Ulan-Ude Russia – Introduction
Ulan-Ude is the capital city of the Republic of Buryatia, Russia, located about 100 kilometers southeast of Lake Baikal on the Uda River at its confluence with the Selenga. The Buryat capital is one of Eastern Siberia’s most likeable cities.
It is the third largest city in eastern Siberia by population.
It is a great stop to include in your Trans-Siberian Tour.
How many inhabitants does Ulan-Ude have?
According to the latest census, Ulan-Ude has 404,426 inhabitants.
The first impression of Ulan-Ude isn’t always good
The phrase “post-Soviet industrial desolation” would seem to aptly describe what you see from the train.
However, after a few days spent here and with the benefit of your knowledgeable guide it becomes apparent that there is a lot to see and do in and around Ulan-Ude.
What Ulan-Ude lacks in picture postcard sights it more than makes up for in its cultural diversity.
As the capital of Russia’s Buryatia republic it is a unique mix of the Buryat and Russian peoples and their culture, of Orthodox and Buddhist religions and Soviet industrial planning giving way to an uncertain new world.
History of Ulan-Ude
Originally, this part of Russia was inhabited solely by the Buryat people. Buryats are Mongolians who practice Tibetan Buddhism and are the largest indigenous group in Russia. However, in 1668 the first Cossacks arrived and were soon setting their Ostrogs (fortresses) up along the
strategically located Selenga and Ude rivers.
The most important of the fortresses was at Udinskoe which is now modern Ulan-Ude.
By 1745 the city had a cathedral and had become a key post for the caravans trading tea from China.
In 1900 Ulan-Ude was connected to the railway enhancing its importance as a regional trading base. The Soviets made Ulan-Ude into an industrial city with locomotive production and repair becoming one of the key sectors.
While building up the region’s industrial base the Soviets were also busy doing there best to destroy Buddhism in the region. Nowadays the Buryats are getting back to their origins with a growing interest in both Buddhism and Shamanism reemerging.
Since the fall of communism in Russia, Ulan-Ude has struggled to redefine its role although progress is being made and the number of scientific institutions provides a good base for future development.
Ivolginsk Datsan Monastery
For many the highlight of a stopover in Ulan-Ude is this monastery, the center of Buddhism in Russia.
Please make sure to walk around these religious buildings in a clock-wise direction.
Situated 35km outside of Ulan-Ude on a wide plain with a backdrop of mountains, the Datsan symbolizes the reemergence of Buddhism in this part of Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. Its importance was highlighted when the Dalai Lama paid a visit in 1992 as well as 4 further times since then. Now there are about 30 lamas teaching here and a growing number of novices join each year.
Monkeyshrine only offers one tour in Ulan-Ude which covers all the main places of interest in this cultural entrepot, spread over two days.
Included is a city tour, Atsagatski Datsan, Ivolginski Datsan and the Old Believers.
In a glass sided shrine protected from the elements is a big leafy tree (ficus religious) that is said to be an offshoot of the original tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment.
Good to know
Ulan-Ude weather and climate:
Cold winters (now there’s a surprise!) and warm sunny summers.
Ulan-Ude is considered to be one of the sunniest places in this part of Russia.
If you have time to get online try the Internet center on Ul Borsoeva open from 9am to 10pm.
Costs are around US$1 per hour.
The Buryatia Hotel on Kommunisticheskaya ul., 47a has an exchange desk open from 9am to 6pm with an hours break for lunch from 1 to 2pm and closed on Sundays.
There is also an ATM here. Along Lenina Street there is another ATM at the Baikalbank.
At Lenina ulitsa, 25 there is one which is open 24 hours.
The 24 hour Sputnik supermarket on Erbanova, 20 after the Baikal hotel is your best bet for essential train supplies and a few luxuries as well!
The letny café at the intersection of Ul Lenina and ul Kalandarishvili is good for snacks and the Hotel Buryatia is a passable option for something more substantial. Note that you will be well fed by your Homestay hosts so there shouldn’t be any real need to go out to eat.