Wednesday, February 2, 2011

August 23 Irkutsk to Ulan Ude

Penny and Bruce meet the Buryat grandmothers society of Ulan Ude.

Ulan Ude (originally Verkhneudinsk) is almost as close to the eastern
shore of Lake Baikal as Irkutsk is to the western one. So it was a slow, tenhour
trip to arrive at Ulan Ude at 0615. This is not a fancy train like the 10
“Baikal” or the 16 “Ural.” It was very noisy, and neither Penny nor I slept
well. Tomorrow morning, we get back on this same train (by number) to
continue to the border and on to Ulan Bataar. This is the end of our Trans-
Siberian journey, since to go south from Ulan Ude counts as the Trans-
Mongolian. We were met at the Ulan Ude station by Ella, our local guide.
She teaches English at the local university and identifies herself as being of
Buryat nationality with Russian citizenship. Ella stated that the two groups
are distinct with not much mixing between the two.

We went to the Hotel Geser and checked in. Breakfast was available
at 0700. Penny and I took advantage of it. We bought a bottle of water from
a nearby convenience store, and then started our city tour at 1000. Our first
stop was the Ivolginsk Datsan, about thirty kilometers outside of town. This
monastery is the center of Siberian Buddhism, which as a variant on Tibetan
Lamaist Buddhism. They revere the Dalai Lama, and there is a local head
lama in Ulan Ude. Siberian lamas are allowed to marry. It was interesting,
but all in all, a small scale operation that also looked a bit garishly painted in
some places.

Ivolginsk Datsan is the center of Siberian Buddhism.

Another building in Ivolginsk Datsan.

Our next stop was the open air museum which contains a wide range
of structures, including local aboriginal styles and Buryat styles. The Old
Believer established by Avvakum himself still has its descendants here, and
the open air museum has some of their village structures, as well as an
ornately carved, large wooden gate first produced about one hundred years

Saturday seems to be another big day for Russian weddings. There
were quite a few couples dressed out for photo shoots. A number of
grandmother-aged women had created a sort of cheering section for
local brides and grooms. The grandmas were clothed in Buryat national
dress. One of them turned out to be a former colleague of Ella’s, and so we
became celebrities as they had us join in several traditional dances. We also
tasted their fermented mare’s milk drink, the one called airag by
Mongolians. Different! But it was great fun!

Our final stop was the excellent ethnographic museum, which
contained numerous Buryat and Old Believer artifacts that explained the
history of the region. Our group went its own way for dinner after a
supermarket stop to prepare for tomorrow’s border crossing delays. Penny
and I could not find the Asian restaurant that was recommended and so we
went to a fast food cafeteria. We went back to the Geser, and then repacked
our suitcases. So draws to a close our Russian journey.

Scenes from Ulan Ude.  It was a trading route city (Siberian furs for Chinese tea).

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