New Tour to Russia’s Southern Steppe: Cossacks, Kalmyks & Caviar

New Tour to Russia’s Southern Steppe: Cossacks, Kalmyks & Caviar

SEATTLE, WA – The award-winning travel specialist, MIR Corporation, is leading a new 14-day tour of Russia’s Southern Steppe, an unfamiliar region spiced with a spirited array of independent cultures, including freedom-loving Cossacks and descendants of the Golden Horde. Highlights include: studying modern caviar production in Astrakhan; attending a cultural performance of Don Cossacks; and exploring a wildlife reserve for the critically endangered Saiga Antelope. The trip is scheduled for August 18-31, 2012 and starts at $5,995. Contact MIR Corporation at 800-424-7289 or mail for more information.

Guests begin the Southern Steppe tour by exploring Volgograd, known during WWII as Stalingrad. It was here that the Russians finally turned back the Nazi advance to the Caucasian oil fields in Baku in an infamous battle that claimed many hundreds of thousands of lives. The massive, nearly 300-foot tall Mother Russia monument was built to memorialize this battle. At the time of its construction in 1967, it was the largest freestanding sculpture in the world. Travelers visit the remains of the old Flour Mill, whose walls remained standing in spite of heavy shelling in the war, and the house of Sergeant Pavlov, another historic building from WWII.

Next, guests travel overland to Astrakhan, Russia’s 17th century “Window on the East,” along the rich Volga River Delta, where they sample local cuisine and learn about the modern Caspian caviar industry. Once called Xacitarxan and burned by Tamerlane in 1395, Astrakhan was conquered by Ivan the Terrible in 1556 and a kremlin was built to guard it. Today, many 16th, 17th, and 18th century buildings can still be seen, including Ascension Cathedral.

“In 1918, merchant and art collector Pavel Dogodin donated his extensive art collection to the city of Astrakhan,” said MIR Corporation founder Doug Grimes. “The Dogodin Art Gallery is located in a historic pre-revolutionary building and is considered one of the top Russian art museums outside of Moscow, featuring ancient icons, paintings, sculptures and engravings.”

A visit to Elista, the capital city of the Republic of Kalmykia and home of formerly nomadic Kalmyk people, follows. The town center has a number of renovated public parks focused on the main square, boasting statues of both Lenin and the Buddha. To the east of the town lies the Olympic village of the 1998 XXXIII Chess Olympiad, known locally as “Chess City.” Examples of Elista’s Buddhist heritage are scattered throughout the city. The finest of these is the Golden Abode of the Buddha Shakyamuni, one of the largest Buddhist temples in Europe. Finished in 2005, the temple’s interior is decorated with magnificent murals created by Tibetan artists and includes a lovely suite of rooms intended for the Dalai Lama. Guests also will journey to Yashkul Saiga Breeding Center, 2,000 acres of rangeland on the Kalmyk steppe, and home to the critically endangered Saiga Antelope. There guests will enjoy a cup of Kalmyk tea, an important cultural custom and preliminary ritual to meals.

“One of the highlights of this Southern Steppe tour is a visit to Rostov-on-Don, ancestral home of the Don Cossacks,” said Grimes. “Located on the important trade route of the Don River, Rostov is a modern city of a million people with several important landmarks that connect to Imperial Russia.”

Travelers stroll on the tree-lined pedestrian street, Pushkin, and visit the Armenian District, founded in the late 18th century when Catherine the Great granted asylum to Crimean Armenians. Another exciting highlight is a tour of Rostov-on-Don’s Regional Museum, with artifacts from its early history, including from the nearby ancient Greek city of Tanais.

The next stop is Krasnodar, founded on the Kuban River in 1794 under the name Yekaterinodar, meaning “Catherine’s Gift.” After the Civil War, the Bolsheviks renamed the city Krasnodar, meaning either “Beautiful Gift” or “Red Gift,” and today it is not only a trade center, but also a historical and cultural center. Here guests will dine in the home of a Russian family and experience firsthand the meaning of Russian hospitality.

The tour concludes with a trip to Sochi, a Russian resort on the Black Sea and 2014 Olympics site. Sochi attracts European holidaymakers with a mix of sun, sea, sand and nightlife. Its theaters, clubs, casinos and spas bustle from spring to fall, and the surrounding mountains attract skiers from all around. A walking tour of the luxurious Arboretum, home to thousands of trees and plants transplanted from around the world, and a drive to visit Mt. Akhun and the Dagomys Tea Plantation highlight the exploration of the “Russian Riviera.”

Russia’s Southern Steppe is scheduled for August 18-31, 2012 and starts at $5,995. Contact MIR Corporation at 800-424-7289 or visit our website for more information.

About MIR Corporation

MIR Corporation, whose name means “peace” and “world” in Russian, has specialized in Russia (and neighboring countries) since 1986. Offering scheduled and custom journeys to Russia, along the Trans-Siberian and across the Silk Route, MIR’s Seattle-based experts design imaginative trips that take travelers far from the familiar, and work closely with local affiliates in Western Russia, Siberia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan to carry them out. MIR has twice been named one of National Geographic Adventure’s “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth,” and is a preferred operator for museum, alumni and special interest organizations across the country.

Press inquiries should be directed to:
Liz Riley
MIR Corporation
liz (at) mircorp (dot) com
85 South Washington St Suite 210
Seattle, WA 98104

PUBLISHED: July 12, 2012