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A precursor for tantalizing Mongolia, Ulan-Ude is the Buryat (Mongolian people) capital in Eastern Siberia. Founded in 1666 as a Cossack fort, it was at that time named "Udinsk". Historically a layover point on the tea-caravan route from China, it was a closed city until the 1980s because of its secret military plants. Located about 100km from Lake Baikal, sitting where the Selenga and the Uda Rivers meet, it is a cozy city awash in Mongol-Buddhist culture. A prosperous trading town between the Khamar-Daban and Ulan-Burgasy Mountain ranges, it became a hub for the Trans-Siberian Railway with the locomotive manufacturing industry dominating the economy. There is a wonderful melting pot of Buddhism, Orthodox Christianity and Shamanism reflected in its exotic and friendly welcome to tourists.

Summers are blisteringly hot and the winters will have you shaking with the cold. The best months to be in Ulan-Ude are June to August. It is an easy town to walk around where you can gaze upon the largest head of Lenin in the world located in the main city square where the locals often gather for gossip time. It is worth taking the time to meander past the richly decorated merchant's mansions hugging the banks of the Uda River. When the shopping bug bites, you should head to the pedestrian only Lenina Street (aka Arbat Street) where you cannot only indulge in spending money, but you can sip a coffee in one of the many cafes and enjoy the passing people parade. Revolution Square should be included in your meanderings, as should the Embankment of Selenga. There is a plethora of museums of anything and everything to occupy some time for those that like to complete their education. For the doubtful or the fervent believers, there are plenty of options from cathedrals to the somewhat kitsch Buddhist Monastery "Ivolginsky Datsan" (the center of Buddhism in Russia) that the Dalai Lama has visited on several occasions. You can indulge in some exercise of your vocal cords (aka singing) and throwing back a few wines at the local nearby village "Bolshoi Kunalei". There is the de rigueur puppet theater, opera and ballet theater to catch a performance for the arty ones.

Make sure you splurge on some cedar products that are the specialty of the region, especially the small Buddha statues that supposedly bring you good luck. Don't forget to try the small meat dumplings called "buuza".

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