In Ulan Ude maybe half the people look distinctly Asian. They are Buryat, a Mongolian minority with an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation. The Siberian city is the centre of Tibetan Buddhism in Russia. They also have the world's largest Lenin's head in 42 tonnes of bronze which I neglected to photograph. I stayed with Dennis, a nominally Islamic Chechyan from Grozny. He showed me videos of that city and explained without English that it is a safe place. It struck me how similar it looked to my imagination of Azerbaijan. And how similar he felt to the Iranians and their desire to impress safety and hospitality. And how close his home was to the mountains I was cycling beneath back in December. And how vast Russia is spatially to be able to accomodate such a breadth of my trip, and culturally such different minority cities-entire. Accomodate is perhaps the wrong word for Grozny, but in Ulan Ude the fascinating gulf is harmoniously bridged.
Dad emailed me about lake Baikal. About stories from deep in the Turkish national identity of Turkic forefathers coming from that lake. And I was struck yet again by the travel of those original Turks, by their slow transition across space and time leaving bits of identity and language everywhere. The treat cherry drink of my Istanbul infancy, visne, has the same name in Russian. In Kazakhstan I added Lonon gin to it in a meadow, beneath a regional border sign offering the Kazakh (Turkish) hozgeldiniz (welcome) in Cyrillic script and then also neglected a photograph.
The road South from Siberia tracks another transition, from a cultural influence predominantly recent and Soviet to one I suppose ancient and something - many things - else. I'm not sure what! I suppose if I kept on past Mongolia I'd experience something akin to the gradient I felt between influences Islamic to Soviet, the intriguing segue and overlap of histories in faith and tyranny as I bore slowly North from Iran to Russia. Alas I shan't continue further than Mongolia; I speculate. Still there was even before the border here a change. Buryatia is Asian, no doubt. I'm curious to see what feels Asian beneath the cracked ex-Soviet veneer I expect still in Mongolia. Shamanism, nomadism... In fact there seems to be an awful lot of stockbrokers amongst Ulan Batar's CouchSurfing profiles! I've anyway my own looming transition to fade into, although it'll be far more abrupt than any of this. I Skype called a lady in Moscow airport to confirm my bicycle on the plane. I Skype called a lady in Norwich train station to confirm my bicycle on the train. Perhaps Aeroflot serve gin and visne, although I doubt it; Anglian Rail certainly don't.
I crossed the border this morning, in fact a day ahead of my visa. It's nice not to have to hurry anymore.
|waiting for Dennis|
|sisters showed me the temple, and lunch|
|first Mongolian place, Sukbatar|