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Calling Planet Earth… This is Kalmykia!

Earlier this year, I visited one of the most improbable places on Earth, the little-known Republic of Kalmykia. Located on the arid steppe south of Volgograd, Kalmykia is Europe’s only Buddhist republic. It also bills itself as a Mecca for chess players. It is the headquarters of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), and a suburb has been built near the capital, Elista, expressly for holding tournaments and offering vacation homes to former champions. The game is mandatory for all Kalmyk school children. Most unusually, the man behind all of this, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, claims to have been abducted by aliens and says that “chess came to Earth from outer space.” Below is a sample of pictures from my visit. A wider selection of my photos from Kalmykia is available in my photo archive and on the VII Photo website.

Kalmykia, Chess and Buddha

Men play chess open air chess on a massive board in Lenin Square, Elista, Republic of Kalmykia.

Kalmykia, Chess and Buddha

Women participate in a yoga class inside the main Buddhist temple in Elista.

Kalmykia, Chess and Buddha

Girls wear soviet era military uniforms as part of Victory Day celebrations in Elista. Lenin's grandmother was Kalmyk, but that didn't save the population from the Communist Party's wrath. Stalin ordered the entire Kalmyk people loaded on to cattle cars and deported to Siberia after WWII.

Kalmykia, Chess and Buddha

Members of the "Rebirth" religious community participate in a ceremony in the middle of a field that they consider to have sacred magnetic powers on the outskirts of Elista. The unusual religious sect combines beliefs from multiple major religions as well as paranormal beliefs in extra-terrestrials, UFOs and cosmic powers. Among those who have participated in their ceremonies is World Chess Federation (FIDE) president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.

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