A little way out of the city of Ulan Ude is Ivolginsky Datsan, a Tibetan monastery which looks pretty spectacular - a complex of beautiful brightly coloured temples nestled in the snow against an impressive backdrop of snow-capped mountains. Before the revolution there were loads of similar ones but most were shut down and the monks sent to gulags in the 30s. After Stalin relaxed laws around religion in the 40s the Datsan was built, and supposedly completed in 1946, although from what we could see there seemed to be more temple building still going on now. Apparently lama Itigilov (the 12th Khambo Lama) who died in 1927 sitting in the lotus position, and was buried that way, was exhumed 30 years later (as he'd asked to be) and found to have been miraculously preserved, as if he'd only died yesterday. So he's been declared a sacred object of Buddhismand sits in state in his new temple at the Datsan complex.
The temples are surrounded by prayer wheels that you have to walk clockwise around and spin, stupas containing relics, and loads of trees covered in little prayer flags tied to their branches. We bought one of our birth year and wrote our names on it and tied it to a branch too. Not quite sure what they mean but they look very pretty... We also saw a couple of brides dressed up in their finery and furs (in minus 15 degrees!), presumably for blessings.
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