Kazan is the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, an interesting and unique area in Russian. It is the centre of Tatar culture and the Tartars have a long history in Russia going back to Volga Bulgaria kingdom. It is about 150 years older than Moscow. In the 15th century, the Kazan khanate was formed with Kazan as its Islamic capital. Kazan was a wealthy, successful trading port along the Volga River. (It still is today and is probably one of the reasons Putin leaves this area as an independent republic with its own president.) Later, Ivan the Terrible captured the city and the Kremlin was constructed and onion-domed churches were built alongside the ancient mosques. Under Soviet rule in the early 1900s many of these religious buildings were destroyed. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, these buildings now have been reconstructed. I was surprised to find such a variety of religions in Russia all seemingly living peacefully side by side today.
Tatarstan is the only “stan” with its own president. It is an area rich in natural resources, mainly gas, but also hydro power and lumber. It has a beautiful white Kremlin, and within its walls you can find churches along side Kazan’s ancient mosques, including the huge beautiful Kul Sharif Mosque. The homes in this area are also unique. Stone on the bottom and wood on top. It was here that we had a two cooking lessons. At the Tatar Gourmet House, we learned how to make “peruska” (that is a phonetic spelling since my Russian is lacking). They are dumplings filled with meat and spices and then baked and typical of this area We had lunch there the first day, and we got to eat the dumplings we had made. Delicious!
On our second day in Kazan, we saw how they made chak chak, a dessert made of flour and eggs, cut into small pieces, deep fried, and then coated with honey. They were sort of like rice krispie squares. They make chak chak snacks, and “cakes” which are decorated with various fruits, nuts, and sometimes flowers. You would find the cakes traditionally at weddings. It is recognized as Tatarstan’s national sweet in Russia. We enjoyed them with a cup of tea at the Chak Chak Musem where we got to try on traditional clothing and jewellery. I was right at home in Russia, as it seems to me, more people drink tea than coffee.
We also visited the Temple of All Religions just outside Kazan. The late Russian artist Ildar Khanov had a dream to unite all the religions of the world after “receiving a message from God.” Khanov started building this temple himself in 1992. It is financed by donations. The site is a colourful jumble of spires, minarets and onion domes. He died in 2013 and his niece is trying to finish the project. Interesting!!
Later that day, we headed back to the train station to board our private car and continue our journey, and even though I didn’t have my own toilet, it was lovely to come back to my little niche on the train. Home Sweet Home!!