The first multi-day stop on our Trans-Siberian trip was in the small city of Ulan Ude, the capital of the Buryat Republic and the home of Tibetan Buddhism in Russia. Even though religion was banned in communist Soviet Union, Stalin allowed the Buryats to maintain and practice Buddhism to thank the Buryatia for their help defending the country during World War II. Up until 1990, the city was closed to visitors due to nearby strategic military posts, but it’s quickly becoming a favorite stop on the Trans-Siberian route due to the uniqueness of the culture and a couple of attractions that are definitely worthwhile. The city itself is one of the poorer cities in Russia, but it is quickly changing. Even though the Buryats are a minority in the city, their presence is very apparent in the food and culture. Since the Buryats have more Asian features, it almost felt like we were in an Asian city rather than a Russian city.
The next day, we got our bearings and walked over to check out the world’s largest Lenin head sculpture in the middle of the city. The massive head is 7.7 meters tall and weighs 42 tons and it’s awesome to see in person. There wasn’t much else to do besides stare at it for a few minutes and snap some pictures like proper tourists. We noticed that it must be a legal requirement to get at least a few wedding pictures there because there were no less than three bridal parties taking pictures with Grandfather Lenin.
Day 1: Into the Wild
With my heart in my throat, N and I boarded the Rossiya train for the first leg of our journey to Ulan-Ude, the capital of the Buryat Republic smack in the middle of Siberia. The kupé (second class) cabin was surprisingly modern and unlike anything we had seen in photos in guidebooks and on blogs. The toilets I had been nervously anticipating ended up being like an airplane toilet; not the best situation, but at least they weren’t the old lever-style toilets which flushed the contents of the bowl directly onto the tracks below.
The first few hours passed quietly, with only the two of us in the cabin for four. My fever was back and I crawled up to my top bunk hopped up on aspirin and passed out. I had expected to be constantly jostled around in a loud, screeching train so I was surprised by how quiet it actually was. In the afternoon, we were greeted by “Ni hao!”s as a new cabinmate and her husband boarded the train at one of the small towns that we stopped at. After kisses goodbye, our cabinmate’s husband left and we were off again.