Monday, June 13, 2016

Day 31 – 12 June Omsk to Kurgan

There is nothing like a hot shower to get started for the day. I am more than a bit apprehensive, after the experience in Lashio where I had to take a cold water shower, about running hot water in taps in the morning. It was all very well at the Den I Noch Hotel and I was ready a bit before 5 am for the 31st day of the expedition. How time has gone by? Last evening when I was reaching Omsk my son, Ajay, sent me a report on how terrible the infrastructure is in Omsk and how the people look very sad. In the little time I spent in the city I did not come across any ‘sad’ people. In fact, they seemed quite friendly. Last evening when Alexie, Alessio and I were taking pictures in front of the Champion an elderly lady, passing by, offered to help with the camera work. Not only was she competent with the camera she was fluent in the English language. She happened to be a language teacher in the city. She did spend some time with me to understand about the expedition and my itinerary after Omsk. She was only hesitant about taking a picture with her, which I did not insist upon. The car had been parked in the open without any security. Though I was worried about any late night vandalism that did not happen either.

By the time I came up to the reception the kind lady was there with an open smile and a sing song ‘Good Morning”. She handed over the bill voucher as well as a large breakfast pack that was warm. Hospitality at its prime. I would have left without the pack, but the lady was insistent that I should carry something with me. The pack consisted of three large pancakes stuffed fully with sour cream, two large sausages, bread, tea and coffee powder. I was really taken aback by the trouble she had taken to make me comfortable. Even though the property was basic the hospitality of the lady made up much more for that.

The distance to be covered this day was slightly over 650 km. As I was exiting the city at the Irtysh River I chanced upon a glorious sunrise in the rear view mirror. I was not supposed to stop the car there. But, on this occasion, I had to break rules and regulations for this piece of Nature’s Art. The M51 was alright but with congestion that is normal with a single carriageway the progress was steady. However, my strategy proved right. The early morning start avoided the freight trucks for the most part of the drive. In 8 hours I covered the distance to Kurgan despite the rain en route. At the reception of the hotel I was told that the time in the city is +5 GMT; I had gained yet another hour. The receptionist was very helpful in attesting the log sheet and showing me into the lovely room.

Once the documentation and the rest of the work was done I went to the receptionist for guidance on where to go to in the short time that I had with me. She suggested the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the Central Park and the Klimova Street. I decided to walk to the suggested locations. The receptionist felt I should take the car as it was drizzling. I braved that and the wind with a jacket and an umbrella. I had the Google Maps for company. In the end I found that these locations were about a km from each other. Starting from the hotel I reached the city park in about a quarter of an hour and cut through that to reach the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The Russian Orthodox Churches look majestic from the outside and are extremely rich with elaborate icons inside. This cathedral was no different. The church was built to honour the services of Emperor Alexander III, who was named after the Saint, to Russia and the Trans-Siberian railway. There were people worshipping inside and I joined them. After a while the tourist in me took over. When I was photographing some of the icons an old lady told me firmly that photography is prohibited inside the church.

The city park is known as the Victory Park and is a place that youngsters and the elders go to for some peace and quiet in the bustling city. Vestiges of a recent wedding reception in the park amused some kids who walked through the arch holding hands and lovingly looking into each other’s eyes! The park by itself is not remarkable. Close by is the Lenin Square where a tall monument of Lenin is the centre piece.

The city of Kurgan is on the banks of the River Tobol, which is the main tributary of the Irtysh River, which I had left behind in Omsk this morning. The walk to Klimov took me to the river. People were out in numbers fishing and generally lazing around. I walked over the moderate sluice reservoir across the river and thought of going to the Epiphany Cathedral, which I could see from a distance. On the bank of the river I encountered the most massive mosquitoes I have ever seen in my life. And they were albino! A large swarm attacked me and in my anxiety to flee the attack I got stuck in a clayey morass. It must have been a sight for the others - an old man stuck in muck flailing a red umbrella to ward off albino mosquitoes. I had had enough and I retreated to the confines of the café attached to the hotel.

I had every intention of completing the blog for the day after getting back to the room. But, that never happened. I observed a buy two get one free offer for beer in the café. And, naturally, I could not resist the economic advantage that was right in front of me. I ordered a pilsner and when the first fill came I knew that it was a bit too much of beer to have that night. Anyway, the deed had been done. I ordered a short eat of chicken julienne. For the main course I zeroed in on an Ossetian Pie, a delicacy of the region. The waitress told me that she did not have the smaller portion, but could get me the larger pie. I was hungry as hell and did not hesitate to accept the offer. When the julienne came I knew I had made the right choice of the larger pie. By the time I was halfway through the second lager the pie arrived. My eyes popped. It was meant for four people. The thick crusted bread filled with chicken was yummy, no doubt. I wished that Ajay was with me to finish the dish. In the end I could have just two helpings and asked for the rest to be packed. By the time I finished the last lager I was feeling sleepy and a bit tipsy. The only thought that kept me awake a while in bed was about the passage from Asia to Europe on the Ural mountain the next day.

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