Shrouded behind an iron curtain for years, Moscow is today a vibrant city. In terms of culture, sights and exciting things to do, it is as good as any European city.
But some places are more than the sum of the experiences they have to offer. Some places are more magnificent because they act as the gateway to more such places, sights and sounds. That is why Moscow, sitting between Europe and Asia, is a city like no other.
And Moscow’s biggest magic trick is the Trans-Siberian railway. Starting from here, the railway network pans out across the breadth of Russia and ends at the doorstep on Japan and South Korea in the east – at Vladivostok.
A six-night train journey gets you from Moscow, across the stunning Siberian landscape of whites and greens and browns and oranges, into Vladivostok from where Japan is a ferry ride away.
And yet, that is not the railway’s best route. The railway’s best route turns south at Irkutsk and heads towards Mongolia and China and Tibet.
Train journeys are for those who take a journey as seriously as a destination. The Trans-Siberian trains are comfortable and well equipped to handle long journeys spanning over a week.
And who better to undertake these long train journeys than Indians. Thanks to bad technology and inordinate delay we have gained the skill to spend days in a train and that skill lends itself very well for the Trans-Siberian experience.
While a direct train is available from Moscow to Beijing, spanning 7 days, I’d recommend you break down the journey because there are several things to see on the way.
The first stop will be Irkutsk which is the gateway to the majestic lake Baikal – the world’s largest fresh water lake surrounded by evergreen forests and frosty evening winds.
From Irkutsk, we move to Ulan Bator, Mongolia’s ravishing capital city throbbing with new found energy. Take a short flight into the golden sands of the Gobi Desert from here where the temperatures can alternate between 35 degrees and -35 degrees in a single day during some parts of the year.
From the madness of Russia and the euphoria of Mongolia, you enter the insanity of China as the train makes its way to Beijing. The capital city is full of history and culture and an experience in itself. Between Moscow and Beijing, this journey affords you a chance to witness two of the most exciting cities in the world today.
While one can just take a flight back home from here, the more adventurous can soldier on to Lhasa in Tibet from here. From the madness of the plains, we make way into the mighty Himalayas.
There isn’t a bigger crowning glory of an adventure. Lhasa is hidden from the world and everything there is not to be found on any guidebook or website. Everyone comes back with a different Lhasa in their minds. From Lhasa, you can fly back to India via Kathmandu.
Travel tips: The above is at least an 18 day trip and will require a minimum budget of close to Rs 2.5 lacs.