Mondays are quiet in Russia.
All of the museums in Ulan-Ude were closed today so I decided to walk to the Datsan Rinpoche Bagsha which is located high on a hillside above the city.
(If you are now yodelling songs from the Sound of Music, I can only apologise. There were no goatherds or goats for that matter).
The walk took almost an hour from the centre of Ulan-Ude because I’m always distracted by wondering if there might be some street art around that corner.
A number of people had recommended catching a bus to the top but frankly, after wandering up the hills in Funchal (Madeira) earlier this year, this slope was not a challenge.
In the capital of Madeira, the hills are so steep that walking downhill hurts, nevermind climbing them.
The Datsan is a Buddhist temple and Buddhism suffered during the communist regime.
During the 1920s, the Party tried to influence the practitioners and the clergy through persuasion.
However, anti-religious propaganda failed until the 1930s and remember, Ulan-Ude was the home of anti-religion museum. The influence of the Soviet authorities in “Buddhist areas” -for example, Buryatia which Ulan-Ude is the capital of – remained weak.
During the 1930s there was heightened persecution and repression of the religion. Temples were destroyed and sacred relics vandalised.
The 1937 population census showed that over a quarter of the Buryatia population continued to describe themselves as Buddhists.
At the end of World War Two, Stalin changed his stance on religion. The Russian Orthodox faith and other religions had been used to encourage the population to unite against Nazism.
Buryat Buddhism was legalised, although it came under the control of the KGB. In 1946 permission was given for the Ivolginsky Datsan to be built 30km outside of Ulan-Ude.
The view from the Datsan Rinpoche Bagsha is impressive.
I am not a Buddhist and this was the first time I have visited a temple. The Datsan was founded in 2004
It was early morning and I followed a number of people around the complex before entering the temple itself. It is traditional wo walk around it clockwise.
The next action is to turn the prayer wheels…
…and then pay your respects at various shrines around the grounds…
…before entering the temple.
The monks were gathered and chanting when i entered, so I sat on a bench at the back of the congregation, keeping out of the way.
When the monks finished chanting, the people attending moved around the room touching the relics and then went to an urn where they took a handful of water and touched their heads with it.
One lady filled a small bottle.
Several people nodded, smiled and said hello to me as they left.
Tsirin-Dizhit introduced herself to me and walked around the grounds of the temple with me for over an hour.
She is 70 years old and a professor of political economics at the University of St Petersburg and she showed me the different aspects of the complex.
We also walked the wooden walkway through the woods at the edge of the complex. At intervals along this are stations of the Buddhist Zodiac.
We didn’t find my birth year in anyn of the ‘stations’ we looked at it I did spot my brother’s and Tsirin-Dizhit sang the Buddhist mantra to wish him luck, peace and wellbeing.
The figures also offered an opportunity to swap the Buryat, Russian and English names.
Tsirin-Dizhit is from Buryatia – her mother was born in Chita. She was back here to visit. While she teaches and lives in St Petersburg, her husband taught in Moscow.
Buryatia is now recognised as a Republic of the Russian Far East, as of 2018, rather than part of the Siberian Federal District.
Geography is very much a live issue in Russia.
Tsirin-Dizhit also pointed out the prayer pennants.
These ‘wind horses’ are hung where the wind blows as it is believed it will carry their good wishes and peace to the world.
After a lovely morning, walking and talking, Tsirin-Dizhit and I said our goodbyes.
At each stage of my trip, I have met someone who I have felt a real connection with and it has always been in the most unexpected circumstances.
*Featured Photo: The grounds of the Datsan