A dreadfully cold, desolate place covered with snow all around the year, where political prisoners were sent by the tsars and bears can be seen in the streets is how most people think about Siberia. I was fascinated with the Great Siberian Plains right from when my teachers had told me of this vast stretch of land that witnesses extreme winters, with temperatures reaching up to -40 deg C.
Naturally, I was quite excited when my visit to Russia last month included a 3-day program in the Western Siberian cities of Tyumen and Tobolsk. It was similar to the kind of excitement I had felt at the prospect of seeing the Pyramids at Giza during my trip to Cairo or the Great Wall of China at Beijing many years ago.
With an area of 13.1 million square kilometres, Siberia makes up roughly 77% of Russia's total territory today and almost 10% of Earth's land surface and has the largest freshwater reserves in the world.
Moscow To Tyumen
We took an early afternoon flight of Aeroflot from Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport to Tyumen and landed after three hours at around 5:30 pm in the evening. We adjusted our watches to the two hour time difference between the two cities.
Though my Russian colleagues had warned me that my perceived notions of Siberia as an isolated and perennially frozen land would be severely dashed, I was yet to see. We checked into Hilton (Yes, Tyumen does have a Doubletree Hilton!!!), and then we went around to explore the city of Tyumen.
It was an extremely pleasant evening with temperatures at 16-17 deg C. This was a welcome relief after almost a week of being in uncomfortably warm Moscow and St. Petersburg. We were to fly to Tobolsk next day morning. So, we decided to take a tour of Tyumen before dinner taking full advantage of the daylight hours till 9:30pm-10:00 pm.
An evening in Tyumen
We thought of spending the evening at the embankment of the River Tura. Driving past the Znamenskiy Cathedral, a landmark in Tyumen, we reached the Pedestrian Bridge of Lovers. This is an interesting landmark in the simple uncomplicated city.
We were pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the location. The Holy Trinity Men's Monastery was close by. We crossed the Pedestrian Bridge and walked over to the other side of the River Tura, where we could see the Transfiguration Church.
There were a couple of boats getting ready for a party on board on Sunday night. The hostess invited us to join in. We deliberated upon the offer but decided not to accept the invitation to join in as we had an early morning departure to Tobolsk and did not want to risk ourselves on a barge on the Tura.
As we stepped off the barge we saw a luxuriant black stray cat strutting around. Being a cat lover I went about to patronize it, which was met with a cold response. He disappeared into the slightly wooded banks while we decided to cross over back to the other side of the river for dinner.
Tyumen is historically significant as it was the first Russian settlement in Siberia, which was founded to support Russia's eastward expansion. Its location at the junction of important trade routes with easy access to navigable waterways aided the development of Tyumen from a small military settlement to a large commercial and industrial city over the centuries.
Today, Tyumen is a very posh city with one of the highest per capita incomes in Russia. This oil-rich region to the east of Ural Mountains is home to a number of major companies, particularly in Russia's oil and gas industry.
Since it was a Sunday evening it was supposed to be unusually crowded by the Siberian standards. We could see the Tyumen folks walking cycling and enjoying the lovely evening with family and friends. Soon enough we found a nice restaurant just a block away from the river bank and settled down for dinner.
Being so deep in a vast country like Russia filled us with a sense of excitement. We were around 300Kms from the Kazakh border and around 800Kms from Astana. This was also the first time that we were so far away from India with just a 30 min time difference (lag) behind IST.
From Tyumen to Tolbolsk
Next morning after a quick breakfast we were back at Tyumen Airport ready to take a Helicopter ride our hosts had arranged for us to take us to Tobolsk, which is 400Kms to the North of Tyumen. As soon as we reached the Airport we were taken to the helicopter, which was the civilian version of the MI-8 gunship helicopter. It could carry about 6-10 passengers in its spacious cabin.
The chopper took off and headed North towards Tobolsk crossing the wooded Siberian plains dotted with water bodies small & larger lakes and rivers. There were small towns and villages intermittently spread over the landscape which was a largely wooded plain till the chopper started coming close to the City of Tobolsk which looked amazingly beautiful as we went past the city to land in the helipad of the complex of our Hosts. Tobolsk is also a major centre for Petrochemicals.
We soon got ready for the excursion into Tobolsk and the dinner event hosted by our Hosts subsequently.
Located at the confluence of the Tobol and Irtysh Rivers, Tobolsk is the second oldest Russian settlement east of the Ural Mountains in Asian Russia and is a historic capital of the Siberia region.
We had a wonderful time exploring the Tobolsk Kremlin with the stunning Cathedral of St.Sophia.
Tobolsk Kremlin is an elaborate city-fortress from the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries. Its white walls and towers with an ensemble of churches and palatial buildings spectacularly sited on a high river bank are considered as the historical and architectural treasures of Russia.
From the Kremlin, we got a superb overview of the City of Tobolsk and the river Irtysh. We had some great moments snapping pictures at Kremlin before moving over to the restaurant where our Hosts had fixed our dinner.
Next day was a hectic one with numerous meetings and we made it on time to our chopper for the flight back to Tyumen in the evening to make it on time for our Tyumen- Moscow flight at 8:00 pm.
As the chopper took off in the bright sunlight at 5:45 pm from Tobolsk's helipad, I looked out of the window to get one last fabulous view of the City of Tobolsk and the magnificent monument of Kremlin. A thought crossed my mind that I would be back someday to get a feel of the frozen Siberian winter.
Referenceshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyumen https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tobolsk This article is written by my husband Kanchan Chakrabarti. Hey! Say what you want to. Please Like, Share and/or drop a Comment below!