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Buryatia. Ulan-Ude

The Buryat Republic (Buryatia) is a republic in the Russian Federation. It became a part of Russia in the 17th century when pioneers came to Siberia in search of gold and furs. Having a population of 1,049,000 people and area of 351,300 sq. km, Buryatia stretches along the eastern shore of Lake Baikal and thus holding bragging rights to the best beaches surrounding the lake. The republic's economy is based on agriculture, the timber and food industries and fur farming.

The Buryats, numbering approximately 350,000, is the largest ethnic minority group in Siberia. They are mainly concentrated in their homeland - the Republic of Buryatia. Buryats are of Mongolian descent and share many customs with their Mongolian cousins including nomadic herding and setting up yurts for shelter. Today, the majority of Buryats live in and around the capital of the Republic, although many live more traditional lives in the countryside.

The capital of Buryatia is Ulan Ude. Originally the city was called Verkhneudinsk, and only in 1934 it got its present name - Ulan Ude, which means Red Uda in Buryat language. The city is located in a valley formed by the Selenga and Uda rivers, approximately 75 km from Lake Baikal. With a population of 386,000 people, it is the third largest city in Eastern Siberia.

Ulan Ude was founded in 1666 by Russian Cossacks and was used primarily as a military outpost. In 1680-s the encampment was upgraded to a fortress and finally to the official status of city in 1690.

Ulan Ude's ideal geographic location made possible two distinct opportunities for rapid economical growth during the early years of the city's development. First, settling in between the commercial routes between Russia and the Far East (China and Mongolia), Ulan Ude became a hot bed of trade for the two economic powers. Secondly, the city was opened to the world when the Trans-Siberian Railway connected Ulan Ude with Central Russia and the Far East.

Ulan Ude occupies a territory of 34.3 ha and stretches for 30 km from east to west. The private residence of the President of Buryatia, the Republic's government offices, the Khural (National Assembly) are all located in Ulan Ude.

RED STAR TRAVEL invites you to visit Buryatia; a land with unique wildlife and unspoiled nature, endless steppes and taiga, Buddhist temples, nomads and shamans. Visit the main Buddhist temple in Russia - the Ivolginsky Datsan in Ulan Ude. Experience the traditional culture of the Old Believers, explore the old Siberian architecture and meet the city's friendly residents. The ethnic and cultural diversity of Ulan Ude and Buryatia makes this region a unique place where wonderful discoveries await every visitor.

 

Hotel Accommodations in Ulan-Ude

HOTEL GESER * * *

The best hotel in Ulan Ude. Located in the heart of downtown. Built in 1986. Completely renovated in 1998. 11 km to the airport and 1.5 km to the railway station. 3 floors. All floors accessible by elevator. 63 comfortable rooms: 33 singles, 22 twins, 7 suites, 1 apartment suite. All rooms feature private bathroom, color TV, radio, direct-dial international telephone, mini-bar, balconies. 24-hour room service. Restaurant for 70 seats with live music (Russian, European and Buryat national cuisine). Banquet room for 30 seats. Cafe for 24 seats. Bar. Business Center: facsimile facilities, photocopying, Internet and E-mail. Currency Exchange. Safety deposit box. Fitness center: sauna with a small swimming pool and massage, gym. Beauty shop. Billiards room. Pharmacy. Laundry. Souvenir kiosk. Luggage storage. Towncar service. On-site parking. Security service. English-speaking staff. Room rates - from $84.

HOTEL BURYATIA * * *

Located in the heart of downtown, near the central square. Built in 1993. Renovated in 1997. 11 km to the airport and 1.5 km to the railway station. 12 floors. All floors accessible by elevator. 189 rooms: 97 standard singles, 12 upgraded singles, 61 twins, 5 junior suites, 14 main suites. All rooms offered by Red Star Travel feature private bathroom, color TV, radio, direct-dial international telephone, refrigerator. Room service. 2 restaurants for 100 and 200 seats (Russian and Buryat national cuisine). 2 bars and cafe. Banquet Hall for 250 seats (2nd floor). Business Center: telex, facsimile facilities, photocopying, international telephone, computer services. Conference room. Fitness center: sauna, gym. Beauty shop. Laundry. Night Club. Billiards room. Currency Exchange. Souvenir kiosk. Luggage storage. Towncar service. English-speaking staff. Room rates - from $84.

