Ulan-Ude

Click to view previous image Image 1 of 4 Click to view next image
Ulan-Ude

Population: 480,000

Mayor: Gennady Aidayev

Main industries: Aircraft and mechanical engineering

Founded in 1666

Interesting fact No. 1: Ulan-Ude was closed to foreigners during the Soviet Union and did not become accessible until 1991.
Interesting fact No. 2: The city was first named Udinskoye for its location on the Uda River. In 1735, it was renamed Udinsk, and in 1738, the name was changed to Verkhneudinsk. Finally, in 1934, it got its current name, Ulan-Ude, which in the Buryat language means “Red Uda,” a nod to the significance of the color red in the Soviet Union and its location on the Uda River.

Helpful contacts:
Alexander Ayuscheyev, deputy mayor, (+7 3012 21-93-76; ulan-ude-eg.ru);
Zandra Sangradiyev, chairman of the city department on economic development (+7 3012 21-86-82; ulan-ude-eg.ru).

Sister cities: Changchun, China; Hohhot, China; Manzhouli, China; Mannheim, Germany; Rumoi, Japan; Yamagata, Japan; Darkhan, Mongolia; Erdenet, Mongolia; Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia; Kazan, Russia; Anyang, South Korea; Taipei, Taiwan; Yalta, Ukraine; Berkeley, California, U.S.

ULAN-UDE — 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."

Standing on the main square, Ploshchad Sovietov, facing a huge Lenin monument and feeling the burning Asian summer sun on my neck, I had to confess that he was right.

Surrounded by two mountain ranges, Khamar-Daban and Ulan-Burgasy, Ulan-Ude is a place where a traveler traversing Siberia for the first time realizes that he is in Asia, far away from the Russian capital.  

Arriving in Ulan-Ude represents a leap into a different Russian-Asian world. But the 5,640 kilometers to Moscow is not the only reason for the surprising feeling of freedom that sweeps over visitors. To a greater degree, the soothing influence of the local Buddhist culture gives newcomers the impression of a release from whatever may have them stressed— a tiring journey, a heavy workload, or just the general weariness of life.  

Until the mid-17th century, the region around Ulan-Ude was home to the Buryats, a Buddhist nomadic subgroup of the Mongols.

Then Russian Cossacks built a fortress near where Ulan-Ude is now, realizing that the spot was along a perfect trading route between Russia and China.

Major Businesses

Ulan-Ude Aviation Plant (1 Khorinskaya Ulitsa; +7 (3012) 25-21-47; uuaz.ru), founded in 1939, is a major aircraft manufacturer in eastern Siberia and also offers warranty maintenance, repairs, spare parts, flight personnel and technical staff training. The plant, which belongs to the holding company Russian Helicopters (rus-helicopters.ru), also produces other articles for production purposes and a wide range of consumer goods, including washing machines and furniture sets.

The Lake Baikal Airport (10 Airport; +7 (3012) 22-79-59; airport.tmweb.ru) has been wholly owned since 2007 by the Austrian company Meinl Airports International (airportsinternational.eu). Since reconstruction of the runway in 2006 and 2007, the airport has been able to serve practically any type of aircraft without restrictions on takeoff weight.

The Ulan-Ude Locomotive and Wagon Repair Factory (2b Ulitsa Limonova; +7 (3012) 44-66-26; lvrz.ru) supplies remanufactured locomotives and new and rebuilt mechanical and electrical systems and components. Built in 1932, the factory is a branch of the joint-stock company Scheldorremasch (ao-zdrm.ru) and employs about 6,000 people.

Today, many buildings are reminiscent of Ulan-Ude's rich pre-Soviet trading traditions. In the city center and along the bank of the Uda River stand old merchant mansions, richly decorated with wood and stone carvings.

In sharp contrast to these exceptional examples of Russian classicism is Ivolginsky Datsan, a Buddhist spiritual center 23 kilometers from Ulan-Ude. The spiritual activities of Ivolginsky Datsan, which opened in 1945, are manifested in temples rites, medical practices and the Buddhist educational system.

Ulan-Ude is a city where these kinds of extremes seem to live harmoniously together: merchants next to Buryat Buddhists, European Russian culture beside Asian Mongolian culture. Since its founding, the city has served as a hub between Russia and the East, and nowadays the government in Moscow seems to have rediscovered the strategic importance of Ulan-Ude as a port to Asia, not least of all because in September 2012 the city will host an international economic forum called "New Economy — New Approaches" (egov-buryatia.ru/bef).

What to see if you have two hours

For MT

Gennady Aidayev,
Mayor

Q: Why is Ulan-Ude an interesting place for investors?
A: First of all, every investor should be attracted by the advantageous economic and geographic position of Ulan-Ude. The city is located at the intersection of Siberia, the Russian Far East and Northeast Asia. Ulan-Ude is also a major transportation hub because the Trans-Siberian Railway passes through the city. In addition, tourism is an increasing business in Ulan-Ude.  
We offer financial resources and a qualified labor force.

