The Russian Republic of Buryatia
The Ethnographic Museum of Siberian Natives
This is the largest open-air museum in Russia. Located just north of Buryatia’s capital city of Ulan-Ude, it houses several different building complexes, each devoted to an historical era or culture. They contain reproductions of Evenk “chuma” homes and Buryat yurts (some made entirely out of felt), as well as Old Believer villages, and other examples of early Siberian architecture. Other landmark wooden buildings are here, such as a Buddhist “dugan”, an Old Believer church, and a Russian chapel.
The Ivolginski Buddhist Temple (or “Datsan”)
The full name of this temple in the local Buryat language will twist your tongue: “Tүges Bayasgalantay Үlzy Noma Hүrdyn Hiid.” In English, it can be translated as: “The Monastery, where the wheel of learning turns and turns, bringing happiness and joy.” This datsan is a series of buildings that includes a central tabernacle, a library, and a Buddhist university for learning. Nearby is a Buryat shrine—the main reliquary for all Russian-based Buddhists—purportedly containing the “incorrupt” body of the 12th Pandit-Hambo Lama, Dashi Dorzho Itigelova.
The Natural Museum of Buryatia
This museum not only holds a number of cultural treasures and scientific collections—it is also a regional centre for environmental education. The exhibits span four different halls: a general exhibition, a natural history room, mining and mineral exhibits, and a wing that portrays the landscapes of Buryatia. On popular display are the remains of extinct animals such as the woolly rhinoceros, the Siberian bison, and the northern mammoth. Of particular interest are the precious gems and other interesting minerals on display.
The Holy Odigitrievsky Cathedral
This orthodox church serves as the main cathedral for Ulan-Ude, and is the seat of the Buryat Diocese for the Russian Orthodox Church. It was the first all-stone building to be built in the city: a true landmark of the Siberian Baroque. It looms over the very center of the city, where the Uda River empties into the larger Selenga.
The Monument to Geser
Geser is the name of the main hero of one of Buryatia’s epic fables, and is probably the most popular character in all of Buryat folklore. Legend has it that Geser was the son of noble deities, who descended to earth to eradicate the evil forces of darkness and give rise to a just and decent world. His monument presides over the southern end of the famous open-air marketplace.
The King’s Gate Arch
This famous arch is located in the absolute center of Ulan-Ude. In the year of Revolutions, 1917, the symbolic eagles adorning the arch were removed; in 1936, the entire arch was demolished by the Soviets. It was re-built in 2006, on the same site where 19th Century merchants had first erected the original arch. It honors Crown Prince Nicholas: the first member of the Russian royal family to visit Ulan-Ude. If you look closely, you can see the two-headed eagles soaring again over the city.
The Statue of Lenin
One of the main tourist attractions in the capital of Buryatia is this unusual monument to Vladimir Lenin. What you will find here is the biggest sculpted head of Lenin in the entire world. It may be the most massive marble head period. This memorial to the founder of the Soviet government was first unveiled on November 5, 1971, on the central Square of the Soviets, and remains in good shape to this day. It’s also a very popular spot for local newlyweds to get their pictures taken.
The Rinpoche-bagsha Buddhist Centre
This Centre was built in 2002 with the blessing of the Dalai-Lama. It offers public courses devoted to teaching every aspect of Buddhism in Russia. In the main building there is a 5-meter high statue of the Buddha, covered with gold filigree.
The Jarun-Khashor Temple
The Jarun–Khashor Temple (or Great Stupa) stands in the middle of the scenic Kizhinginsky Valley. This stupa is a famous landmark and a great tourist attraction. It is reputed to fulfill any wish, and will assist anyone with a pure heart who falls at its feet. An awe-inspiring site, the Great Stupa was built to bring people both joy and deep happiness—a purpose it continues to fulfill today.
The Semeiski Native Villages
The Semeiski people were a group of old believers who the tsar transported to the far side of Baikal in the years 1735-95. Their villages are easily recognized: the unusual cabin homes are rather tall, with brightly painted interiors and exteriors; and the windows are decorated with richly carved architraves. This is an area famous for its rich singing tradition, especially for the unique polyphonic vocalizations in local songs—a musical tradition that cannot be heard anywhere else in Russia.
The Barguzin Valley
After a day’s drive north of Ulan-Ude, you’ll come across the Barguzin Valley—called the Jackson Hole of Siberia by international visitors. This region is unequaled in its beautiful scenery and thriving ecosystems, and is also rich in history and culture. The name of the valley and the eponymous river in its midst has its origins in the ancient Siberian tribe known as the Barguty. There are a number of sacred sites in the Barguzin, each holding special value for one or another of the local tribes that have lived there for centuries.