 

What to see and visit
Ulan-Ude tours: sights,  historical buildings,  points of interest

Ulan-Ude Museums

The Natural History Museum. Operating hours: in summer - 10am to 6pm, in winter - 10am to 5pm, closed on Monday and Tuesday. The museum is located 150 meters from Soviet Square (the main square of the city). Its collections are displayed in six exhibition rooms, each dedicated to a different aspect of the natural history of the area. Among its exhibits you can find a petrified tree, a mammoth skeleton, other paleontological items, mineral samples, displays about flora and fauna of the region, historical documents. One of the main attractions is the display about Lake Baikal. The building of the museum also houses a puppet theater.

The Museum of Minerals. Operating hours: 9am to 1pm, 2pm to 4pm, on Tuesday and Friday only. The museum's collection consists of minerals found by geological expeditions in Buryatia. See Nature's amazing creations - stones of all kinds, some with patterns of gold and quartz - you will be surprised at the diversity of shapes and colors that exist in this world!

Hangalov Museum of History of Buryatia. One of the oldest museums in Siberia. Houses more than 100,000 exhibits depicting lifestyles of indigenous peoples (Buryats, Evenks) and Russians in the Trans-Baikal region, archaeological discoveries on the territory of Buryatia, history of religion (Buddhism, Russian Orthodox Church, Shamanism). Here you will find rare books, archive documents, chronicles as well as exhibitions of contemporary art. The museum is proud to have in its collection the two precious Buddhist manuscripts - Ganjur and Danjur and the ancient Atlas of Tibetan Medicine.

The Sampilov Museum of Fine Art. Operating hours: 10am to 6pm, closed on Monday and Tuesday. The museum contains private art collections, paintings and sculptures by local artists, Buddhist tankas (icons) and folk handicraft items made from wood, horse hair, bone and silver, contemporary art exhibits.

City Tour by bus, 1 hour

During this tour you will see the historical center of Ulan Ude located along the river banks like a fancy amphitheater with its 1- and 2-storey houses that belonged to merchants of the 18th-19th century, the main square with the most extravagant monument to Lenin, the Holy Trinity and the Hodigitria Cathedrals, the Buryat Opera and Ballet Theater and other historical monuments.

The Lenin Head on the main square sculptured in 1972 is quite possibly the largest in the world. It is one of the city's symbols and one of the most popular post card objects.

 

The Buryat State Opera and Ballet Theater. This is possibly one of the greatest bargains you will find on your trip. Recently performed ballets and operas include Faust, Swan Lake, Carmen, Barber of Seville, 1001 Nights and Madame Butterfly. Built on a hill by Moscow and Buryat architects, the theater looks very attractive with its beautiful exterior decorations and ornate interiors.

The Cathedral of Hodigitria. This old Russian church is the first stone building of Verkhneudinsk (1741). Today it houses a unique collection of ecclesiastical exhibits: icons, ancient books, etc.

The Great Merchants’ Rows. An architectural monument of the early 19th century decorated with wood and stone carvings is a beautiful example of Russian classicism.

Tours around Ulan-Ude:

Excursion to the Open-Air Ethnographical Museum, 3 hours

The Ethnographical Museum of the People of Trans-Baikal region. Operating hours: in summer - 10am to 5pm, in winter - 10am to 4p, closed on Monday and last Tuesday of each month. Opened on July 6, 1973. Located 8 km from Ulan Ude. The museum has expositions on the history of ethnic groups living in the region: Evenks, Western Buryats, Eastern Buryats, Cossacks, Old Believers.

Evenks Exhibition. An Evenk camp of several birch-bark and hide tepees: summer tepees of birch bark and winter tepees of fir tree bark. A shaman’s dwelling with two galleries of wood carvings depicting animals, birds and fish having spiritual significance in shamanism. Two wooden storage cabins containing hunting and fishing gear, skis, sledges, sacks and traps. 

Prebaikalian Buryat Exhibition. The exhibition displays eight-sided wooden yurts used by the 19th century Western Buryats (Buryats of Irkutsk region). The interior has seats for honorable guests, the wife’s and the husband’s quarters, and household equipment. There is a Russian-style oven near the yurt. Religious articles are those of Orthodox church as most of the Western Buryats were converted to Christianity.  

Transbaikalian Buryat Exhibition. The exhibition includes a winter house and summer yurt of a rich Eastern Buryat family, two felt yurts and a dugan (small Buddhist temple). The winter cabin, built in 1912, was brought to the museum from the village Arbigil in the Zaigraevo Region. The Tibetan-style temple was transferred from the Gusinoozersk Buddhist Monastery. The majority of Eastern Buryats became followers of Buddhism. 

Russian Cossacks Exhibition. This exhibition includes an estate of a wealthy Cossack ataman (chieftain), his main house, stables, storehouses, etc. Here you will also find a house of a poor peasant and a log cabin called an “exile shelter.” In the 18th century Siberia became a place of exile for criminals and political rebels. Along the Trans-Siberian Railway, there were hundreds of such shelters. 

