Blagoveshchensk was a delightful town.
Very modern and yet retaining its heritage, the wide open roads left considerable room to ride. Ofcourse there weren’t too many vehicles on the road either. Google took me right outside my first couch surfing experience; at the home of Alexsey and Ksenia. A lovely couple and both English teachers, they accepted my request just a day before. Next to their apartment block was a hospital and I parked in its spacious parking. Connecting on WhatsApp, Alexsey came to fetch me. I had requested a parking for my bike and I rode behind his cab as we immediately took off to his fathers house that had a garage. Taking my bare supplies for one night, the father and son took me on a quick tour of Blagoveshchensk. They took me to the end of Russia. A lovely promenade overlooked a river that separated Russia from China. On the other side there was a tiny foresty clump of trees and tall buildings followed. For 2000Ru, you could cross in a boat and with a days visa, shop and hop back. It was a touristy connect for both countries. But still, it was the first time I saw China. In preparation for this trip, I had read considerable books on Russia and China. Earlier I was planning to go to China as well. I dropped the idea when I found out about the government costs involved if you come on your own vehicle. It was a sad decision. But then, I saw China!
So, the three of us walked upon this 5 km promenade and admired the city atmosphere. All of Blagoveshchensk was here. It was a festive atmosphere and I saw most looking happy and smiling.
The father dropped us back to Alexsey’s apartment and the two of us walked up four floors to a lovely home. The first thing Alexsey did was to show me the couch and the toilet. The couch was as comfortable as a bed. Akexsey has been on CS for some time and hosts a lot of travellers and then couches himself too when he travels. He has good references. His wife joined us at the dining table in the living room. That’s where my couch was. The room was functionally decorated and a window provided some daylight and the street view. They both asked me a lot of questions and this was after backchecking me on the net! I patiently answered and was rewarded with Borsht. Alexsey showed me his travel pictures, all carefully indexed. He was a photographer of detail! Soon, we had dessert. Raspberry jam and hot toast. It was heavenly. Followed by hot green tea and more travel talk, we spent two hours exchanging family and cultural details, world opinion and matters of human interest.
Realising that I was nodding off, they tucked me in bed and left. I went to sleep in 11 seconds, the last thought being the vision of China!
The next day I took Alexsey on camera and he spoke very well about humanity etc. A quick breakfast of fish on toast, made by Alexsey and I packed up my stuff to leave. My hosts had summer holidays and they accompanied me when his father came to pick us up. On the way, we stopped at a hardware store to buy a strap for my luggage that was not used to 100 kmph and a headwind. Alexsey came in with me and helped me to identify, after which we stood in the checkout queue. After a few minutes I realised that there was no activity due to some internet glitch. There were two before me and two after. We all stood in the same pose for ten minutes. No one argued, or got irritable. No one questioned when would it resume. The checkout lady stood a few feet away, waiting for some electronic signal. It was a silent movie. No, it was a wax museum. They were patient. They had decided to ride the problem thinking better thoughts while they waited in queue. This is also meditation. It was a great-great lesson in humility.
Well, I left soon enough and the next few days were again on the Taiga highway. The days had the same scenery. Conifers lined the highway in perfect symmetry. The highway was well done. The best tarmac for Siberia. From Vladivostok onwards I remembered that the fuel pumps were at about 50 km distance apart. This soon went to 100 and as I write, 200 km apart. Bikers need to plan. Towns appeared more infrequently and at a distance from the highway. I didn’t want to leave the TSB. Though I had to for a shorter route and ended on a 70km totally off-road experience. This was in search for petrol. I went through villages and small establishments. Children playing about. The rail track ran 20 feet from me for half an hour. I met some army guys in their truck and asked them for directions to the TSB. They put me back through another route that went through fields recently ploughed. It was just beautiful. Ofcourse I could have kissed the highway when I got back. I was tired. This off-road had taken me three hours! I stopped at the first motel and slept. Siberia is a beautiful rendition of the Lord’s poetry! I fell in love with it. It is an extreme climate that shows no mercy and the Russian Federation has let this biome be. If I was a teen, this is where I would make my log cabin. A simple woodcutter. And I met so many simple people, who had no use for Google applications, so on so forth. But they knew when the snow would come and when the snow would go. They prepared a woodstock for the winter. They kept warm accepting the aggressive behaviour of the cold. I met these people.
So this is how they have made the TSB. Russia is a vast county and they have completed the Amur section of the road in the last few years. But you will see incomplete offshoots going inland that turn from tarmac to rubble in a few metres. Shoulders have been planned and space allocated. So most village connects from the Highway would be off-road. Additionally, every 100 km or so a shoulder provides a steel ramp for cars to conduct their repairs on. They have made a great effort to keep the TSB in good condition and there is work going on all the time, but in an extremely orderly fashion. A fuel pump materialises every 150 km, usually next to a café. Pumps mostly accept cards, café’s may not. It’s also an internet connectivity issue. If it’s too cloudy, it may take a while, etc. By the way all pumps in Siberia have a policeman inside. A lady manager and a policeman and 150 km on either side! Interestingly, entrepreneurs have built small motels. A café, of about 20 beds, in a shared and single room, with secured parking.
The big Truckers would stop here, so soon I started looking out for them. These motels are great on food, comfy rooms, shared toilets in some and lovely locations. But then, wherever you look is heavenly. I am now in Chernyshevsk and my next halt is Chita. More from there. Cheers!
I am in Chita and that’s 3000km since I left Mumbai! I elected to stay in the city centre at a boutique joint with comforts and great food. Chita is a flourishing town, maybe a city. This is the first populated place that I am seeing after leaving Vladivostok. Its been 11 days on the road. Fine buildings and shopping plaza, etc., mark its prosperity.
From here onwards, the terrain changes, the food and the feel. Grasslands replace the conifer. Nature marches to Moscow with me.
But. I left my heart in Siberia!