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Published: April 29th 2014
I hate to say it, but this city sounds like a posterior body part or a bad dream. Ulan Ude is the capital of the Buryat Republic. It is a small city with a multiethnic background. So, let's see what we can find out about this place, and its people. It lies only 62 miles southeast of famous Lake Baikal. The city sits on the confluence of the Uda and Selenga Rivers. It is the third largest city in eastern Siberia with a little over 400,000 people.
The city has undergone many name changes through the years. The current name was given in 1934, and means "red Uda" in Buryat. We are 3500 miles (5649 kilometers) east of Moscow. The first occupants were the Evenks, and later the Buryat Mongols. In 1666, the Russian Cossacks came along to settle due to its favorable location. It became an important trade center, linking Moscow to China and Mongolia. In 1690, it became the administrative center of the Transbaikal region.
The Trans Siberian Railway reached here in 1900, causing explosive growth. Russians make up 73%!,(MISSING) while Buryats number 21%!,(MISSING) and Ukrainians less than 3%! (MISSING)The city also lies on the M55 portion of the Baikal Highway, part of the Trans Siberian Highway. It was closed to foreigners until 1991.
The main attraction, according to most people, is the square of Soviets, in the form of the head of Lenin. It weighs 42 tons, and was opened in 1971 to honor Lenin's birth. The city has long frigid winters, but short and warm rainy summers. I don't think I will be here for much longer.
They say the city has a distinct Asian-like feel, whatever that means, perhaps due to its proximity to Mongolia. They say the locals are very friendly to visitors. We shall see. The city is compact and easy to walk. The puppet theater (not the political kind of puppet) is said to be worthy of many awards. I just don't think I will be able to understand the puppet show.
But I hear the local cuisine is good, mostly the dumplings, called steamed "pozi". noodles, called "shuleen", and meat broth, called "buklyor." Perhaps at this point, I would settle for a bag burger and Russian fries. But I hear they have internet here. And most importantly, Lake Baikal is not far away.
From an article in The Moscow Times: The first secret that an Ulan-Ude resident whispered in my ear was something like: "Don't you feel the peace and the freedom of this place? The farther you are away from Moscow, the freer you are." I would attribute this feeling to the prevalence of Buddhist culture here. But this city of extremes seems to live harmoniously together. Cute little Buddha statues are the typical Buryat souvenir here.
They even tout the nightlife here as the "hippest and hottest." Now really. I can only believe so much propaganda. They say the DJs are quite skilled, and are a perfect match for their European cuisine. Personally, I would take a bowl of rice and some sautéed vegetables. If you ask a local to talk, their common response is that they have nothing in particular to talk about. "We are just people with a good sense of humor." And they do tend to look on the bright side, perhaps due to their Buddhist fundamentals.
We are about four days away from the Moscow train station. Let's go!
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