Old Believers Exhibition. This exhibition tells about lifestyles of the Old Believers exiled to Siberia after the Church reforms of the seventeenth century. The houses of poor, middle class and wealthy families, a small chapel, and colorfully decorated gates give you an idea of the exciting history of this religious group. 

Old Verkhneudinsk Exhibition. The exhibits of this section launch visitors on a voyage through the history of Ulan Ude (Verkhneudinsk) in the 19th-the beginning of the 20th century. Here you will find an early 20th century church, a wooden house with a mezzanine and staircase, and a 1-storey house with ornate carvings. 

Wildlife Park. This section of the museum occupies a territory of 50 ha and features native wildlife of Transbaikalie. Here you will see wolves, bears, horses, sheep, deer, camels, yaks.

Tour of an Old Believers Village, 6 hours

The Old Believers, or Semeiskiye as they are called in Siberia, make up a unique regional ethnic group. They appeared about 300 years ago, after a split of Russian Orthodox Church. When Patriarch Nikon made the changes to the Orthodox worship in the 17th century, some believers continued to worship in the "old way" - speaking old Russian, crossing themselves with two fingers instead of three, keeping their beards. They broke away led by Avvakum Petrovich, an archpriest who was later executed. The government and the Orthodox church persecuted these people, as a result many of them committed suicide by burning themselves.

Eventually, the Old Believers divided into sects, some sects fleeing to the borderlands, others exiled to Siberia. In 1764, during the reign of Catherine the Great, Old Believers from Poland were taken into the remote wilds of Transbaikalie, which is now the Buryat Republic. Scattered across the region, they lived in isolation and preserved their beliefs, including their sacred two finger cross sign. They settled down and cultivated new lands, forming communities and faithfully following old traditions.

The term Semeiskiye is derived from the word family in Russian. Old Believers got this name in Siberia because of the fact that unlike other exiles they brought their families with them and settled down in very close communities. In the Urals they are known as Kerzhaks, in Romania - Lipovans, and in Turkey - Nekrasov Cossacks. In 1971, the Council of the Russian Orthodox Church officially recognized the rites and practices of the Old Believers. The descendants of these original Old Believers still survive and practice many traditions of the past.

Presently, the Old Believers of Transbaikalie are a unique group, a colorful blend of Ukrainian, Belorussian and Polish culture. The Old Believers have preserved many of their Ukrainian, Belorussian and Polish traditions, beliefs, folk tales and songs. Family names and dialect, style of clothing and house decorations remind of their European roots.

Music is particularly important in the culture of Old Believers. The great Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov notes that their songs are an example of “pure ancient Russian melody.” Even today in Buryatia, Semeiskiye villages have gifted singers who follow the traditional singing styles and transfer this gift of music to their children. Semeiskiye folk groups performing the polyphonic, or multiple person and instrument singing of old Russian songs, have become quite famous in Russia and abroad.  

On this tour you will travel to Bolshoi Kunaley, a village 50 km from Ulan Ude, where Semeiskiye live in their brightly painted and decorated with ornate carvings log houses. You will see rare icons, the original furniture and domestic utensils, enjoy Russian choral singing just like it sounded in the 17th century. This village is a perfect place to create memories that will stay with you for a long time.

Religious Trips

Buryatia is the only place in Russia where Buddhism is predominating. The first Buddhist missionaries arrived there back in the 5th century A.D. However it was only in the 17th century that Buddhism began to win its place on the banks of the Selenga. In 1741, the first wooden temple (datsan) was built. Over the next 150 years, at least 44 additional datsans were constructed in Buryatia where 15,000-18,000 men served as lamas. In 1930-s, during Stalin's purges, most of the datsans were closed or even destroyed, and before World War II there were no functioning Buddhist temples in the Buryat republic. From 1947 to 1991 believers could only visit two temples - the Ivolginsky and the Atsagatsky datsans.

Fortunately, the situation has changed and now there are 20 Buddhist temples in Buryatia. Red Star Travel offers trips to the main three of them - the Ivolginsky, the Atsagatsky and the Tamchinsky datsans.

Tour of Ivolginsky Datsan, 4 hours

Built in 1947, Ivolginsky Datsan is located 40 km from Ulan Ude, near the village of Ivolginsk. Till 1995 the Datsan was the residence of Bandido Khambo Lama (the leader of the Buddhists in Russia). The main building of the Datsan was built and consecrated in 1972. Inside the temple, right in front of the main entrance is the biggest and the most worshipped statue of Buddha, next to it - 16 naidans. Below the statue is a portrait of Dalai Lama XIV and his throne on which nobody else can seat. In the grounds of the monastery you will also see the Small Temple, the library of Buddhist manuscripts (the largest one in Russia), a winter garden with the sacred Botkha tree, Khurde (the prayer wheels every turn of which means that the prayer has been repeated many times). 50 lamas live in the monastery. The service is held in Tibetan language. The best time to visit the monastery is between 9am and 11am, this way you will have a chance to see the monks in their morning prayers.

