Ulan Ude is the “Gateway to Eastern Russia”, it is a “city with a Mongolian soul” or “the Buddhist capital of Russia”. These are some of the terms used to describe the Russian city of Ulan Ude. Our first stop in Russia on the Trans- Siberian railway.
Ulan-Ude is the capital of the province Buryatia in east-central Russia. It lies in a deep valley where two rivers Uda and Selenga convene. When one arrives in the city in the deep of the night after spending 27 hours on the Trans-Siberian train. I wondered straight away why this city was here. Where all cities in Russia going to be like this, or was this just a one-off? To say I was unimpressed with Ulan Ude after a two week 4wd adventure in Mongolia is an understatement. I knew that there must be something more to the story.
Ulan Ude was established as a wintering camp of Udinskoye in 1666. Due to its favorable geographical position, it grew rapidly and became a large trade center that connected Russia with China and Mongolia on the ancient tea caravan route. From 1690 onwards, it was the administrative center of the Transbaikal region. From 1735, the settlement was called Udinsk after the river Uda running thru the town; it was renamed Ulan-Ude in 1934.
The construction of the Trans-Siberian railways is closely tied to the development of the city, Ulan Ude. The railroad was built between 1891 and 1916. The first stone was laid by Nicholas II on 31 May 1891 in Vladivostok. It took until 1900 to reach Ulan Ude, from there the construction of the Trans Mongolian branch started in 1949, ended in Beijing in 1956. Ulan Ude role in the Trans-Siberian story is one a major rail junction, which led to the establishment of large locomotive and carriage repair works in town.
It was a Russian closed city until the end of the USSR in 1991. Soviet closed cities comprised relatively small communities with sensitive military, industrial, or scientific facilities. Even Soviet citizens were not allowed access to these places without proper authorization. Foreigners were not allowed at all.
TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILWAY S1E18 – MONGOLIA TO ULAN UDE,RUSSIA S1E18 | TRAVELLERS NEST OVERLAND
Most interesting facts about Ulan Ude:
- It is Siberia second largest city
- Population of 424,000
- Average temperature in winter is minus 18 to 25
- We are now 15,130 km from Hong Kong
- It is 3,680 km from Vladistock or 6,000 km to Mosco
To minimize our personal risk, while travelling in Russia as I have family in USA. We stayed in Accor hotels wherever possible, where it was not possible I researched via overlanding websites about good hostels where a lot of over landers had been. The Hostel Druzhba Nairamdal was one of those hostels. We were greeted at 4am with open arms. Our room was not available on arrival, so another room was found. The owner spoke good English. In the morning after 4 hours sleep, she came with us to the ATM and supermarket to help me find gluten free food. I could not have asked for a better introduction to Russia. My research had paid off.
It was now time to explore the town by 2 pm it was finally around zero, and warm enough for us to venture out of our room.
We walked into the town center, where we found the highly unusual statue of the head of Vladimir Lenin in the central square: the largest in the world. Built in 1970 for the centennial of Lenin’s birth, it towers over the main plaza at 7.7 meters and weighs 42 tons. We found the center of the town to be uninvited…what was more interesting was what was happening down at the river.
There are old merchants’ mansions richly decorated with wood and stone carving in the historical center of Ulan-Ude, along the river banks which are exceptional examples of Russian classicism. The townhouses represent some of the finest examples of wooden architecture in the country.
What we found the most interesting in Ulan Ude was what was happening down the Uda river. The river was almost frozen by mid-November. You could see what a magnificent river it must be by the sheets of ice piled on top of each other. Some places were half frozen, in other places, it was frozen…yet the Russian were ice fishing on it further up the river. A sight to be seen
We finished the day be meeting up for dinner with some overlanders from the Dutch overlanding group, Karin-Marijke and Coen of Landcruising Adventures. We talked overlanding stories all night. We even had a visit in the restaurant by the Russian police, but they left us alone that night. We were not asked for our immigration papers and passports.
Next day we were back on the train again, direction Moscow to our next stop in Russia.. that is a story for another day.