It was 867 km to Mogocha, the destination for the day. The stay in Malina Hotel was so comfortable that I did not want to leave early, getting off from that comfortable bed. However, the mind would not permit the body to rest. As it turned out I left earlier than usual. Not knowing the condition of the road and how long it would take were two reasons for the 4.45 am start.
I had information from a friend that fuel would be difficult to find on the road to Mogocha. I was asked to carry additional fuel in the car. I had purchased a water can in India, which I thought coud double up as a fuel can in times of emergency. The emergency had come and I hoped that the can would support. Before leaving Belogorsk I filled the can with diesel. It held just about 17 liters. As soon as I lifted the can after the fill I suspected leakage. The smell was very strong. I spread a couple of plastic bags below the passenger seat and kept the filled tank there. During the course of the drive I found fuel stations at many locations. However, inadequate information makes one over prepare, I suppose.
I was a bit apprehensive about Mogocha, because there is a Russian slang which says, “God created Sochi, Satan Mogocha”. The remoteness of the town and its harsh climate are the reasons for the saying. The weather in Mogocha popped up on my phone this morning – rain and 4 degree Celsius! Nevertheless, I decided to push on to Mogocha; the distance between Belogorsk and Chita is over 1400 km and I had to find a night halt somewhere. The first 400 km on P297 was quite smooth. Just that the temperature hovered around 8o C; extending the hand out of the car to take videos became tough. After the first 400 km the rest of the ride was very bumpy. The road had sunk in many places and work was on in some stretches to rectify the defect. Some stretches had extensive damage. With climatic conditions being so tough the road condition can be understood. Most of such locations were pre-warned, but some of them crept on me un-announced. Such places turn out to be very tricky. The sunken roads can make the car skid at higher speed. I was chastened after a couple of narrow escapes. Besides watching out for the warning signs I kept my eyes peeled on the road; the landscape would have to wait!
After I had done more than half the distance to Mogocha I stopped to fill the tank with the fuel I had in the can. The smell of diesel vapor was so strong that it gave me a headache. Just as I started to fill the fuel a big truck got off the road and stopped behind the Champion. The driver got off the truck and asked if I needed any assistance. I was struggling with the nozzle of the can, but politely refused the help. The progress was so slow I thought it would take me more than 30 minutes there. I did the next best I could do. I took off the nozzle and more fuel was spilt on the road than was poured into the tank! The truck driver was watching all this amused. As I was getting into the car he asked me if I could spare him some water. He had some tablets in his hand. I handed over a bottle and asked him to keep it. His grin was so wide I thought the corners of his mouth would crack in that dry weather!
Despite the indifferent road condition in the second half of the Mogocha stretch I reached the turn off from the highway at 1.45 pm. Then Google Maps got confused. What confronted me was a dirt track and I was to travel on that for another 10 km as per the map. But in a while I ended up in a coal dump with a ferocious dog tethered to a pole. A kind gentleman gestured to the road that would take me to Mogocha. After a rough ride I reached the outskirts of the town, which I found had a railway station and it seemed busy. I fueled up before continuing to the Yalta Inn.
At the Yalta Inn I got the rudest shock. The Inn keeper told me he has no booking for me because he has no Internet access. All the while he kept on saying Nyet. I became furious after a while. He even refused to look at the Booking.com confirmation. I had no option. In that one horse town I would not be able to find another place to stay. Without the language I was lost. Therefore, I decided on the spur of the moment to drive onwards to Chita, which was another 600 km away. It was 2.30 pm and I estimated that it would take me about 7 hours if the road conditions held well. I had just completed 870 km in 10 hours! It was a tough decision, but necessitated by the extraordinary circumstance.
As it turned out the road conditions were better and the terrain also became flatter after about half the distance to Chita. I averaged more than 100 km per hour! My only prayer was that it should not become dark before I reached the hotel. I need not have worried because even at 7.30 pm the sun was so harsh that it hurt my eyes and I had difficulty keeping my eyes on the road! By 8.30 pm I stopped the car in front of the hotel where I had a booking for the next day. The pleasant girl at the counter said that I could use the booking for this day and I heaved a sigh of relief. Having done the 1471 km today I had saved one day of the schedule. However, since hotel accommodation was all pre-booked the entire schedule would get upset, more so in places like Moscow and St Petersburg.
The hotel has private parking and I was guided to it by the steward. The receptionist accompanied me to the fourth floor room after attesting the log sheet. The stairs took the wind out of me. I had every intention to have a hot meal in the city after lodging the bags in the room, because right through the day I had been munching on chocolates and biscuits in the car. That thought vanished during the trudge up the staircase and the huffing and puffing even became too much for the young girl. She asked me to rest on a chair on one of the floors before resuming the assault on the next flight of stairs!
I picked up a bottle of beer from the third floor store and a noodle pack. Once the beer was done I was hungry. The noodle pack looked like a feast. I opened the box and emptied the packs inside on to the noodle. Then I took ‘hot’ water from the dispenser. It turned out later that the power had been switched off. The water was cold! My feast was in ruins. But I would not let go of that because the alternative was to go down four flights of stairs and trudge back the same way. I had the cold and soggy noodles and I must say that it did taste okay. Very different, of course, than the normal. It must have been the hunger and sleep acting in tandem.