We stopped in Irkutsk for a few hours before heading to Ulan Ude. Just long enough to walk through the market. There were many sellers each with a small space selling what they had grown, picked or made. For some it was just a couple of buckets of nuts or a few dried sunflower heads. Other sellers had more. Piles of melons and mushrooms. Meat and fish. We had lunch at a quirky Russian cafe, a drink at a London pub and dumplings and borscht for dinner. We went for an evening walk along the wide river. Beautiful churches and fisherman fishing at sunset.
We caught the overnight train to Ulan Ude. After checking in we visited the Ivolginsky Datsan buddhist monastery. A beautiful monastery with Chinese, Russian and Mongolian influences which you can see in the buildings and statues in the grounds. It is best known for housing the well preserved body of Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov who died in 1927 sitting in the upright lotus position and whose body is still in this position incredibly well preserved. Many buddhists travel a long way to see him. There were queues of people waiting their turn while we were there.
In the afternoon we visited the colourful Old Believers village. Old Believers are a Russian Orthodox sect frozen in time. In 1666 after not conforming with state-issued church reforms, they were exiled from Moscow. They traveled more than 20,000 miles in the search of where they were to settle and protect their traditions from outside influences. We had a tour of their museum and church before sitting down to a huge homemade spread. Everything we ate and drank was home grown except for the salt! We had vegetable soup, potatoes, meat, black and white bread, salted omul fish, omul fish pie, cured pork fat, savoury doughnuts and sour cream, bitter cucumber, rolls with blueberries, rice pudding and tea with fresh cows milk. Afterwards we were treated to a performance by three singers in traditional outfits singing their polyphonic chants.
On our way back to the hostel we stopped for some beautiful views and walked through the main square with the giant Lenin statue before crashing for an early night. We needed some rest before our epic journey to Mongolia.
Last Stop: Lake Baikal
Next Stop: Mongolia