Since its foundation Verkhneudinsk had a developed system of communication with the Baikal. All the roads going from the Baikal to China, Mongolia, Kyakhta and other Zabaikalsk towns (first of all Chita and Nerchinsk) could not but passed this city that first was a winter hut, then it became a fortress, and a small town in the XVIIIth century. Udinsk (the first name of this settlement) was situated on the junction of two big water arteries of Siberia, the Uda and the Selenga; the latter flowed into the Baikal.
The importance of Verkhneudinsk for the Baikal region is reflected by the town coat-of-arms that was approved in 1790. Since at that time Verkhneudinsk was a district town of the Zabaikalsk Oblast of the Irkutsk region ruled by Governor-General, the coat-of-arms was described like this: “the Shield is divided into two parts, in the upper part there is Irkutsk coat-of-arms, in the lower one upon the ground of gold there is Mercury’s rod and the horn of plenty as a sign that the city is involved into a noble trade”.
The last words in the coat-of-arms description showed the well known fact of the XVIII – XIXth centuries that at that time the town was the center of the trade fair that was as important for the Zabaikal Oblast as the fair in Nizhny Novgorod for Russia. But originally the fair was held in the village of Oninskoe in the Khorinsk steppe, situated about 100 km away from Verkhneudinsk.
The fair was associated with the Baikal this or that way. Firstly, very often its opening depended on the time the Baikal froze, because before the Krugobaikalka cartage road appearance it was cheaper to bring goods to Verkhneudinsk over the Baikal than across Tankhoy and Kabansk. Secondly, at Verkhneudinsk Fair there was Baikal fishing and hunting products or the items produced by the people living close to the lake sold. First of all that was fish, the sturgeon and the omul; fur of sables, squirrels, foxes, etc. A. Ekman, a German traveler, who visited the city in 1829, left such a note in the German language about it: “In some houses of Verkhneudinsk that looked wealthy enough, we saw the remains of sea animals, they were hanging for drying or decoration. They come from the Baikal because by order of the local merchants the beneficial fishing is organized there. Dressed skin of silver-grey coloured Baikal seal are actively sold to China; and the pelicans which the Russians call “baba-ptitsa” or “babia ptitsa” (a woman-bird) are brought from the Selenga where these birds as well as people are on the watch for the omul”.
Some unusual phenomena that the town residents happened to observe, for example, on March, 24, 1870 are also associated with the Baikal. It was a magnificent aurora borealis, when late at night the northern part of the sky glared with dazzling lights. The aurora lasted for about half an hour. The town residents who had observed an aurora before supposed that the given phenomenon in Verkhneudinsk was the result of a sudden ice break that formed a gap in the Baikal ice. Under the same circumstances the aurora borealis is often formed in the Arctic Sea, when northern lights emerge. I should say that aurora borealis was sometimes observed in other parts of the Baikal, for example, in Irkutsk.
The modern Ulan-Ude is famous first of all for its theaters and museums, many exhibits of which have a very bright national colouring, both Russian and Buryat. The datsans that have grown during the last years and now unite the Buddhists impress very mush. Ulan-Ude is also famous for the monument in honor of V.I. Lenin; it presents his head that is the largest “head” monument in the world, it is symbolical that “the head” is erected on the Soviet Square as if “the head” gives advice (in Russian soviet has also the meaning “advice”). The height of the bronze sculpture is 7.7 m, the weight is 42 tones, and the pedestal made of polished granite is 6.3 meters high. First the project, the authors of which are sculptors G.V. Neroda and Y.G. Neroda, was exhibited in Paris and Montreal, and in November, 1871 it was erected in Ulan-Ude.
The industry, cultural centers and intellectual potential of Ulan-Ude can play an important role in the activity of the specific economic zone of the tourist-recreation type in the Baikal region, in Buryatia and in the Irkutsk Oblast as well. Firstly, because the theatres and museums, the datsans and Orthodox churches that have always showed national colour are very attrractive for foreign and Russian tourists. After the design change of its airport and other transport arteries Ulan-Ude will be a safe bet in the field of ethno-cultural tourism in the whole Baikal region. Secondly, the city enterprises will provide many life spheres of the Special Economic Zone with their products. It especially concerns the Ulan-Ude Shipbuilding Plant, the revival of which is urgent for developing navigation across the Baikal and rivers of the region. Lately the plant has started to build a modern liner of the luxury class, 59 m long on the order of a big Moscow enterprise. But still the shipbuilding for the Baikal navigation can run into serious obstacles that are called… the Selenga shoals. The problem is that the mouth of the Selenga has not been cleaned for a long time, it is overgrown with silt, sand and gravel, and sailing down it is impossible even for ships of the middle class. If we plan to build ships and lower them in the Baikal it is necessary to clean the Selenga, and it is in the interest of the government and municipal authority. It is supposed that in the nearest future the Ulan-Ude (as well as Irkutsk) Aircraft Factories will obtain the order of building small but comfortable tourist helicopters or (and) amphibians.
And now I would like to provide you with a lyrical digression. In the tinted inserts the reader can find the collages and poems about Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude written by the author of the book and his departed brother Michael. Misha wrote his poem when he was young, at the beginning of the 60s, and mine has been written recently when I am in my mature age. The unison of rhythms especially of the last poems stanzas is intentional. By this I wanted to show the inspiration my brother gave to me, and the affinity of the two Baikal cities.
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