Tour of Atsagatsky Datsan, 5 hours

Located in a picturesque valley, about 60 km from Ulan Ude. Built in 1991. The temple has been visited and consecrated by Dalai Lama XIV. 13 km from Atsagatsky Datsan is the village of Khara-Shibir - the birthplace of Agvan Dorzhiev. This man is known as a researcher of Buddhism and Tibetan culture, the teacher of Dalai Lama XIII. His log house has been rebuilt in a beautiful pine and larch forest near a mineral spring 4 km from the Datsan. It was here that Agvan Dorzhiev established the only school of Tibetan Medicine in Russia.

Tour of Tamchinsky Datsan, 10 hours

Tamchinsky (Gusinoozersky) Datsan is located 110 km from Ulan Ude. It is one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in Russia, the third oldest in Buryatia. In 1741 the temple was set in a big yurt, and by the year 1848 the complex consisted of 17 temples. The main 3-storey temple was built in 1858-1870. From 1809 till 1927 Tamchinsky Datsan was the main Buddhist temple in Buryatia (Buryat-Mongolia at the time). 500 lamas lived in the monastery and 400 more came for prayer services. In 1957 the restoration crews started working on the Tamchinsky complex and in 1990 two temples were consecrated and opened to the public.

Cultural Experience: the Buryat People

The ancestors of the modern Buryats are Mongols who made their home near Lake Baikal long before Genghis Khan swept through Asia during the early thirteenth century and have remained in the area until modern times. Sharing land, as well as cultural traditions, political structure and certain norms of interrelation with other nations of Lake Baikal region, the Buryat People developed their original culture in which centuries-old traditions interweave with influences of recent ages, and managed to preserve it despite all troubles that the nation went through during its history. After 1990 there was a rapid revival of Buryat shamanism, and the number of shamans increases to this day. Buddhism also revived, and new temples have been built in most major Buryat towns. The teaching of the Buryat language has been re-instituted in schools and writing of poetry, literature, and history about Buryatia in both Buryat and Russian flourish without ideological controls. Today there are about 250,000 Buryats living in the Republic of Buryatia out of 520,000 of all Buryats in the world. Red Star Travel invites you to experience history and culture of this ancient people, taste their cuisine and see a fascinating folklore performance. We offer tours to the Buryat village of Arbizhil, picnics with traditional Buryat mutton dishes and folklore performances, visits with a shaman.

Here are some other tour suggestions from RED STAR TRAVEL.
Please contact one of our offices for more information.

Sagaalgan (White Moon) Celebration.

The Buddhist Lunar New Year, or Sagaalgan is celebrated in accordance with the Mongolian moon calendar, and begins on the eve of the Lunar New Year, usually in late January to early February (February 15, 1999; February 5, 2000). Even after the years of Soviet regime, when celebrations of religious holidays were not welcome, this holiday is still the favorite among Buryats. Celebrations begin on the first morning of the White Moon and continue for 16 days. Buryats traditionally make white (dairy) dishes, visit their relatives and attend service in the Datsan (Buddhist Temple). There is a tradition to burn old clothes and household items which symbolizes the release from the sins of the past year.

Maidari (Bodhisatva Maitreya) Holiday.

Maidari is a mid-summer Buddhist celebration honoring the Buddha of the Future. Bodhisatva Maitreya is a symbol of love, compassion and hope for the future. The festive ceremonies continue for several days and are closed with the colorful procession in Ivolginsky Datsan. One of the lamas carries the statue of Maidari, he is followed by the monks who play drums, bronze bells and big Tibetan-style alpenhorns. It is believed that Maitreya, as the successor chosen by Buddha, will come to our world as the Future God.

Surharbaan - Buryat National Festival.

The word Surharbaan is translated from Buryat as "shooting at the sur (target made of animal skin)". It is held first Sunday of July - traditionally this was the time when shepherds and peasants were free from their everyday work, cattle had plenty of food, crops were planted and the hay mowing has not began yet. The celebrations are similar to Naadam Festival in Mongolia - men and women compete in wrestling, archery, horse racing; folklore concerts are held, temporary carnivals are set in cities and towns. The Festival is one of the favorite events in summer not only for Buryats, but also for other nationalities living in the Republic.

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