Day 19: 9th August
We were finally in Ulan-Ude, our last stop in Russia before we got to Mongolia. It’s a small town of about 400,000 people and the city started growing around the same time as Irkutsk. It is around 200 km from the Eastern shores of Lake Baikal.
Ulan-Ude is the home of Buddhism in Russia and is also the capital of the Buryat district..which takes its name from a Mongolian tribe. There is a lot of Asian influence in this city and for the first time we felt like we were in Asia. Just overnight…Russia began to feel like Asia. Though still a part of Siberia, the dense forests had now given way to the Mongolian Steppe and it was just endless grasslands as far as the eye could see.
We visited Ivolginsky Datsun which is the largest and most important Buddhist Monastery in Russia. The complex is also home to a bodhi tree which is in a green house of course..the extreme temperatures here would kill it. The tree was presented to the monastery by former Indian Prime Minister, IndIra Gandhi (who I had to explain to our guide was not Mahatma Gandhi’s daughter as he incorrectly pointed out!:))
The town’s other really bizarre claim to fame is that… It has the largest statue of Lenin’s head….not bust! Head!!!! It is right in the central square and is quite hilarious. It’s as if whoever was in charge of this, decided that it wouldn’t be possible to build the largest bust or statue as the ones in the other cities are large too… “Hmmm, how can I be different? Lets build a statue of Lenin’s head! I’ll bet no one has done that before!” And he was right too! 🙂 It is the largest Lenin head in the world!:)
We had a relatively early night as we were being picked up the next morning at 6am to catch our train to Ulan Bator, Mongolia.
Russia, you were amazing! We have had such a wonderful time. I’m sure this will not be our last trip. There is so much more to see here. Dasvidanya Russia!