Today Elena and Sergi drove us northwest of Irkutsk into the Buryat Highlands. We were a bit lower in elevation and the snow was gone. We traveled through farmlands with grazing animals and vast wheat fields that had been turned over for the winter. The Buryats are a beautiful people with Asian and European mixed features. They are also a Shamanistic society and because of this there has been little mixing with their Mongolian neighbors a hundred miles to the south.
Although of the same nation they also differentiate themselves from their Buddhist neighbors in the Buryatia Republic east of Lake Baikal. In about an hour we reached the ethnologic museum in the center of Ust-Orda, the main town of the region. There we were welcomed by the tribal leader. He performed the welcoming ceremony of smudging, presentation of the scarf and sharing of milk.
Then we were escorted into the gathering hall were a group of local performers shared song, dance and music played on ancient Buryat instruments. We had a privately guided tour of the museum by a local docent who very thoroughly went from display to display, sharing her academic and acquired knowledge of the artifacts and the customs and legends they represented. We then were led back to the gathering hall where a local shaman performed a special ceremony on our behalf to grant us good health, prosperity and safety in our journey. We had a traditional lunch of noodle soup, fresh dumplings, and an apple dessert. We drove back to the city for some free time before retiring.