Bashkortostan : Wild Honey, Horse Milk, And Lots Of Oil

Bashkortostan : Wild Honey, Horse Milk, And Lots Of Oil
Image by Aidar254

Rodiyo Murtazan, a new age TV psychic, told me the world was going to end in the dim light of half-deserted TV station in Ufa, Bashkortostan. It was 2012; the middle-aged Bashkir possessed the close shave, pale face and whispered confidence of a life insurance salesmen. Moments after giving this dire warning to me, this Central Asian Cassandra took a seat in front of the cameras to deliver the same improbable message on state television.

It is hard to say how many people heard Murtazan’s warning that night. 

Bashkortostan : Wild Honey, Horse Milk, And Lots Of Oil

Head of the Republic Murtaza Rakhimov and Vladimir Putin
Image by Kremlin.ru

Bashkortostan, a population of four million, is home to numerous faiths and cultures and as Rodiyo can attest to — plenty of characters.

Sprawling Ufa is home to numerous dilapidated tsarist-era mansions which cower beneath the Khrushchev-era Soviet apartment blocks. Elsewhere oil wealth has brought modern shopping malls and outposts of large Western hotel chains.

The region is famous for its honey which is collected from trees in the wilderness and considered by many to be the best in the world.

Bashkortostan : Wild Honey, Horse Milk, And Lots Of Oil

Башҡорт викимедиасыларының Шүлгәнташҡа сәйәхәте
Image by Рөстәм Нурыев

Murtazan concedes of course the world wouldn’t end tomorrow and looking back a bit over half-decade later he seems to have been right about that much – the Wuhan Flu aside. At the time though, Murtazan merely spoke of a “great energy” that would be needed to prevent an apocalypse.

I am not sure what he meant but, if Bashkortstan were an independent country it would be as large of a hydrocarbon producer as Ecuador with a fraction of the population

The historical inhabitants of Bashkortostan are the Bashkirs, a Turkic Muslim group closely related to Tatars. The Bashkir language (speakers) and the Tatar language (speakers) are mutually intelligible. The Bashkirs voluntarily joined the encroaching Russian Empire in 1555 with the conditions they allowed to maintain control of the lands which they had conquered and that they are allowed to preserve their Muslim faith. Bashkortostan largely passed on chances to divorce from Moscow in the turbulent 1990s. However, it is hard to see how realistic that path might have been. Like Chechnya, which Moscow fought a brutal war to maintain, Bashkortostan is soaking in oil.

Bashkortostan : Wild Honey, Horse Milk, And Lots Of Oil

Bashkortostan National Museum
Image by Visem

Instead, they subsequently became loyal soldiers of various Russian Tsar and leaders. For example, in 1813 a Bashkir cavalry unit raised to fight Napoleon passed through the town of Weimar where the famous German poet Goethe hosted some of their officers for a light meal and even helped the Bashkir’s convert a Protestant school into a makeshift mosque. 

However, during the Russian Revolution, Vladimir Lenin had initially been an early supporter of continued Bashkir autonomy within Russia and even potential independence. Across Ufa, one can still find a host of busts of Lenin statues that continue to dot the republic and in the past decade in opposition to history elsewhere — one was installed. A house he stayed in Ufa remains a museum.

Bashkortostan : Wild Honey, Horse Milk, And Lots Of Oil

Благове́щенск — административный центр Благовещенского района Республики Башкортостан
Image by Aidar254

Conversely, Stalin and Trotsky tended to favor the interests of the neighboring Tatars over the Bashkirs. Bashkirs and Tatars have shared the same land for centuries and together makeup over 50% of the population of “Bashkeria” as the region it is known in Russian. The two languages and people are closely related. 

If your rusty on this history a visit to the city’s historical museum is a must. On section delves into the collection of the region’s honey. Elsewhere visitors can check out golden jewellery and an intact skeleton of a mammoth. The visit added glimpses into a culture that suffered greatly under Soviet persecution. Though during Soviet times some elements of Bashkir culture were glorified a massive statue to Salawat Yulayev, a Bashkir national hero who participated in Pugachev’s Rebellion was built in the city in 1967. Standing 32 feet tall overlooks the Belaya River.

Ufa’s Kirov street follows blocks of Soviet-era apartment buildings before the road abruptly ends at the Easter egg blue turrets of the Church of the Nativity. The church is one of the most important centers of Russian Orthodoxy in Bashkortostan and is worth a visit. Some 25% of the region’s population is Russian Orthodox with a smaller number of followers of traditional religions, Jews and non-Russian Orthodox Christians.

