To catch up with the first couple of instalments from my journey, click here.
As I mentioned in the previous post, Ulan Ude was really just a place for me to stop off and break up the journey so I could catch the train to Irkutsk and see Lake Baikal during the day. More on that later.
However, a mixture of arriving late in the evening and recommendations from the guys I met on the previous train meant that I actually stayed one more night in Ulan Ude than I initially planned.
I had been told that, alongside the huge Lenin head statue which could be seen from our hostel, it was also worth paying a visit to Ivolginsky Datsan whilst in the city. According to my trusty Lonely Planet, Ivolginsky Datsan is the ‘epicentre’ of Russian Buddhism; this statement alone made me think it was worth a visit.
Luckily, a group of other guests in the hostel were also planning to visit the Datsan the day after my arrival so I jumped in with them; ‘gatecrashed’ their day – you could say – but I don’t think they minded. It turned out to be a great move (for me, anyway!) as the three of them were good fun and I soon discovered that they were international students studying in St Petersburg and were all fluent in Russian.
This made my day easier to no end as they helped me book my train ticket to Irkutsk, essentially got us to the Datsan, ordered lunch and even asked where my food was when the cafe had actually forgotten about it; god only knows how my day would have gone without them! I think I owe them all a drink or two when I get to St Petersburg.
The Datsan itself was interesting to see and really nice architecturally (look at me being all cultured). On my travels however I’ve had a few moments of feeling a little awkward when visiting places of worship, and I had another here. There’s just something about being inside a place that is incredibly sacred to many people that, as a non-believer, I feel a little weird about. I’m never made to feel out of place by worshippers – far from it – but I cant help think that it would irritate me if I was one of those people who came to pray and some little Englander kept getting in the way. Maybe I’m just being paranoid.
I made my way back in to the city on my own (like a big boy) as the others wanted to stay a few more hours to see the bonfire that would be taking place in the evening. As I only had a day in the city, I wanted to get back in good time to have a wander around, take a picture of the Lenin head in the light and replace the hat I left in Mongolia.
Destination: Irkutsk, Russia
Date: 18th February 2015
Class: 3rd class
Time: 8 hours
As this journey was to be quite a short one – by Trans-Siberian standards at least – I thought I’d save a little money and travel 3rd class. The fact I was travelling during the day meant I wouldn’t really need the privacy of a compartment as I wouldn’t be sleeping, even though I did get a bed.
In all honesty, the 3rd class plaskart carriage was incredibly similar to the Chinese sleeper train that I took from Xi’an to Beijing, and not too dissimilar to the Thai sleeper trains either. In other words, if you can handle them, then 3rd class in Russia should be fine for you. Having said that, on long journeys like most of the ones on the Trans-Siberian, it’s probably worth paying a little more for the 2nd class kupe tickets; a little bit of privacy (to an extent) afforded by a door is nice at least once a day!
I mentioned a little earlier that my rationale for taking a separate train from Ulan Ude to Irkutsk instead of going all the way through was so that I could see the stunning Lake Baikal from the window during the day. Now I say ‘stunning’ but, quite frankly, I got off the train none the wiser as you can see from the picture. I guess a 3rd class ticket gets you a 3rd class window cleaning service.
Aside from unsuccessfully trying to catch a glimpse of Lake Baikal from the window, I spent the remainder of the eight hour journey writing the blog posts you’ve already read (if not, why not?), editing the videos you’ve hopefully already watched, watching House and Better Call Saul and listening the ridiculously addictive podcast ‘Serial’.
I also spent the final hour of the journey trying to very politely explain to the lady across from me that my Russian is very limited which seemed to have no effect, as she seemed quite content to have her own incredibly one-sided conversation with me. Each to their own.
As the train pulled in to Irkutsk I felt a little disappointed. Sure, the 3rd class carriage itself was fine, but the lack of a view rendered my decision to break up the journey a little pointless. Still, I’d met some cool people in Ulan Ude and had a good day with them. Swings and roundabouts, I guess.