Last stop in Russia
26.04.2009 - 28.04.2009 13 °C
My final stop in my trip across Russia was the town of Ulan Ude. To be honest there wasn't much to the city. I saw the world's biggest Lenin head (see below for a picture of me picking Lenin's nose) and also visted the home of Northern Buddhism in Datsan which was about 40 minutes on a bus journey outside the town. After that there wasn't much to do in Ulan Ude.
The bus ride to the Buddist monastery, following on from my bus ride in Irkutsk and experiences as a pedestrian in the cities, confirmed my view that the Russian drivers are suicidal maniacs. The bus I travelled on was unique enough in that the décor was of the tastes of an 80 year old woman, it was all tassles and flowery curtains.
It was also packed to capacity as all small buses seem to be in Russia. If you moved suddenly you ended up knowing the person next to you quite intimately. It certainly wasn't the most comfortable journey for people with long legs. Anyway there we all were wedged into a small mini bus traveling at the bus' top speed (any faster and I think the structural integrity of the bus would have been compromised) and our driver decides to overtake the car in front. Nothing too wrong with that (the oncoming hill and accompanying blind spot none withstanding). My problem lay with the mad man who over took us while we were overtaking. A risky maneuver at the best of times but with the road surface and the fact that all three cars were completely blind to what was over the hill made for a veritable automobile Russian Roulette. Oddly enough I seemed to be the only one concerned by this action. I suppose the Russians are made of sterner stuff.
I departed Ulan Ude early in the morning and was now on my way to Mongolia. It was to be a short overnight journey across the border – until customs and immigration got involved. We arrived at the Russian border controls at 13:00 in the afternoon and pulled out of the Mongolian border control at 21:30. The majority of the people in my carriage were all foreigners and like me were doing the Trans Mongolian. At one point we figured out that our passports weren't going to be checked by the Russian border patrol until 17:00 so a few of us jumped off and were going to walk into the small town to get a few beers to pass the time. We had taken about 10 steps on the platform when we look back to see our train beginning to pull away – uh oh!! Turns out they had unhooked the last 2 carriages (including our own) and the rest of the train was leaving. Happy days and we continued on our way. After a short exploration, we found a shop and purchased our drinks. There was myself, 2 Finns (who I'd met in the hostel in Moscow), 2 other Irish and 2 English people enjoying our drinks when we looked around to see our two carriages being dragged away in front of our eyes – Not again! This time they seemed to be just moving the carriages and they stopped a couple of hundred metres up the station. If we hadn't had our beers and the sun hadn't been shining I think we might have been quite worried.
There was nothing particularly interesting about this border crossing. There certainly wasn't the same imitating atmosphere compared to when I entered Russia. There was one Mongolian woman in our carriage who was escorted off the train and into a room in the station. I haven't a clue what was going on and it all seemed very calm and unimportant but that woman never came out of that room and certainly didn't cross the border into Mongolia with us! She mightn't have survived the rail journey across Russia but I had (It seems your predictions on my survival chances on the Trans Siberian journey weren't correct Petr! Maybe your horror stories will play out in the two countries I have left to travel on this train journey!)
Next stop Ulaanbaatar the capital of Mongolia!