Many factors contribute to making some long train trips more enjoyable than others. Enough food to snack on, the cleanliness of the bathrooms and the friendliness of the cabin staff are all important. But one factor stands out, and that is the nature of your fellow travelling companions (aside from Roberto!). When we board a train we are always hoping to firstly have a cabin by ourselves (very unlikely) or at least share with good-natured people. Actually we aren’t so picky really and so far we haven’t met with too many problems aside from some loud snoring.
On our trip from Mongolia to Russia we had the good fortune of not only a very slick modern new train, but also sharing our berth with a very interesting guy who was able to keep us quite entertained for the next two nights. Amagalm looked Mongolian but was actually born in Russia and is of Buryat heritage. There are only around 400,00 Buryat people in the world. Originally from Mongolia the Buryat people settled in Siberia around 400 years ago near the Mongolian border coming to the agreement with the local king that they would serve as warriors engaged in border control.
I had heard that this area of Siberia was known as being the headquarters for Tibetan Buddhism in Russia, and the large monastery in the main city of Ulan Ude had hosted the Dalai Lama on a number of occasions. The Buryat region reaches up to the south side of the enormous lake that we would later visit – Lake Baikal – an area that aside from Buddhism was known as being the origins of Siberian shamanism.
Until I started researching this trip through Siberia, I had no idea that there was a tradition of shamanism in this part of the world. I asked Amagalm about it and he immediately pulled out of his bag a large silver implement like a branding staff that he was carrying back from Mongolia to Ulan Ude to pass onto a shaman! And so we began an interesting conversation about the Buddhist and shamanistic practices of the Buryat people.
Amagalm was a doctor of traditional Mongolian medicine. Like in Ayurvedic medicine he was able to make detailed and holistic diagnoses by simply feeling the wrist pulse. He gave us a “consultation” and his knowledge of past and present physical conditions of both Roberto and myself were uncannily accurate.
When we arrived in Irkutsk, Dr Amagalm was greeted by his lovely new fiancé, Lucie, a young Russian woman from Moscow who had just moved to Siberia to be with him. He wants to travel and even come to Chile…so hopefully we will see him again some day. But for now we will remember Dr Amagalm as a great first travelling companion for our Trans-Siberian adventure.