Ulan Ude, situated deep into Siberia to the south of Lake Baikal, is something of an oddity amongst other cities in Russia and makes an intriguing and memorable stopover. Located significantly nearer to Mongolia and China than Moscow and St Petersburg, Ulan Ude has a somewhat Asian feel to it and has traditionally resisted Sovietisation to maintain a distinct cultural identity.
This is reflected in many facets of the city, such as the unusual but delicious Buryat and Mongolian cuisine and the easygoing nature and strong Buddhist leanings of its people. Indeed, one of the highlights of a stopover in Ulan Ude is the splendid Ivolginsky Datsan; situated 35km from the city centre at the foot of the Khamar-Daban Mountains, this fascinating monastery is the centre of Buddhism in Russia and home to about 30 lamas. The city hasn’t completely escaped Soviet “progression”, however. And although the main square is a typical example of imposing Communist architecture, the giant Lenin head in its centre is a must-see and one of the most popular sights along the Trans-Siberian Railway.