18-20 March 2010
A sort of Jack London day in Siberia. We left Irkutsk for a scenic train ride around the southern end of Lake Baikal. Sharing our car with several cooing birds riding the rails to Vladivostok. All we can tell from the man who transports them is they definitely are not destined for a plate. Once again we are served water and a nice bowl of Borscht. The train is #350, slower and older, but a nice ride. Many fishermen on the ice, ice pressure ridges, and cars out on the ice. The lake is immense – the largest in Europe. It is a huge expanse of snow-covered ice with high mountains in the distance.
We arrived in Ulan-Ude to be met by Rada and Anatoly our driver. She is Buryat, a descendant of the Mongols, friendly and outgoing. We are staying with Olga who speaks perfect French. We walked to Lenin Square to see the world’s largest Lenin head.
We hear everywhere this is the worst and longest winter in 50 yrs. I have nothing to compare it to but I am meeting more tourists in this part of the country. We feel safe walking after dark and enjoy looking at the more exotic Mongolian/ Buryat faces. Many buildings fly the flag of the Buryatia Republic.
Bright and clear and probably on the positive side of 0 C. this morning. There are over 240 days of blue sky here but it is icy and one wears a hat at all times. I learned very fast that I would rather have warm ears than groomed hair.
Rada and Anatoly drove to the Ivolginsk Buddhist Monastery. It is the Datsan for the “Most Precious Body” of Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, the 12th Khambo Lama. Wonderful colors and atmosphere. It is a rough life for the 100 monks who reside here. Rada is a Buddhist and gave an excellent explanation of what we saw. From there we visited an open-air museum with fantastic examples of the yurt, nomad tents, early wood buildings and houses of the Huns, True Believers, nomads and early Buryats. The birch houses were for summer and animal skin for winter; both had doors and still looked to be cold living. There was also a “zoo” with bears, camels, tigers, cranky yaks plus other indigenous animals all kept in pathetically small cages. We stopped in the cafe and learned about buuz, a tasty stuffed dumpling. For the rest of the afternoon we were driven around the town sites and learned city history.
Ate at the Modern Nomad, a basement pectopah that Rada recommended. We would never know it was there; many restaurants are in basements and behind unpretentious, darkened doors. It is so hot inside their buildings. However, that did not keep me from a good Russian beer and a plate of buuz.
Rada is a knowledgeable and excellent guide. I highly recommend contacting her if you are in Ulan-Ude. Contact her at email@example.com.