Russia Part 5 – Ulan-Ude

Day 163: August 22, 2018

I didn’t have a good sleep last night on the train. It was very jolty and we had to be up at 4:30 am to get off the train. We arrived in Ulan-Ude and were taken to our hotel for an early check in. We had showers then I had a short nap.

We went down for breakfast in the hotel. I had a crepe with honey that literally tasted like the toilet on the train. Danny thought I was exaggerating, but when he tasted it he agreed.

At 9:00 am we met our guide for a tour of Ivolginsky Datsan Monastery about 50 minutes outside of Ulan-Ude. It is a Buddhist monastery within the Buryat Republic. The republic is the size of Japan or Germany, but only 975,000 people live there. The area previously belonged to Mongolia until Russia invaded 400 years ago. It took the Russians a century to conquer Siberia. An agreement between Russia and China led to the current border.

The Buryat language is a dialect of Mongolian which is actually more similar to Turkish than Chinese. In 1923, Lenin would not give the Buryats autonomy, but agreed to the preservation of their native tongue and culture. In 1958, the name Buryat was given to the group of different tribes living in the republic area. In Soviet times, talk of Genghis Khan was prohibited to prevent a separatist movement in the region.

Empress Elizabeth was the Russian ruler that accepted Buddhism as an official religion in 1741. She believed treating those at the frontier well would help protect the border. She preferred Buddhism over Shamanism as the lamas were more organized making the people easier to control.

Stalin destroyed many Buddhist monasteries and sent lamas to labour camps during his rule. A local lama negotiated with Stalin for the building of a monastery in the Buryat Republic. Many locals had fought for the Soviet Union during WWII. Stalin agreed that they could pick a spot for the monastery. While looking for a spot, the horse the lama was riding refused to go any further so the people decided it must be the location for the monastery. The Ivolginsky Datsan Monastery was built in 1945 and is the centre of Buddhism in Russia. The Dalai Lama cannot currently visit Russia as it would upset their ties with China.

We walked around the monastery clockwise passing the prayer wheels along the way. Inside the monastery is a university where students study for eight years to become lamas. We visited a couple of temples that were very adorned inside. No photos were allowed inside.

Prayer wheels at Ivolginsky Datsan

Outside one of the smaller temples was a black kitten. I picked him up and he was purring like crazy. I skipped the temple and held the kitten. I didn’t want to put him down.

Temple at Ivolginsky Datsan

There was a well with a rock on top that the Mongolian tourists line up to walk to with their eyes closed. If they reach the rock their wish will come true.

Wishing well at Ivolginsky Datsan

We ate lunch in a ger canteen within the monastery. We had fresh bread, salad, noodle soup and buuza (dumplings very similar to khinkali) then there was a deep fried dough for dessert.

Buryat food

After lunch, we returned to the hotel. In our room, I napped again to try to catch up on some sleep. Around 5:00 pm we ventured out. We went to the main square and saw the head of Lenin, a statue. The bronze statue is over seven metres tall and was built in 1970.

Head of Lenin

Then we went to a different square in front of the theatre where a celebration with music and dancing was going on. Danny also found the finish line for the Mongol Rally. The Mongol Rally is a charity rally where teams race beater cars from one city to another. This year the rally went from Prague to Ulan-Ude. There is no set route and teams can take their time as there is no winner or loser.

Mongol Rally finish line

We continued down the street towards the river. We passed the Holy Cathedral Odigitrievsky then walked passed some of the historic buildings. On our way back we went through the central market.

Holy Cathedral Odigitrievsky

At 8:00 pm we met the group at the hotel and walked up the street to Bar 12. There was a very nice view over the city at sunset. We had drinks then Sasha left to spend time with his family. It ended up taking over an hour and a half for our food and they all came at different times. We have come to expect a delay when in a foreign country especially when we are with a group. We were just enjoying the night and the drinks.

Sunset in Ulan-Ude

We returned to the hotel with the group, but then we weren’t ready for bed. We went to the hotel restaurant and ordered another round of drinks and dessert. When we were finished we returned to our room for bed.

Day 164: August 23, 2018

We slept in a bit then went downstairs for breakfast. At 10:00 am we both called our parents. We checked out of the room at noon and stored our bags in the hotel. Sasha suggested a pizza place for us for lunch, but warned it wouldn’t be as good as pizza in Canada.

We had a bit of trouble finding the place as it was downstairs in a row of buildings. The waitress only spoke a bit of English and there was no English menu. We ordered a pepperoni pizza which translated easily then pointed to another pizza on the menu unsure what we would get. It ended up being a chicken, tomato and ham pizza. The pizza was acceptable, but nothing amazing.

After lunch, we walked to a grocery store and picked out items for our 3 1/2 day train trip. Back at the square we sat for a bit to do some people watching. There was a man with balloons that he had obviously taken off the main stage. It appeared he was trying to sell them to people. He came towards us (likely because we were staring at him) and we decided it was time to return to the hotel. We noticed a lot more street people in Ulan-Ude than other cities. The further west cities may have been “cleaned up” for the World Cup.

At the hotel, we met the group and traveled to the train station. We waited a bit inside until we knew our track number then boarded our train. We were all in the same car except Sasha. Danny and I are with two randoms. A mother and young daughter boarded a stop after us and were in the two top bunks. We prefer the top ones as we are able to get out of the way and lay down whenever we want. The train has no air conditioning and no dining car so I think the ride may be harder than the previous one. You just don’t know what type of train you will get!

We stayed up for a midnight stop to get some fresh air then went to bed. Our lunch was so big we weren’t even hungry for supper.

We have a long train journey ahead of us before we end our Trans-Siberian journey in Vladivostok.


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