ULAN-UDE, the capital of the Buryat Autonomous Republic, four-day train ride on a Trans-Siberian from Moscow or eight hours by plane, lies within an hour drive from Lake Baikal and is most famous for two seemingly incompatible things: a giant Lenin's head in the middle of the city and Ivolginsky datsan (monastery) on its outskirts. Lenin's head is the biggest in the world, and Ivolginsky datsan is the largest Buddhist center in Russia and the official seat of the Khambo Lama, the head of the Traditional Sangha of Russia. There's another monastery in Verhnyaya Berezovka, and Tibetan Cultural Center is currently being built on the mountain overlooking the city by Tibetan master Yeshe Lodoi Rinpoche, who lives in Ulan-Ude, and his disciples. The rest of the city is classic Soviet-style apartment blocks with some surviving Siberian wooden houses.

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