There are two things to see in Ulan-Ude: the biggest Lenin’s head statue in the world and Ivolginsky Datsan (Иволгинский Датсан), the largest buddhist temple in Russia. While Lenin’s head is well just a huge head, datsan (temple) is a more curious case. The place is situated some 40km outside the city near a typical Siberian village, providing quite a contrast between colorful architecture and bleak Russian one. Buryat buddhism is of Tibetan branch, which clearly shows in architecture, iconography and rituals. The first thing you notice upon entering the datsan area is numerous souvenir counters selling all kinds of buddhism related things. Furthermore, there is even a pay SMS-based prayer order: you send an SMS with your prayer and after monks do their job, you get an SMS back with the confirmation. Modern and efficient. Both Putin and Medvedev congratulated Datsan on its activities, the proof of which is proudly hung on temple walls.
Monks put out an excellent daily prayer, which is clearly aimed at tourists (with the prayer timetable on the walls). Sarcasm aside, it was a captivating show: six guys chanting, playing percussions and blowing something like sea-shells. All in their own pace and slightly out of rhythm, but the end result is simply amazing. There is also a library at the temple, but I only found a closed door. After additional inquiry, it turned out that the library is not yet opened. Strange, as when asking directions everyone gave me without mentioning this simple detail. That is rather deep. I asked one of the monks about their daily routine and particularly meditation and the answer was “We do not meditate around here”. That’s modern Russian buddhism for you. Marketed as the heart of Russian buddhism, it gives an impression of a money-making machine than a real monastery.