Ulan-Ude (Russia): Why Go to the Capital of Buryatia?

Initially, Ulan-Ude was just on our way from Irkutsk to Mongolia , but when we came there, we found that this was a great place to visit. Most of all, we enjoyed seeing Lenin’s head statue and Ivolginsky Datsan Buddhist temple.

How to get to Ulan-Ude? A drill to know if you travel by Russian trains

It may seem that getting to Ulan-Ude is not that difficult: you either fly into it or take one of many trains from Irkutsk. Yet, there is one drill a traveler who is not originally from Russia would not know: the train timetables all over Russia are Moscow time, whether they are in Siberia or Saint-Petersburg. We did not read the tickets attentively and came to the railway station at 8 pm; to be honest, we ran into the station since we were late. However, we could not see our train on the timetable and asked for help; this is how we learned that our train would depart in six hours only. It is written in the tickets with very small letters that the departure time is Moscow time.

Where to stay

In the end, we came to Ulan-Ude at 11 AM and tried to find the guesthouse we booked from Booking. However, it turned out that this was the apartment and we had to wait for the administrator to bring the key. We spent a lot of money calling the administrator and ran out of the Internet; when she finally came, it turned out that the price in booking was per person, although we booked a “double.” Since we did not have any internet left to book anything else, we had to take it. Make sure you read the reviews well: the majority of “guesthouses” in Ulan-Ude are apartments with quite unpredictable policies.

The center of Ulan-Ude

One or two hours is pretty much enough to see the center of Ulan-Ude. The main sight in Ulan-Ude is, of course, Lenin’s head—perhaps the most unusual monument to him and the biggest Lenin’s head statue in the world. Once, they wanted to make a hat for Lenin’s head in winter, and actually made a face mask during the flue epidemic, yet, the government did not allow to wear it on him.
Lenin’s head

Other attractions in the city are less well-known and are in many ways repetitive of other larger Russian cities. The map of tourist attractions is displayed in the so-called Buriat Arbat, a walking street similar to the ones in Cheboksary, Kazan, or Yoshkar-Ola.
карта центра Улануде

Buriat Arbat and the sculpture of Ulan-Ude coat-of-arms.
Buriat Arbat

At the time of our visit, one could fire the real Angry Birds in Buriat Arbat:
Buriat Arbat

The musical fountain and the square nearby:
musical fountain

The Arc of Triumph constructed for the visit of prince Nikolai in 1891.
Arc of Triumph

Contemporary architecture:
Ulan ude

The Tree of Love on which newlyweds hang their locks as a symbol of love.
Tree of Love

A tank commemorating the local soldiers who died in the Second World War:

How to get to Ivolginsky Datsan

While mainly foreign tourists come to see Lenin’s head, mainly pilgrims go to the Buddhist temple Ivolginsky Datsan. Both Lonely Planet and most of the Internet publications about Datsan have old information on how to get there: marshrutkas (minibuses) now depart not from the railway station but from Banzarov’s square. You should ride till the final stop Ivolginsk (the ticket price is 40 rubles).
how to get to Ivolginsky Datsan

At this final stop, take another marshrutka to Datsan (25 rubles).
marshrutka Ivolginsky to Datsan

It will not take longer than one hour to get there.
How to get to Ivolginsky Datsan

Ivolginsky Datsan

At the very entrance, Datsan visitors get to know that they should not sacrifice coins or other goods in the places not designated for this.
Ivolginsky Datsan

But the visitors disobey.
Ivolginsky Datsan

Before entering the main temple, one should perform Goroo ritual—walk around the temple complex clockwise turning the sacred drums called Hurde.

Ivolginsky Datsan is in fact several temples. Interestingly, it was built in the Soviet times, despite the prohibition of religion, including Buddhism. The first mass was held here in 1945 and in 1951 Datsan received the plot of land for the monastery.
Ivolginsky Datsan

In 2000s, Datsan received the imperishable body of a Lama and another temple was built to keep it. New temples are still being built, and many of them look very modern and unexpected for a temple: for instance, they have ceramic tiles on their facades. You cannot just avoid modernity.
Ivolginsky Datsan

Ivolginsky Datsan

The temples are called Dugans here, and a mass hold in these is Hural. Every Hural lasts for 2-3 hours.


Ivolginsky Datsan

Not only Buddhists or tourists visit Datsan. All kinds of specialists receive visitors for appointments here, for instance, astrologists.
astrologists in Datsan

The visitors queue waiting for being received.
visitors queue

At Datsan complex, there is a good café offering local dishes.
Datsan café

You only need 5 to 7 hours to see the center of Ulan-Ude and Ivolginsky Datsan, which is why the city is great as a hub and a short stop on the way from Irkutsk to Mongolia. It feels so much like the city in between these two: it is still next to Baikal and in many ways is similar to Olkhon and Arshan, but is much more Buddhist, like Mongolia . From Ulan-Ude, we departed to Kyakhta, the city at Mongolia border and then to Mongolia.

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