Privet Ulan-Ude!April 21 in Russia
My last stop in Russia has probably been one of the best. Let's catch you up withy my stay in Ulan-Ude.
Train 5 - Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude
As this train journey was only seven hours and was during the day I decided to choose a seat instead of a bed. My carriage was only about a third full so was a very quiet journey. I read most of the way, although stopping to take in the amazing view of the lake which we travelled alongside for about an hour. I still can't quite get over its size. I arrived in Ulan-Ude at about 10pm and walked the short distance to my hostel. I was quite hungry when i got there and the girl working at the hostel told me there was a shop nearby that would be open. On the way there though i noticed a Subway out of the corner of my eye. I caved. I chose the easy option. Don't judge me...
Day 1 - Ivolginsky Datsan
I decided to take the local bus out of the city to the village of Ivolgiansky to visit the datsan (Buddhist monestary) which is the oldest Buddhist monestary in Russia. The journey was very straightforward and I arrived after 40 minutes. As it is a Buddhist temple there are a few rules which should be followed when inside the complex. When you enter the complex (which is a series of temples and buildings within a walled area) you have to walk around the tiled path in a clockwise direction, in a proud manner (being in thought or prayer), and you must spin the Mantra scrolls that you pass them, which is supposed to symbolise the mantras being read and the enegry being released. Only after have you completed this circuit can you enter the temples themself. After the first circuit I walked around again and then went into each other temples as I walked by. As you enter you must take off your hat as a sign of respect, and when inside you must also walk around the room in a clockwise direction. Each temple I went in was empty apart from a single monk who i assume is there to look after the buildings between prayers. The buildings themselves are very colourful, and insde are decorated with a number of coloured silk scarfs and flags. There is an area in the middle of each one with small seats and cussions where the monks pray. And as they are meant for prayer it is forbidden to take pictures inside. It was very peacful walking around the monestary, and as it is off season for tourists, and it was actually snowing that day the place was nearly empty. Just a few monks walking around and locals who are visiting to pray. As i was trying to enter the main central monestary a monk came over to see if I needed help. He explained that the temple was closed as the monk was probably eating. He then said that he had some free time and would i like him to show me around. He explained that each temple was build for a different lama. And the one that i was trying to enter was actually for the 12th Pandito Hambo Lama who was 166 years old and was inside meditating and has been like that for 95 years. More on that later. He gave me a small tour of the complex where he showed me a few temples, the university where the apprentice monks train, and was even kind enough to show me his house on the site. As we were walking around he explained that he studied in India in an english school and that is why he can speak the language but he has forgotten alot, so when he sees tourists here and has some free time he likes to talk to them to practice. As we were about to part ways, as the main temple was about to open again, he asked if I had facebook. So now folks I am facebook friends with a very cool Buddhist Monk. I didn't expect that when i woke up this morning! I then whent to visit the 166 year old Lama. And as no photos were alowed inside the temple I am afraid you will have to visit Ulan-Ude to see him for yourself. Words will not suffice.
Day 2 - Ulan-Ude
I decided to get the local bus to Datsan Rinpoche Bagsha, the temple within the city, which also provided a panoramic view of the city. When i got on the bus it was standing room only and I positioned myself in the aisle next to an older man. I glanced at him and he took that as an ivitation to start talking to me. I told him i didn't speak any Russian (in Russian), but he carried on talking to me. He had a book with him, which i later learned was of foreign literature, and he was trying to show me pages from England, in Russian. I kept smiling and nodding along and then he closed the book and handed to me and said "present". I said "are you sure?" and he kept nodding. I thanked him and took the book and then sat down in a newly empty seat. He then turned around to me and nodded and said "hmm... Beatles!...John Lennon... Paul McCartney...". I then interjected "Da... Ringo Star." He smiled excitedly and then turned away. I then heard people laughing and turned around and saw two local girls who said "he's crazy". After a few minutes he got up for his stop and said "Goodbye my friend" as he left. Well that was definitely the most interaction I've had with a local who wasn't working in a hostel. Once at the temple I followed the same rules as the previous day and walked around the complex in a clockwise direction, but this time i took a few pictures as I walked as it seemed to be a more relaxed place. As I was walking around I saw the two girls from the bus ahead of me talking. As I approached them one turned around and said "Hello, where are yoou from?", I said "England", they said "Oh, England! How exciting! Maybe we can help you?", I said "oh yes please!" Cue me spending the next hour with them walking around the temple, talking about travelling and what they do (both 22 years old, studying helicopter engineering). One of the girls, Kristine, spoke English quite well and the other one, Masha, could understand quite a bit but only felt confident to speak a few words. After walking around for about an hour, talking and taking pictures, we came to the end of the temple walk. The girls then asked what my plans were for the rest of the day. I said I had none. They then said they had another friend who had a car and we could go to the Ethnological museum just outside the city. Of course I jumped at the chance. We got the bus back to the city centre and then walked down the main pedestrian street to where their friend picked us up. Sasha spoke no English at all so spoke with Masha in the front while me and Kristine sat in the back seat. During the drive I could work out that Masha was telling Sasha about the man on the bus. It was then that Kristine told me that the man was actually telling me the he didn't like England or English people and that the Queen was a bad person. And he seemed so friendly! Oh well... My new friends were very sweet and insisted on buying my ticket for the museum, with Sasha saying "present". The ethnological museum is a big open are museum where there are loads of actual houses from different areas of Russia from the last hundred or so years. The houses have actually been moved from other parts of Russia and rebuilt in the museum. It was really interesting walking around and seeing how people used to live in the past, and comparing the sizes of houses to what we are used to now. We walked aroung the museum for about an hour, during which my new friends asked if I wanted to go to Lake Baikal, two hours drive there and back. I thanked them but explained that I had already been and I think too far for me today. After the museum we drove back to the city and they dropped me at my hostel, not before exchanging Instagram details though!
So what I have learnt is that in Ulan-Ude, if you look like a tourist you will attract such kind and helpful people, as they are so surprised that you have travelled to their small city far away from Moscow. I don't think i have to tell you that it has been my favourite city in Russia to date.
So there you have the last of my stories from Russia.
Before I leave you again here are a few things i have learnt about Russia:
1. All trains run on Moscow time (which is mighty confusing when the country spans 11 time zones!)
2. The trains run bang on time.
3. There is no drainage system in the roads (which means lots of surface water during spring).
4. Unfortunately (for some western travellers at least) you cannot flush toilet paper, there are seperate bins for that...
5. Russians have two passports, a domestic and an international passport. Very handy I think.
6. Unlike other places I have been, you will find many locals living in hostels as they work in other cities for short periods.
7. There is a statue of Lenin in every city in Russia (and in Ulan-Ude it is just his head, but it is huge!)
8. Russians like weird statues.
9. It is not impossible to be Vegan here, but it definitely gets harder the further east you go.
10. Russia is a MASSIVE country, and one that is definitely worth exploring!
So that concludes my Russian journey. Next stop Mongolia!