lost stupas AND lotus fields
STALINGRAD – Elista – Lagan – Komsomol – Astrakhan
This tour is offered on a regular monthly basis. Let us know your desired departure month by clicking on the learn-more button below: we will match your preferences with the next relevant scheduled group departure. If you are still unsure about your desired departure date, then simply tell us a period or a season of the year and we will provide you a range of scheduled group departures: just pick up yours!
Our scheduled group departures don't suit your plans? If you are travelling with more than 4 friends, you can set your own departure date: we will arrange a bespoke tour just for you for the same price per person advertised below. If you are travelling solo or with less than four companions, we will then organise a slightly more expensive tailored tour according to your time schedule and specific geographical preferences.
The following itinerary refers to our most popular route in Kalmykia. This diverse and fascinating land, a very Soviet version of Mongolia, greets its curious guests with a cornucopia of natural, historical and cultural wonders. In case you are interested in a particularly remote area, secretive ethnicity, unusual activity and/or off-the-beaten-path attraction within the Autonomous Republic of Kalmykia or if you are just looking for an hit-and-run visit to Elista and its surroundings, we can easily meet your needs with a unique tour individually designed according to your preferences. Thanks to our deep knowledge of the territory and longstanding collaboration with independent local guides we are able to offer you a wide range of tailored routes and bespoke itineraries across and beyond the rolling steppes of mystic Kalmykia. We also regularly cater for biologists, conservationists, ethnologists, historians and documentarists alike interested in conducting field research in the region. Get in touch for more info on our private tours to Kalmykia!
DAY 1 - Stalingrad (Volgograd)
In the morning you will meet our tour guide in the lobby of the designated hotel in Stalingrad (exact hotel address and meeting time will be communicated well in advance per email; private airport pickup and shuttle service available for a small additional fee).
Introductory briefing about the region, the route and the set of rules to observe while travelling in Southern Russia.
We’ll devote the entire day to Stalingrad, a heroic Soviet city that really needs no introduction: it was here, amid bombed out buildings and corpse-filled streets, that the spiralling course of WWII, aka the Great Patriotic War, was eventually changed for good.
Nazi Germany Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels once famously said: a thousand years hence, every German will speak with awe of Stalingrad and remember that it was there that Germany put the seal on her victory; well, history proved him wrong as he didn’t reckon with the indomitable spirit of the Soviet people, who stalwartly and relentlessly fought for every single inch of their glorious motherland.
Besides enjoying an extensive tour through Stalingrad’s de-rigueur Soviet sights (Mamayev Kurgan Memorial Complex, Stalingrad Battle Panorama Museum, Alley of Heroes, Central Railway Station, Pavlov’s House, Lenin Square, Volgograd Hotel, Flour Mill, Stalingrad Planetarium), we’ll take also some time to experience less solemn but equally compelling facets of the city such as the colourful central bazaar and the melancholic city beach.
A vast plethora of modernist shapes, Soviet mosaics, and socialist-realist bass-reliefs will accompany us throughout our visit: an urban paradise for the architecture-geeks amongst us.
Lunch, dinner and overnight in Stalingrad.
DAY 2 - Elista
Early morning start and transfer to Elista, the exotic little capital of Kalmykia, an autonomous republic mainly inhabited by Mongolic people predominantly adhering to the Tibetan branch of Mahayana Buddhism.
On our way from Stalingrad to Elista, we’ll stop in Krasnoarmeysk to stare in awe at a giant Lenin Statue towering above the entrance of the Volga-Don Canal and dwarfing even the nearby lighthouse: this is, in fact, the highest Lenin in the world.
Once in Elista we’ll undertake a comprehensive tour around this remote provincial capital where Soviet heritage and Buddhist traditions merge together to form an idiosyncratic urban kaleidoscope of socialist monumentalism and colourful pagodas.
Highlights of our Soviet and post-Soviet tour around Elista will include: Cinema Rodina, Central Bazaar, Seven Days Pagoda, Buddha Shakyamuni Golden Abode, Old Hurul, Lenin Statue, WWII Monument, Deportation Memorial and a few selected art-for-architecture hidden gems (mosaics, bass-reliefs, and murals alike).
