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Siberian Miracle Mud
by Valerie Sartor
2013-08-06 10:56:10
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Indigenous people have revered the earth in their ancient homelands since time immemorial. In fact, the oldest recorded use of medicinal clay traces back to Mesopotamian culture. In addition to providing foodstuffs, shelter, and beauty, ancient indigenous people literally harvested clay to be used as medicine. From past to present, such knowledgeable healers prescribed and still prescribe clay. The substance may be ingested, or it may be placed on the body, either as a bath and/or as a hot balm.

covering_guest_in_mud_400Around the world, kaolin and smectite clays, such as bentonite, Fuller's earth, and montmorillonite, are prescribed to be used both internally and externally. Even today, no one can predict the exact chemical content of these clays, as no batch is ever exactly the same. In the western world, too, these terms for medicinal clays are often used interchangeably. In the western world, one may purchase bentonite in health food stores.   

The use of clay as medicine may be based on folkloric practices or upon simple trial-and error. In Siberia, for example, indigenous people have long known that natural hot springs, with their attendant mud and clay, would heal both animals and men.  While precise identification of the mineral content of these places remained vague, a great respect for 'sacred springs and curing earth' has been passed from generation to generation. Indigenous Siberians still view the earth as alive and nurturing. Many know where to find "healing earth."

This summer, as a visiting researcher, I have had the opportunity to visit a sacred healing spot of the Indigenous Buryat-Mongols. These once nomadic people live in Buryatia, a small autonomous republic once affiliated with the former USSR, and now joined to the Russian Federation. The Buryats differ from other Mongolian and indigenous Siberians peoples, for several reasons. Their language, their land, and their history are radically from the Mongolians living in Outer Mongolia and North China. Their culture is also unique from other indigenous Siberians as well. 

Specifically, the Buryats were colonized by Russians, in the early 17th century. At that time, the Buryats received the milk separator, the plough, and the light chariot (telega in Russian) from the Russian invaders. These tools all impacted their way of life. They kept, however, their language, culture, and shamanistic & Buddhist beliefs. The Buryats are known for their tolerance; they have long tried to live in harmony with the Russians.

Legend states that when one Russian explorer, a certain Captain Prozhivaiski, led an 18th century expedition through Buryatia to Mongolia, one of his prize horses went lame. Local Buryats took the horse to a nearby lake, where they soaked the animal's leg, then gently applied a thick coating of mud, and wrapped the horse's leg in felt. Within 24 hours the horse was fit. Consequently, the captain wrote about this miraculous spot, Kiran, which is near the present day Outer Mongolian/Russian Federation border.

The healing waters of Kiran Lake are approximately 30 kilometers from the once bustling border town of Kyatka. During the era of the Russian Empire, until the Suez Canal was completed, Kyatka was a key town in the Silk and Tea Route. Traders carried goods overland by camel and horse from China through Siberia to European Russia and on to Europe, with tea as their most precious cargo. Yet for many years after the captain's horse was healed, Kiran Lake remained obscure and unvisited by all but a few local Buryats. During the early 1900s, a German doctor living in Kyatka also wrote a treatise about the “miracle mud” of Kiran, but his article never received much press. 

val_in_mud_400In 1917, when the Bolsheviks took power in Russia, Soviet geographers once again led expeditions around Buryatia. They also found the captain's records and the German doctor’s work. Soviet scientists tested the waters of Lake Kiran. The Soviets were greatly impressed by the micro elements and the high ph content of the clay and the water of Lake Kiran.

Thus, in the early 1930s, Soviet health authorities constructed a sanatorium on the shores of the lake. Soviet doctors started routinely prescribing a 10 day cure for patients, who suffered under a variety of ailments. For example, the lake water and the mud from the lake was and is said to cure all sorts of skin diseases, female infertility, as well as greatly reduce or cure arthritis and osteoporosis. 

The Soviet sanatorium remained active until the late 1970s. It fell into disrepair in the 1980s, as the Soviet Union started undergoing political and social changes, which ultimately led to the breakup of the USSR in the early 1990s. Consequently, Buryatia, like other parts of the USSR, experienced a severe economic crisis. In 1993, the Buryat people affiliated their republic with the Russian Federation. Health care and health spas/sanatoriums are still transitioning into a privately owned system of management. 

The Kiran Lake Sanatorium has been purchased by undisclosed buyers, approximately three years ago. Russian patients are again starting to flock for treatment. Some come as far away as Moscow or Vladivostok to have the mud cure. Conditions are basic: patients sleep in a simple complex, with three beds to a room. They can bring their own food or eat at the cafeteria, which provides three simple but hearty meals a day.

The sanatorium is located in a an idyllic village, which has two small shops that offer guests the chance to buy groceries and cook their own meals. Some patients camp along the shores of the lake. Livestock roams freely and the nearby pine forest paths lead to the pristine Chikoi River. As a guest, I gathered wild berries and mushrooms when walking on these paths. Unlike some parts of Siberia, insects are not a problem.

To get to the Kiran Sanatorium takes some effort. Foreigners need a Russian visa. The best way to proceed is through an agency if one has no Buryat friends. Foreigners should fly into Ulan Ude, the capital of Buryatia, and then take a small micro-bus to Kyatka. Ulan Ude is 300 kilometers from Kyatka; the bus ride is three hours and costs about 12USD. From Kyatka, it is possible to cheaply (under 10 USD) and easily hire a local to drive you to Lake Kiran.  

The cost of the stay, including food, board, and mud treatment, is approximately 40USD a day. The supervising doctor suggests you bring your health records with you, and he prescribes how much mud treatment you will receive, in which parts of your body. He also prescribes healing baths. Patients are greatly advised to wear warm clothing (sweats and fleeces and head caps) after every treatment, to ensure that the micro elements and healing properties are absorbed maximally into the body. 

If you need help or wish further information, please contact Dr. Amgalan Garmashapov. He, with his wife, is fluent in Russian, English, French, and Mongolian. amgalanilusia@mail.ru.


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dick lemon2016-06-19 02:41:24
anyone want to go?

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