Bashkortostan : Wild Honey, Horse Milk, And Lots Of Oil

Wikiexpedition to Chishmy rayon of Bashkortostan
Image by Visem

Another site popular with tourists is Lala Tulpan mosque. Completed in 1998, the structure has iconic tulip-shaped minarets that have become an unofficial symbol for Bashkortostan. Images of the structure can be found on refrigerator magnets, postcards and in one airport gift shop it was even on a box of chocolates paired with more secular imagery.

Yet, Ufa is just as quickly associated with New Age religion as it is traditional monotheisms. Perhaps the most intriguing figure in this regard is Ernst Muldashev. Muldashev is an ophthalmologist of some repute who conducted hundreds of eye surgeries each year in a facility. 

Some of his medical theories have been disproven but, the success of his medical practice is demonstrated by the sizable medical facility from which he operates, distinctive due to the creepy giant eyeball structure that overlooks the entrance to the grounds.

Four nurses in different pastel color uniforms looked non-plussed as he agitated for his theories about lost civilizations and artifacts that Muldashev attempted to explain to me and other visiting journalists.

Bashkortostan : Wild Honey, Horse Milk, And Lots Of Oil

Map of Russia – Bashkortostan
Image by Seryo93

Some sparkling wine and elaborate spread of Russian and Georgian delicacies were served but, most intriguingly was the Bojormi water from Georgia which at the time was illegal to import in Russia. 

Muldashev spoke at great length about his “expeditions” to Egypt and Tibet in search of lost civilizations a topic on which he has written several books. Occasionally made reference to a map on the wall which pointed out his world travels. He would sometimes interrupt himself to point at a spot on the map and recall some anecdote.

“In Indonesia, I went to visit some cannibals, and I think they were looking at me as a delicious morsel,” he said, smacking his lips for effect. 

His New Age theories were as uninteresting as his views of the Korowai tribe, but, it was a lively discussion.

Bashkortostan : Wild Honey, Horse Milk, And Lots Of Oil

Last bell ceremonies in Bashkortostan (2019)
Image by Официальный портал Республики Башкортостан

A much more severe discussion occurred when I interviewed President Rustem Khamitov of Bashkortostan. A new Russian policy launched in 2012 meant that heads of the various Russian republics would no longer be referred to as a president. Less anyone forget Putin was the real president in Russia.

Thus, President Rustem Khamitov, was the last president of Bashkortostan and his last interview with western journalists while using that title. 

Some Bashkir and Tartar nationalist speculated that Bashkortostan and Tatarstan might give the title “Khan” to their rulers. Khamitov Khan of Bashkortostan had a nice ring to it but, the former Moscow bureaucrat appointed to his post in 2010 demurred.

Bashkortostan : Wild Honey, Horse Milk, And Lots Of Oil

Шамонин ауылы һабантуйы
Image by Рөстәм Нурыев

“We’re a modern people — we will not allow ourselves to fall back into ‘medieval times’ in choosing a name for the head of the region,” he said with a chuckle. President Khamitov favored the Russian title “Head of the Republic”, and that is the title used by his successor Radiy Khabirov.

Khamitov answered my questions about the economy, the oil industry, and possible terrorist threats without flinching. However, then the topic turned to Bashkortostan’s famous honey, a source of pride for all the republic’s people regardless of their heritage. Hundreds of beehives provide what many believe is the world’s purest if not most excellent honey. The item is the most common tourist purchase and is given as a gift to visitors. While darker buckwheat honey is acceptable, those pedaling a doctored extra-sugary version are treated as if threatening a national treasure. 

Bashkortostan : Wild Honey, Horse Milk, And Lots Of Oil

Usen’-Ivanovskoye, Respublika Bashkortostan, Russia
Image by Matveev Michail

However, no trip to Ufa is complete without a visit to Ufa’s Akbuzat Hippodrome. The horse track would that in most U.S. cities to shame with its size and modern infrastructure. It’s restaurant is a destination in its own right. Perhaps unique among the world’s horse tracks, you watch the races while eating horsemeat and sipping fermented horse milk. The desserts included a bit of the region’s famous honey. Also at the restaurant were boisterous Bashkir families celebrating the birthdays of their children (Bashkorstan has one of the highest birthrates in Russia). Rodeo’s vision of an apocalypse seemed far away.

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