After catching some rain and snow (!) on the way back from Baikal we returned to Irkutsk for one day. It was enough time to buy the next day train ticket and have an evening walk in the city.
The architecture of the city is definitely nice. There is lots of traditional Siberian style wooden houses, although many of them are not in good shape and some of them look as they have been built from the second floor. It is because they had been built upon frozen ground and later subsided when the ground thawed. Then there are of course less nice Soviet style housing blocks, the majestic governmental buildings and statues.
We finished the day in 130 Kvartal, a shopping mall packed with restaurants, cafes and commercial museums. This quarter is recreated of yet more wooden original and fake buildings. Overall it is quite an impressive place.
On our way to Ulan Ude we took a day train to enjoy the most scenic route of Trans- Siberian. The train goes so close to Baikal Lake that you feel like jumping into the blue water (yes, we still didn’t have enough of it) and on the other side of the carriage there is a tempting view of the beautiful Khamar Daban Mountains. It’s really difficult to have a nap, when you have such a feast for eyes around you!
In Russia all the cities are about Vladimir Lenin, having his statues, main streets and squares named in his honor. The good thing we found about it was that even without the map and having little time it’s easy and quick to get to the city center. But Ulan Ude surprised us with this unusual statue of his head, the largest in the world – measuring more than 7 meters high and weighing more than 40 tons.
The top attraction of the city not to be missed is the picture with Lenin. And so we took one, or rather couple of them with other guys from the hostel.
Apart from it, Ulan Ude is a blend of Buddhist, Orthodox and Soviet heritage. It is the main Buddhist center in Russia. It is something that we would not expect to experience in Russia, much less Siberia.
There are 2 Buddhist monasteries nearby. One of them is Ivolginsky Datsan, the biggest Buddhist temple complex about 30 kilometers south of the city. Ironically, it was founded during Stalin’s times and with his permission.
The second Buddhist monastery Rinpoche Bagsha Datsan lies within the city limits of Ulan-Ude in more picturesque place – Mount Lysaya from where you can get a view of whole city.
And finally for many travelers like us Ulan Ude is just the last stop in Russia, 250 km away from Mongolia.
We found out about 3 options to cross the border:
- the least comfortable – a train to Ulaanbaatar that can take even 1 day and minimum 5 hours at the border
- most popular – a direct bus to Ulaanbaatar
- the cheapest but also more adventurous – take a marshrutka to the last village called Kyakhta, find somebody who can drive you through the border (it’s not allowed to cross the border on foot) and get the local bus to Ulaanbaatar.
Not taking too much time, we decided for the 3rd option together with French guy named Hadrien. Unfortunately for our blog (lack of adventure story) but fortunately for us the travel went very smoothly. For some additional rubles the marshrutka driver dropped us at the border where after around 15 minutes of trying our luck we were accepted by the Mongolian fruit truck driver who drove us through the border.
Leaving Russia was easier than we thought – we were not asked for any tickets, registration or other documents. Saying ‘ Dasvidaniya’ for the last time we entered Mongolia, but this is another story…