friend assured me that there’s another datsan not far from Chita, which is even more impressive. Maybe not that beautiful, but the atmosphere there is much better. She was talking about Tsugolsky datsan located about 300 km East of Chita, in the village of Tsugol. As usual, I hitchhiked there and got to the place in some 4-5 hours. Tsugolsky datsan is located 3 km off the road, so I had to walk through the hills along the rocky road. Right behind the last turn the roof of the temple appeared, and then the temple itself. The scenery was so beautiful I hardly could find words to express what I’ve felt.
According to the official list of Lamaist datsans of Eastern Siberia, Tsugolsky datsan was founded in 1801 and was given the name “Dashi Choypelling” (The Country of Happy Teachings). Datsan was not only a center of religious, but also social and cultural life of the Eastern Siberia. Basics of Buddhism, Tibetan and Mongolian languages, geography, medicine, astrology, philosophy were taught here. Many of students of Tsugolsky datsan later became the founders and teachers of Buddhist dialectics in datsans of Aginsk, Gusinoozyorsk, Aninsk and others.
The first structure you see is the main shrine – Tsogchen dugan. Before 1827-1828 it was made of felt. During 1831-1834 the 3-storey wooden shrine was built, but after the fire Tsogchen dugan was built of stones. Since that time its appearance hadn’t change.
I walked into the yard and stood for some time looking at the majestic Tsogchen dugan. There was no one around. Only a little dog digging snow near by the back wall of the building. Upon noticing me, the dog barked, then ran over to me and began to run around my backpack. I decided to make a circle around the temple, then came back, sat on the snow, got the thermos of tea and biscuits out of my backpack. I was going to have my breakfast. The dog came closer to me. He got two or three of the biscuits.
While I was sitting and enjoying the view, suddenly a man in a black hat and coat appeared, passed through the yard and went out through another passage, not even looking at me.
Not even a minute passed when he appeared in the yard again and came over to me.
“Where are you from?” he asked me.
“From Moscow. Hitchhiked here.”
“First time in out datsan?”
“Yes,” I answered, wondering what’s gonna happen next.
“Then why are you sitting here, come on, there’s a lot to see. I’ll be your guide.”
I was surprised and happy in the same time. The man happened to be the younger assistant of the head of the datsan. He was telling me the history of the place, while touring around, and when the tour was over he led me to the dinning hall where I met other monks and together we had a delicious milk tea and sweets. The good man also presented me books and postcards and then suddenly disappeared.
By the early 20th century Tsugolsky datsan was a complex consisting of the main shrine and ten dugans. Among them Sume Maitreya, where there’s a six meters high bronze statue of Buddha Maitreya; Sume Manba, which housed one of the rare copies of the Atlas of Tibetan Medicine; also Ayushin Sume, Sume Demchog. Datsan also housed a hospital and the biggest printing house in Buryatia).
During the first decades of the Soviet rule, many of the datsans of Buryatia were destroyed. Only those were saved, which during the war years were used as hospitals, stables, warehouses, etc. Tsugolsky datsan was used as a weapon warehouse and stable.
The revival of the datsan began in 1988 when it was given back to the Buddhist community. An important event in the modern history of Buddhism in Russia was the return of the statue of Buddha Maitreya back to Tsugolsky datsan, which was sent to anti-religious museum in Ulan-Ude in 1935, and then transferred to St. Petersburg where it was kept in Kazansky Cathedral till 1990.
The history of Tsugolsky datsan is unique due to the fact that more than two centuries its chantings are not interrupted. In times of persecution lamas migrated to Shenehen in the preset-day Inner Mongolia in China, built a temple there and continued the ceremonies. Five of them returned to Tsugol in 1995-1996.
One of the significant events of the modern history of Tsugolsky datsan was the construction of Namnanay Bagshi stupa on its territory. Namnanay was a great yogi known in the Buddhist world.
Indeed, the atmosphere here was different. Everything was so peaceful and in harmony with the surroundings. I wandered around about an hour or more, and then walked back to the road and hitchhiked back to Chita.