The Republic of Kalmykia is the only Buddhist republic in Europe. The predominant ethnic group in Kalmykia are the Kalmyks who are descendants of the Oirats of Mongolia. The word Kalmyk can be translated as something along the lines of ‘those who remained’ referring to the Mongol invasion of Russia and how some remained in what became the Golden Horde in modern-day southern Russia. The Republic is located in southern Russia with a coast on the Caspian Sea and borders with the Stavropol Territory, the Rostov, Volgograd and Astrakhan Regions and the Republic of Dagestan. Transport is not great in the republic and, with no train link, the best way of travelling is by bus.
The capital of the republic is Elista which is practically an oasis in what is otherwise wide-open steppe. It is known as the chess-capital of Russia as the president of the World Chess Federation is the former president of Kalmykia and during his term in office he made efforts to turn his capital into an international resort for chess. There are several Buddhist monasteries and temples across the republic. The central temple is Elista’s Golden Abode of the Buddha Shakyamuni which was so named by the Dalai Lama. Inside it holds Europe’s tallest Buddha. The endangered and rather odd-looking antelope known as a saiga is also closely associated with the republic.