Q: What positive changes have taken place in Ulan-Ude over the last decade?
A: When I compare the Ulan-Ude of today with the Ulan-Ude of the 1990s, I see two completely different cities. Many companies have invested in Ulan-Ude, allowing us to build five new schools, a new bridge, and two children’s hospitals, among other things. Thanks to federal funds, we have reconstructed the Theater of Opera and Ballet and the Theater of Buryatia Drama. The city has become a more comfortable place to live. 

Q: What is important for Ulan-Ude’s future?
A: People are important. A city can’t exist without its people. Everything happens by the people and for the people. Therefore, the strategic priorities of the city will always be connected with the interests of the people, to ensure that those who live or visit here don’t doubt their decision to be in the capital of Buryatia.

— Marc Hauschild

The first destination after you arrive in the city center should be Ploshchad Sovietov to view the world's largest Lenin head. At 7.7 meters tall, the 42-ton monument was unveiled in 1971 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Lenin's birth.

From here, it's easy to reach the main street, Ulitsa Lenina, which locally is known as the Arbat because it has a shopping pedestrian zone like the historic Arbat in Moscow.

But Ulitsa Lenina has more to offer than just ordinary shops. Merchandise is lined up on shelves in old mansions whose architecture reflects the various social classes that lived here from the 17th to 19th centuries, including merchants, petty bourgeois and Cossacks.

Here you can buy little, cute Buddha statues, a typical Buryat souvenir.

After visiting the shops on Ulitsa Lenina, take a stroll through Gostiniye Ryady (Ploshchad Revolyutsii 1905 Goda, +7 (3012) 21-48-02), a historical relic of the town's old prosperity.

The huge house ensemble, which was built as a trading place between 1804 and 1864 by the means of successful businessmen, is located between Ulitsa Kirova and Ulitsa Kuibysheva and houses shops and restaurants. Twice a year in the 19th century, a trade fair was held in the yards where merchants busily traded and bargained. Besides that, clowns and puppet players ensured a great atmosphere.

What to do if you have two days

Visit the Ethnographic Museum (Verkhnyaya Beryozovka settlement; + 7 3012-33-57-54; emnz.ru), one of the largest open-air museums in the country. It documents the life and traditions of native Siberians (Buryats and Evenks) and colonizers (Cossacks and Old Believers). Check out the reconstruction of an ancient hunnu, an Evenk settlement consisting of several small chooms buildings made of deer fur. From there, admire an old Buryat settlement with a Buddhist temple and then make your way over to the 17th-century wooden houses of the Cossacks who built the first fort in the area.

Even in winter, this place is a must-see because it provides visitors a real authentic feeling of how native Siberians once lived.

Located 23 kilometers southwest of Ulan-Ude is one of the spiritual highlights in Russia, Ivolginsky Datsan (Ivolginsky Datsan; 8-3014-023-377; datsan.buryatia.ru). Monks will gladly guide you by appointment through the temple, the oldest center of Buddhism in Russia. Among its treasures is a collection of old Buddhist manuscripts written on natural silk in the Tibetan language.

For MT

Denis Ananin
General manager, Ecotur tourism agency

Q: What attracts tourists to Buryatia?
A: People who have been around the world and want to discover their own place in it find that Buryatia has much to offer. Many tourists here tend to be Russian.
A big plus is that we are located near the Mongolian border, and while Russians need a visa to go to Mongolia, they can visit Buryatia, which looks much like Mongolia, without any extra paperwork.

Q: What is needed to improve tourism?
A: We need to create a single tourism organization because a lot of things are done at an informal level right now. The government is also looking to facilitate tourism in Buryatia and is giving grants to tourism companies. But airplane tickets are quite expensive, and this is a major problem.

Q: What would you recommend seeing in Ulan-Ude?
A: I would recommend spending one day in Ulan-Ude and then traveling around Lake Baikal. In Ulan-Ude, you have to visit the giant Lenin head, which was placed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Another place is Ivolginsky Datsan, the center of Russian Buddhist culture, which attracts tourists and believers from around the world. The Bolshoi Kunalei village of Old Believers located near the city is also a must-see. They treat visitors to traditional songs and give them homemade wine.

— Alexander Bratersky

To reach the temple, take bus No. 108 from Ploshchad Sovietov for the 45-minute, 30-ruble trip. A taxi ride will last 20 minutes and cost about 300 rubles.

If you have not seen Lake Baikal, visit the world's deepest freshwater lake from the Buryatia side.

Buses travel from the main bus station in Ulan-Ude through mountain passes and to the village of Gremyachinsk, nestled on the lake's picturesque shore, a couple of times a day. One-way tickets cost 200 rubles for the three-hour trip.

