November 01, 2003

Descendants of the Swan

In the remote, open land southeast of Lake Baikal, beyond where tourists typically venture, live most of Russia’s 370,000 Buryats. In this ancestral homeland, where Genghis Khan and his troops once roamed, modern Buryats meld their culture and history with the realities of life in modern Russia.

Typical Buryats

live in a small, one-story wooden home, which has replaced the once-common portable, felt-covered tents (yurts). They fetch water from a water tower using aluminum pails and a roll cart, and they usually bathe once a week, either in their own private wooden banya (bathhouse) or in a government banya. Wood-burning stoves that double as cookstoves keep them warm during the long winters. During the short, hot summers, there is no air conditioning and few fans. Many have a porch that serves as a summer kitchen or even a small second home in their yard, where they eat and sleep in the summer.

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