Other names: Udinskoye, Verkhniy Udinsk
Our last stop in Russia was in Ulan Ude, the capital of Buryat Republic. Ulan Ude is famous for two things: the largest head of Lenin is the world and being the center of Buddhism in Russia.
The highlight of our stay was definitely a visit to Ivolginsky Datsan. The complex is pretty large, and although its free to visit, they offer tours by monks for 300 rubles per group. It costs another 50 rubles if you would like to take pictures. The tour lasts about 45 minutes, and is definitely worth the price, as the conversation is quite fascinating. When we were there, there was assign that tours were available in English as well.
Overall, we liked Ulan Ude quite a bit for what it was – a smaller city that offered some interesting bits to view, a well maintained downtown with some good spots to eat or grab a drink, and a quite cool mix of food and culture of the local Buryat people who make up about 30% of the total population.
Main square and pretty buildings in downtown Ulan Ude, Russia.
We didn’t know it at the time, but Buryat national dishes are curiously similar to the Mongol national dishes – the meat pnacakes, noodle and meat soups, and meat dumplings. Obviously the two areas were once part of a common territory, but who influenced whom? On the Olkhon island, we were told that the Buryat people were dominated by the Mongols (much like the rest of the world in 1100-1300s). In Mongolia, locals suggested that Mongols and Buryats are really one and the same. Who is right? Who is wrong? I suppose its all in who writes the history.
Luggage: We didn’t check out the luggage storage facilities as we spent an overnight in Ulan Ude.
Transport links — Ivolginsky Datsan: Get to the Bus Station, take shared minivan tax #130; cost is 35 rubles. Get out at the final stop, cross the road, and take minivan taxi # to Datsan; cost is 20 rubles. The trip is about 45 minutes. It was very easy to locate all the buses.
Eat: If on tight budget, check out cantina chain Appetite, located in several spots around downtown. Apetite is run by the same group that owns a few more upscale options around town, and the food is pretty good. There is one right across form the giant Lenin head.
We liked Bar Churchill for drinks (and the food looked good too) – we caught a live music show there in the evening, which was quite pleasant.
Sleep: We stayed at a small hotel, Relax on Frunze. We had a double room with ensuite – nothing fancy, but the reception was nice, the hotel had wifi, and the shower was hot with plenty of water. Also they let us check in before it was time, and prepared take away breakfast for us since our train was very early the following morning.
Ivolginsky Datsan, Ulan Ude, Russia.