There are many ways to say good-bye, or just say sayonara. But I am/was in the heart of Siberia. And I think it deserves a formal good-bye. So, let’s start with some comments from Michael Myers Shoemaker in 1902.
“So good-bye to Siberia! I shall always remember it as two vast stretches of sadly silent country, limitless steppes, silent forests, dreary mountains, all leading up to that one great point of interest, that sea of ice, frozen Lake Baikal. Somewhat of the fascination which possesses Arctic explorers is understood by the winter passage of that lake, with its stretching snow fields, its black waters and fields of floating, plunging ice, and its grand air.”
At this point, I am not sure about how I feel about it. I have looked forward to seeing both Siberia and Lake Baikal for many years now. Has it been a disappointment? Hardly. It is the best place I have ever been? It is just so different, from my other favorites, like Torres del Paine, Amazonia, and Angkor Wat. There is nothingness, and there is something. I think that says it all for me. Time will help me judge this trip.
Technically, Siberia ended for me at Km 2102, in the middle of the night on Friday. The border between Sverdlovskaya and Tyumensakaya oblasts is the frontier between the Urals and Siberia. Tyumenskaya Oblast consists of 1.44 million square kilometers (don’t you just love the word, hectare?), of FLAT land, taiga in the south, tundra in the north.
Now, you know why they called the home field of the Green Bay Packers, in Wisconsin, the frozen tundra? But here, oil was discovered, taking over from reindeer herding in the north, and some farming in the south. Speaking of, have you had any good reindeer meat lately? I love reindeer sausage.
After I board the last train on Monday morning across this great expanse, I will cross the point where the Great Post Road crosses Siberia’s frontier. It is marked by a square pillar about ten to twelve feet high. Notice how I mix feet and meters so easily, almost cavalierly.
The famous author George Keenan, in his 1887 book, Siberia and the Exile System added: “No other spot between St. Petersburg and the Pacific is more full of painful suggestions and none has for the traveler a more melancholy interest than the little opening in the forest where stands this grief-consecrated pillar”.
The rail line between Novosibirsk and Irkutsk is the most heavily traveled rain line in the world. It seemed freight trains go by every 5 minutes, day and night. And they fly along as fast or faster than our Trans Siberian “express” Railway.
From Yekaterinburg, the journey traverses more densely populated country. The route looks like a river delta with several branches, with some rejoining beyond the Urals. My route, on the No. 16 Ural, takes a more southerly route via Kazan, the capital of Tatarsan. It has its own UNESCO-listed kremlin and has become a popular stop for Trans Siberian travelers.
I am looking forward to the big city, more to see and do. As far as Siberia, time will be the best judge of my visit here. I know that I need not come back. But then, I have felt that way about some great places like Torres del Paine, Machu Picchu, Amazonia, and Africa.