The Quantas-Emirates code share flight from St Petersburg landed in Dubai ahead of the scheduled time and I took the train shuttle to the T3 terminal from where the Cochin flight was scheduled to leave. After the security check, which was quite rigorous but not intrusive, I had more time to roam around the dazzling T3 terminal complex. I had a long walk to the gate and I kept gaping at the amazing display of products all along the way. I had to wait for about two hours before boarding the flight that would take me home. I used the free WiFi at the airport to update my status and catch up on pending news. I also arranged with Ajay to pick me up from the Cochin International Airport.
When the gate was opened there was a mad rush to board. I waited till the tail of the queue was clearly in sight. When I got to the gate entrance the young girl asked for my passport and gave me a new boarding pass. I realized that I may have been upgraded, but was not so sure. So when boarding for Business and First Class passengers was announced I waited in the lounge till the last of the economy passengers had boarded. Then I made a beeline to the economy gate, only to be politely directed to the Business Class entrance.
Once again I had an aisle seat. The seat could double up as a flat bed and that is exactly what I used it as after the take off and a glass of champagne. The extremely comely airhostess woke me up in time for a lamb mince breakfast, which I had chosen prior to the nap. The seat had to be propped up for the meal and a while thereafter. I slept for a couple of hours more before landing was announced. A strong cup of coffee set me up for the homecoming.
Immediately on getting to the arrival hall of the CIAL I recalled the famous Shashi Tharoor statement of ‘cattle class’. The treatment that one got at the Immigration counter and the baggage hall was nothing short of this. Manned counters were insufficient to deal with the numbers that disembarked. The two security scanners were inadequate to deal with the hand baggage. The terrible experience at the baggage carousal had to be experienced to be believed. Bags spilled inside the carousal and baggage handlers were least interested in putting them back on to the belt. There were large gaps between loads that were deposited on the belt. It took nearly an hour to retrieve the baggage. To say that I was relieved to meet up with Ajay to leave the terminal would be a terrible understatement. Well, it was meant to be “Home, Sweet Home”.
Now some facts and statistics of the expedition. The path-breaking solo tour of four countries in two continents, the Trans-Siberian Expedition, was completed in 34 days, 10 hours and 50 minutes. The distance covered was 20112 km. The Trans-Siberian highway of 10117 km was completed in 12 days, 10 hours and 45 minutes. The entire trip was completed two days ahead of the scheduled program. INR 66,045 was spent for 1473 litres of diesel fuel, which cost an average of INR 44.84 per litre and gave an average mileage of 14 km to a litre. The cheapest fuel was in Myanmar at INR 34.75 per litre followed by Russia at INR 39.8 and China at INR 51. The costliest was, naturally, in India at INR 53.22, which was tempered by the low prices in the North East.
INR 28,800 was paid for tolls during the expedition. Toll charges were the highest in China at INR 5.02 per km followed by India at INR 0.8 and Myanmar at INR 0.4 per km. Russian highways are not tolled except the M11, which is fairly steep. The rather high toll charges in China are backed up by superior highway infrastructure. They shorten time taken for journeys and reduce wear and tear.
The self-driving trips through China and Myanmar cost a lot because of government regulations. The payment to the tour agencies cost over INR 4,40,000 for 10 days in China and that to Myanmar cost nearly INR 1,70,000 for four days! The Myanmar tariff included car formalities, accommodation, food and toll. The China tariff included just the formalities for the car and its transportation across the border into Russia in a truck.
Accommodation in China cost an average of INR 1825 per night and that in Russia was INR 3455. The chain hotels in China provide comfortable accommodation at least cost. However, the restriction in China is that hotels that can accommodate foreigners have to be separately registered by the hotel owners. Even small towns have comfortable accommodation at affordable prices in China. In Russia I sourced slightly pricier accommodation as I wanted to ensure private and secure parking for the car. Food cost only INR 23,250 during the entire trip, with that in Myanmar included in tariff. The other major expenses for the expedition were the Carnet fees of INR 1,00,000, which is ridiculously high, shipping of the car from St Petersburg (INR 1,80,000) and visa fees of INR 31,500.
Costs are secondary when it comes to fulfilling a passion. Yet, prudence demands a balance. With that in mind, wherever cost could be cut it was and unavoidables were gone through, like the last minute facilitation across the China-Russia border which cost me USD 700. The alternative would have been much greater costs in money and time. The expedition was highly enjoyable and an eye opener to the immense potential for tourism in Siberia. A must visit place, I hope that my self-driving trip will make that reality for many who have already dreamed and for others who are now motivated to dream.