Ulan Ude is the capital of the Buryiat republic, a Mongolian culture. Nomads who lived with horses are now settling in cities, 30% of the locals speak Buryiat and it is being promoted in schools. The Buryiats are keen on the sports wrestling, archery and horse racing. We visited a huge Tibetan bhuddist monastery outside Ulan Ude. Bhuddism was partially repressed during the Soviet era but is now flourishing there. We walked round clockwise spinning prayer wheels. The preserved body of a local saint is on view and people visit him for good luck, he looked hunched up and dried out. Many Mongolians were being photographed in their best clothes at the shrine. Many people have Mongolian features with pale round faces and dark hair.
Ulan Ude has the largest Lenin head statue in Russia. We walked round a pedestrianised area beside the cathedral and saw 18 and 19 century wooden houses. The theatre was an Art Deco building with Mongolian additions. Gulag victims were remembered with an affecting monument with faceless woman and child beside a barbed wire fence and the caption “What for” which conveys the incomprehensible horror of the gulag. We had a fine view of the town from a rooftop bar where we sipped Russian champagne and nibbled pickled veggies. The main fountain near Lenin’s head had a 19 century theatre and music timed to its water displays Many people were out enjoying a summer evening.
Lake Baikal is a 2 hour drive from the city. We had an enthusiastic guide, 24 yr old Ivan who is very enthusiastic about the lake. The lake is vast, fed by 300 plus rivers and between 2 tectonic plates. The lake is 80 km at its widest point and more than 636 km. long. It feels like a clean sea. On the west side there are many beach huts. We walked down to the lake and swam, I skinny dipped because I had forgotten my swim suit. Ivan described the beautiful ice sculptures that are formed by ice and wind in the winter.
On our journey back to Ulan Ude I asked him about politics and found that he supported the protests occurring now in Moscow.
Ulan Ude feels both Mongolian and Soviet. One can see the history of the area in the architecture from the 18c to the 21st and the marks of the Soviet era are visible.