Our visit will also include a short detour to Chess City, a mostly empty and truly surreal upscale neighbourhood built around an incongruously large Chess Palace. Why the heck such a pompous urban homage to the game of chess amid the barren badlands of Kalmykia? Well… the story behind Chess City is even crazier than the place itself: search for Kirsan Ilyumzhinov on the web or (even better) wait for your trip to Elista to learn more about this obscure post-Soviet tale of eccentric madness and thwarted ambitions.
Lunch, dinner and overnight in Elista.
DAY 3 - Kalmyk Steppes
We'll leave Elista in the morning and head for the vast central steppes, heartland of Kalmyk culture and traditions.
After a rather monotone and yet somewhat romantic two-hour drive through the windswept Kalmyk flatlands, we’ll eventually reach the Black Lands National Park, home to the extremely rare saiga, a rather bizarre species of elusive antelope characterised by a ridiculously prominent nose similar to the short proboscis of the South American tapir.
We’ll make our base in Adyk, a traditional hamlet inhabited by a strong Soviet-minded community of young and old Kalmyks relentlessly fighting against the advancing desertification of the area.
We’ll then spend the rest of the day touring the many natural wonders of the Black Lands National Park (pink salty lakes, fuming thermal springs and high sand dunes) and, with a bit of luck, we might also be able to spot the odd saiga herd grazing in the steppe.
Lunch, dinner and overnight in a traditional guesthouse.
DAY 4 - Off the beaten path
In the morning we'll drive to Lagan (formerly Kaspiysky), a medium-sized Kalmyk town surrounded by the avifauna-rich wetlands bordering the shallow shores of the Caspian Sea.
En route to Lagan we’ll stop in the traditional Kalmyk villages of Komsomol, Naryn-Khuduk and Ulan-Kholl: far-off Soviet outposts of unpaved dusty roads, post-socialist decay and heartbreaking humanity.
In the early afternoon we’ll then reach Lagan, locally dubbed as the Venice of the Steppes for the many navigable canals crisscrossing the surrounding area, but in reality, yet another sleepy Soviet backwater of semi-abandoned concrete blocks and lonely white stupas: way more photogenic the Venice itself!
After a short tour around the invariably Soviet downtown, we’ll be met by local boatmen, who will take us on a tour across the fish-thriving marshes and lagoons notoriously knowns as favourite hunting grounds for caviar poachers.
Dinner and overnight in Lagan.
DAY 5 - Volga Delta
We'll leave Lagan early in the morning and head for the Volga Delta National Park, a protected area covering more than 27000 km² of idyllic wetlands and crumbling settlements.
We’ll spend the entire day in the park visiting traditional fishing hamlets, hunting for gloomy Soviet remnants and indulging in romantic boat trips across wild landscapes of lotus flowers, water lilies and swishing reeds.
In the late afternoon we’ll then transfer to the splendid city of Astrakhan, the last stop of our journey.
Dinner and overnight in Astrakhan.
DAY 6 - Astrakhan
Full day devoted to Astrakhan, the pearl of the Volga Delta, a marvellous city with plenty of Soviet and pre-Soviet history to showcase.
In addition to the mandatory Soviet and Tsarist sights (Lenin Statue, WWII Memorial, White Kremlin, Old Embankment), our tour around Astrakhan will also include more mundane and arguably also more interesting spots such as smelly fish markets, ancient Tatar mosques and highly photogenic backstreets of rickety wooden houses, fluttering clotheslines and playing kids.
We’ll then conclude our stay in Astrakhan with a lavish dinner of (legally-obtained) black caviar and sizzling sturgeon skewers!
Meals and overnight in Astrakhan.
DAY 7 - Flight back home or transfer to further destinations
After enjoying a last lavish Astrakhan-style breakfast together we'll take care of your transfer to the airport/train station of choice.
For those flying out: we will arrange transfer to Astrakhan International Airport for your flight back home.
For those wishing to take the train/bus to reach further destinations: we will arrange transport to the local train/bus station.
End of the tour.
4 to 9 participants: 1290 € per person
The price includes: double/twin room accommodation (breakfast included; single supplement: 18 euros/night), private transport in the region (jeep or minivan), entrance fees to the attractions listed in the itinerary, guiding and translation service.
The price does not include: international flights, transport to and from the airport of arrival/departure (35 euros/ride), meals, drinks and tips, visas if required, entrance fees to attractions not listed in the itinerary, insurance.