Nightlife

Glamurny Partizan (40 Ulitsa Tobolskaya; +7 (3012) 42-36-31; glam-partizan.ru) is one of the hippest and hottest nightclubs in town, ideal for night owls who are crazy about dancing the night away. Glamurny Partizan presents outstanding DJs and serves excellent European cuisine in a cozy atmosphere. But prudish night lovers be warned: The nightclub also offers a nonstop striptease show, private rooms and a comfortable minihotel onsite. Beefy bouncers keep strict face and passport control at the front entrance.

Club Epicenter (Ulitsa Tolstogo 23; +7 (3012) 60-75-75) is one of the most popular places for House fans, and DJs from Russia and Europe put on progressive, electro and disco sounds.

For a quieter evening, check out the Buryat National Academy Theater of Opera and Ballet (51 Ulitsa Lenina; +7 (3012) 21-44-54; uuopera.ru). Established in 1949, the theater stages a variety of performances in Russian, Buryat and world musical art. In recent years, it has showcased international projects with the United States, China and Mongolia.

Where to eat

Since you are in Asia — or to be more precise, in Buryatia — stick to the Mongolian-like Buryat cuisine. Most local dishes are based on meat and milk products.

Marusya (46 Ulitsa Lenina; +7 (3012) 21-80-66) serves traditional Russian and Buryat food. Sample delicious Buryat meat dumplings called buuza, which are exceptionally tasty at Marusya but are also sold in most restaurants and cafes in and around Ulan-Ude. Also try one of the traditional Buryat drinks: green tea with milk. The prices are more than just reasonable; you can get a full business lunch for about 250 rubles.

Chingiskhan (25a Bulvar Karla Marxa; +7 (3012) 41-50-50; chingiskhan-uu.ru) is a bit on the expensive side for Ulan-Ude, but the national and European cuisine is worth it. Order the "Baikal grayling in batter," freshly caught in Lake Baikal, and sip gorniye travy (mountain herbs) from the compelling tea menu while admiring the restaurant's interior, designed by Buryatian and Mongolian architects to resemble an old Asian temple interior. Main dishes cost 400 to 1,200 rubles each.

In the restaurant Karavan (Ulitsa Gagarina 43, +7 (3012) 44-49-98; karavan-restoran.ru), enjoy typical Uzbek dishes like plov, manty and various kebabs.

Uzbek culture was for more than a century influenced by the Turkish, Tajik and Mongolian cultures, so the tastes of the Uzbek cuisine reflect the original taste of the East. Main dishes cost 400 to 1,000 rubles each.

Where to stay

The Baikal Plaza (Ulitsa Erbanova 12; + 7 (3012) 21-00-70; baikalplaza.com) is a four-star hotel in the city center near the Lenin monument.

The cheapest single room costs about 3,500 rubles per night. But if you feel like you need more space, the presidential suite, with its three rooms (lounge, office and bedroom), is available for 13,200 rubles per night. The hotel also boasts several conference rooms as well as a sauna, a children's miniclub, a beauty salon, a business center and a few restaurants.

Also located in the center is the Geser Hotel (11 Ranschurowa; +7 (3012) 21-61-54; geser-hotel.ru), named after a legendary national heroic epos of Buryatia. The myth "Geser" is the peak of epic creativity of the Buryats and is more than 1,000 years old.

The hotel features 63 rooms, a business center, a hairdresser and a laundry. A single starts at 2,500 rubles. Guests also have the option of choosing a luxury apartment for 7,500 rubles per night. It has a balcony, free Wi-Fi, air conditioning and cable TV.

If you are tired after a long train trip, the Hotel Buryatia (47a Kommunisticheskaya Ulitsa; +7 (3012) 21-48-88; buryatiahotel.com) is a good choice since the large building stands only a few minutes by foot from the central train station. The building is kind of run-down, but the rooms are clean and in perfect Soviet shape. A single costs 2,000 rubles. Also, try the classic Omul fish soup in the hotel restaurant high above the rooftops of the city.  

Conversation starters

If you ask locals what they like to discuss, you'll always get the same answer: "We have nothing special to talk about; we are just people with a good sense of humor." So if you want to break the ice with local people, just be natural and don't hide your sense of humor. People tend to look at the bright side of life, perhaps because of the strong Buddhist influence in the region.

How to get there

The fastest option is a five-hour flight from Moscow to the Ulan-Ude international airport, also known as Lake Baikal Airport (airport.tmweb.ru).

The time difference is five hours, so on the return flight to Moscow, you will arrive at about the same time you left Ulan-Ude.

The airport is 12 kilometers west of the city and consists of a single terminal. S7 flies daily to Ulan-Ude from Moscow's Domodedovo Airport, and a one-way ticket costs about 10,000 rubles.

A taxi to the city center costs about 200 rubles, but if you want to be adventurous, try one of the three buses (Nos. 28, 55 and 77) to the city center. The bus fare costs 14 rubles.

Of course, it's also possible to travel here by rail because all trains going along the Trans-Siberian Railway stop in Ulan-Ude.

But it takes about four days to get here from Moscow's Yaroslavsky Station. A one-way coach ticket costs 5,000 rubles.