THE RUSSIA YOU NEVER SEE | Ulan-Ude, Russia Travel

Ulan-Ude is the capital city of the Republic of Buryatia.

And until 1991, it was actually closed off to foreigners.

This area feels completely unique to the Russia we’ve experienced thus far – and our first stop in this region off the Trans-Siberian Railway – is a great example of that.

Ivolginsky Datsan opened in 1945 as the only Buddhist spiritual center of the USSR, and still remains a central point for Russian Buddhists today. 

The campus is very similar to most buddhist properties I’ve seen, with temples, relics, and customs in every direction – but the most interesting aspect of this site is the senior lama who seems to remain in meditation – even after death.

As the story goes, in 1927 senior lama Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov passed away mid-meditation. 

He was buried sitting in lotus posture, and in 1955 and 1973 was dug up and examined by buddhist monks – to their amazement, his body had no signs of decay.

They kept this a secret from the authorities of the Soviet Union and the body remained until 2002, when it was transferred to this temple and finally examined by scientists.

He still sits in the same position today, and is now one of the sacred Buddhists objects of Russia.


On the long road to our destination, we’re told that we’ll be the first foreigners to visit this small family farm community.

Tucked away, deep in the great Russian Steppe of Southern Siberia we have no idea what we’re driving into.

The welcome is warmer than a five-star resort, and with help from Yaro, we share stories with our new host and take time to learn about the land, people, and customs in this remote area.


before we have time to dive too deeply into the great food debate, our dinner begins to be broken down down right in front of us.

And just like in any other kitchen around the world, sampling the ingredients is all part of the fun.

Everyone has their set jobs, and they move seamlessly to utilize every inch of this animal.

As the sun sets, and herds come home, we make our way inside for a much-anticipated dinner. 

Just like that, after a big breakfast of leftovers, it’s time for us to move on.

I could easily stay here for a week.

Just riding horses and exploring the rolling hills.

I grew up in a small farming town, and I understand the hard work it takes to live this way.

It’s beautiful, simple, and rugged.

I walk away from this feeling incredibly humbled to be invited into this parallel universe – far removed from anything I knew or have seen in our Russia Travel so far.

But before we say our final goodbyes, our host and patriarch of the family blesses us with a traditional Buryat Shaman ceremony.

This is an experience I will remember forever. Buryatia is amazing.


My name is Gareth Leonard, a Marketing Director turned World Traveler with a passion for slow, meaningful travel. I have been traveling the world full-time for the past 9+ years and document it all on Instagram and YouTube. Come join me!

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