Most of the residents of the Buryat Republic are Buddhists. Dozens of picturesque temples sprang up round Lake Baikal after Empress Elizabeth, Peter the Great’s daughter, recognised the Buddhist religion in the Russian Federation. Even though most datsans were destroyed during the 1930s, many of the treasures were preserved in the Russian Orthodox church in Ulaan Ude, the capital. The Sandalwood Buddha, on display in the town’s Exhibition Hall, is said to have been made with Buddha himself sitting as a model.
Founded as barracks town, Yakutsk is capital of the vast Sakha (Yakutia) Autonomous Republic. It is a major scientific centre for permafrost research today. The republic’s landscapes vary from Alpine meadows to moss-covered tundra, with sandy deserts close to Arctic zone. This is pioneer country, complete with gold mining settlements.