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In an incense-filled cabin, we met with the leader of Siberia's one million Buddhists, Damba Ayusheyev, the 25th Pandito Hambo Lama. He told us of the miracles Buryatia was witnessing. Chief among them was the exhumation of the 12th Pandito Hambo Lama, who before his death in 1927 directed students to check on his body someday. When disinterred in 2002, Ayusheyev said, the body was perfectly intact, muscles and skin showing no signs of decay. More recently, images of a bodhisattva had been discovered on a rock in the Barguzin Valley near Lake Baikal: the fulfillment of a prophecy. "We were told that Buddhism would move north," Ayusheyev said. "Look at India, it is no longer so Buddhist. Look at Nepal, it is the same. Look even at Tibet, it has been taken over by China. But up here in Buryatia, it is coming back." Along with pipelines, roads, and foreign-built cars, religion is creeping into Siberia. "I am not saying that Buryatia is the center of Buddhism," he continued. "But in 20 or 30 years, it might be."

We spent the next four days at Baikal, the deepest and largest lake in the world, home to a fifth of the planet's surface fresh water, ocean blue and so vast as to seem immune to change. Once a winding, six-hour drive away from Ulan Ude, it was soon to become hours closer on a new spur highway. On our way there, we saw scenes reminiscent of the Amur: trees ripped out at their roots, wide corridors of stumps destined to be highway, meandering former roads now cut off and unused, laborers in orange vests warming themselves by campfires. The special tourist zone slated for major construction, though, was still undeveloped but for a new datsan. For now, our destination, Zabaikalsky National Park, famous for its mountainous Holy Nose Peninsula and freshwater Baikal seals, was equally quiet. With Darima and another local guide, Sasha Beketov, we overnighted on a 79-foot Yaroslavets-style fishing boat—the classic Baikal tourist experience, complete with vodka, hot springs, a fish cookout, and more vodka—before driving up the beautiful Barguzin Valley, a Tetons-like landscape of pine forest and broad grasslands fronting a wall of toothy peaks.

We had come to the valley, the birthplace of Genghis Khan's mother, to see the bodhisattva described by Lama Ayusheyev. It had been discovered in 2005, and already the holy site had three gleaming new temples and a path choked with pilgrims. We joined them and ascended into a forest. After 15 minutes, we came to a stand of pines whose trunks were wrapped in cloth and prayer flags. Families of Buryats circled clockwise around a Cube-size boulder, and I glimpsed a dark, oddly shaped smudge about the size of my hand: a prophecy realized, something that may or may not have been a goddess on a rock.

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