Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Day 32 – 13 June Kurgan to Ufa

Last night the receptionist had asked me if I wanted a wakeup call since I had told her that I would be leaving at 5 am. My routine is so set that sleeping overtime is not part of that. Accordingly I was ready after ablutions and morning prayer at the appointed time. I came down to the reception to collect the breakfast pack and the bill. The security guy, whom I had seen at the reception the previous evening, gesticulated to me about something flashing in the car the whole night. I looked out through the door of the hotel and found that the tail lamp was flashing. I was stricken with fright. I would have certainly left the headlights on the whole night and that would have affected the battery. I ran to the car and tried the remote to open the car. That wouldn’t work. I used the key and opened the car and tried the ignition. There was not a sound from the engine. All the warning lights came on instead. I was almost in panic when I went back inside the hotel. I asked the security guy if there was a garage I could get some help from. Instead the receptionist and the security guy talked for a while and he asked me to wait. Later he brought his car alongside the Champion and asked me to open the bonnet. The receptionist brought out a set of jump start cables. The security guy carefully attached the cables to both the batteries and started up his engine. In about 5 minutes the Champion too fired up. I didn’t know how to thank the two angels of the morning. I folded my hands and thanked them the best I could. With all this my start was delayed only by 15 minutes.

The M51 would take me till Chelyabinsk. After which it would be the E30 and M5 all the way up to Ufa. The road condition was not too bad considering that it was a single carriageway. It was raining lightly except for a while for the sun to peek from the dark clouds and get back again into the cozy blanket. The packed breakfast was waiting to be savoured. The stuffed croissant, cheese, vegetables and ham sandwich were delectable. First down the gullet was a Green Apple that was almost a melon!

The last time I was on the Ural Mountain route, en route to London in 2014, I had missed the border marker showing the transit from Asia to Europe. Mathew Thomas, a Facebook friend, sent me the google maps link of the exact point so that I do not miss it this time. He also gave landmarks of the place mentioning a fuel station and that one would miss it while going towards Moscow if the eyes are not peeled. My concentration was entirely on the border marker. In fact, I had set the route only up to the marker. I was determined not to miss it this time. The 400 plus km to the location went by quite quickly. On the way I passed the small hotel I had stayed in on the outskirts of Miass, at the foothills of the Ural Mountain. The next place I fondly remembered on the way was the souvenir shop we had stopped by for Geniye, our pilot, to pick up a local dagger!

Soon enough Google Maps announced that the location of the border marker was to my left. I could not stop the car there because there was no shoulder on the road. I had to stop almost a km away and walk to the monument in cold and windy conditions. Mathew had been right. I would have missed it but for the landmark of the fuel station. Freight trucks were parked in front of the monument and the signs were not visible from the road. I spent a few minutes taking photographs which attracted another coupe who were ta the fuel station. They too noticed the marker that ended one continent and started another! I was upset by the fact that I could not take the Champion to the location because it was a busy highway and turning the car there was fraught with a lot of risk.

Almost immediately after the border marker I was overcome by sleep. Till then I had no problems and I was fully alert. Such is the mind – push the limits and it stays with you; the minute the challenge is over and it seeks to be rested! I pulled up at a wayside café and slept for three quarters of an hour. I was so refreshed after that I could have driven another 10 hours. But I had just 4 hours more to the hotel in Ufa, which I reached without any slip up.
The lovely Bashkiria Hotel was in the centre of the city, well almost. It also had private car parking that was secured. The lady at the reception was very prompt with completing the check in formalities and it was a great help that she spoke English. She gave me a brochure that covered all the major attractions of the city. She also suggested the Duslik (Friendship) restaurant for local cuisine in case I cared to savour some of the Bashkir dishes. In fact, she wrote out some of the delicacies on a piece of paper, soups, salads and a main hot dish. It is said that the region was inhabited by the Bakshirs from early 16th century and they were Turkic nomads. The city is located at the confluence of the Ufa and Belaya Rivers. The main employment generator are fuel and energy sectors followed by the machine building enterprises. This is another million people city in Russia.

In a short while I embarked on a brief tour of the main streets of the city, which naturally are the Lenin and Karl Marx streets. What strikes one first, on these walking tours, is the cleanliness and the absence of garbage. There are dust bins at regular intervals on the street and people use them. Next is the adherence to order. People use the designated pedestrian paths and I never found people jay walking anywhere.

Ufa is considered to be one of the greenest cities in Russia. The walking tour provided ample examples of that. Almost every two blocks there is a park with fountains, benches and activity centres. The large city is reputed to have over 1000 streets, 22 bridges and 6 river ferries. The city has heritage buildings with a lot of architectural wealth as well as modern, trendy buildings. I was most impressed by the musical fountain of the seven sisters.

The walk terminated in the aesthetic environs of the Duslik restaurant. The menu had description of all the items in English. Moreover, I had the dishes suggested by the receptionist. I initially ordered a half litre of Spaten beer, a German variety that is popular in these parts. After a great deal of menu study I decided on a chicken Tukmas soup, a Bashkir delicacy, and an Uzbek Veal Noodle. To say that the food was outstanding would be a complete understatement. The Tukmas is a clear broth with chicken and noodle in it. It was hot to scalding. The veal noodle tasted quite different, possibly because of the tomato paste based dressing.

I have a habit of going through the route for the next day every evening. This evening was no different with the beer for company. I am booked to stay at the Grand Kazan Hotel in Kazan tomorrow. I discovered to my horror that Kazan is not on the Trans-Siberian route on M5. I had to take immediate course correction, which I did. The hotel booking was beyond the free cancellation. I would lose some money on that, but more important is that I travel on the correct route. I decided to halt at Kuznetsk, almost halfway beyween Ufa and Moscow on the M5. That town does not have any suitable accommodation. So I tracked one in the nearby locality of Yasnaya Polyana and booked it. I was glad that I had discovered the flaw in the route planning. Instead of 7 hours of driving I will have to drive over 9 hours tomorrow. That’s all.

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