Approaching Ulan Ude, a city close to the Russian/Mongolia frontier, life appears to be very different, village after village dot the landscape & many are surrounded by wooden stockades presumably for protection against wild animals.
Entering the city there are dozens of rail tracks, tens of dozens of engines & hundreds upon hundeds of freight wagons. The temperature has plumetted from yesterdays 27 degrees C to a chilly 5 degrees. The city centre has a classic Soviet style design, emphasising all that is utilitarian but people are working to restore some cultural identity. Buryat's were traditionally Shamanists but most converted to Tibetan Buddhism although there are also many Orthodox Christians.
A massive sculpture of Lenin's head (20 feet high) dominates the main square & is well worth a weirdness detour.
Ulan Ude is the capital of the Buryat Republic, ranging south & east from Lake Baikal to the Mongolian border. The Buryat's are the indigenous nomadic people of Mongolian descent although it was the Cossack's who established the first permanent settlement as part of the tea trading route from China to Russia. The population is now about half Buryat & half Russian although most of the Russian's live outside the city on farms & small holdings so the city has a predominantly Asiatic feel.
One of the camera crew on the train was diagnosed with appendicitus by the on-board doctor & had to be rushed to the local hospital. All the train staff & local guides were very competent in organising immediate hospital admission & although the building did not look very impressive the medical staff were very capable and the emergency surgery was sucessful. The timing was fortunate as it was another 24 hours before we reached Ulan Baator.
Leaving Ulan Ude it is instantly obvious that this is a significant geographical position as the change of scenery is startling in its abruptness. The seemingly endless forest has disappeared, being replaced with an undulating grassy landscape with bare rocky hills & the occasional fir tree capped hill. A large range of cloud capped mountains to the east follows the line of the track for a hundred miles.
There are more cows in the first 10 miles than in the thousands from Moscow & the first herds of horses. Fields are marshy in places & if they grow anything it seems to be hay for winter fodder.