Wednesday, April 06, 2016
In honor of the centennial anniversary of the Trans-Siberian Railway’s completion, MIR Corporation has compiled a list of 8 fantastic things to do along the world's longest railway line. MIR Corporation, an award-winning tour company based in Seattle, WA, has been specializing in creative, culturally immersive small group, custom, and private journeys to Russia and beyond – including along the Trans-Siberian Railway – since 1986. This article originally appeared on their blog.
Adventure. History. Old-world romance. These are just a few of the reasons that intrepid travelers choose to hop aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway. Spanning nearly 6,000 miles and crossing 7 time zones, this epic journey allows passengers to experience remote destinations and see the most of what this vast and variegated region has to offer in the least amount of time.
You could easily finish the entire route in as little as six days. But many opt to spend more time along the Trans-Siberian, breaking up the journey at fascinating points along the line. Past travelers often say that these off-train excursions are what make the trip so satisfying.
Here’s just a sampling of our favorite things to do along one of the world’s greatest train routes.
Russia’s 850-year-old capital city makes a grand first impression on travelers. A booming metropolis, Moscow is dignified yet dynamic, and ancient churches stand shoulder to shoulder with 21st-century high-rises. Some of the most recognizable symbols of Russia can be found in UNESCO-listed Red Square, including iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral with its brilliantly patterned domes and the Moscow Kremlin with its venerable medieval palaces.
Once inside the Kremlin’s fortress walls, be sure to visit the Armory Museum. A former warehouse for the Kremlin’s weaponry, it now houses Russia’s national treasures, such as religious icons, Fabergé eggs, and Catherine the Great’s ball gowns and shoes.
Laid out along the banks of the Volga River, Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, has a fascinating multiethnic history. While the Tatars, an ethnic group of Turkic Muslims, make up the majority here, you’ll find Orthodox Christians and Muslims coexisting peacefully side-by-side.
The highlight of this multi-cultural city is the Kazan Kremlin, containing the recently rebuilt Qol Sharif Mosque. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s considered the only surviving Tatar fortress in Russia.
Founded in 1661, Irkutsk was once associated with exile and abandon, offered to captives of Genghis Khan as an alternative to death. The 18th through 20th centuries saw a period of revival and growth, when Czarist and Bolshevik exiles brought culture and education to the city after their terms of slave labor ended, gracing Irkutsk with beautiful neoclassical churches, universities and homes.
A particular favorite is the Decembrist House Museum, the former home of Prince Sergei Volkonsky, a principal actor in the failed 1825 Decembrist uprising against Czar Nicholas I. Exiled to Siberia, he and his wife, Maria, eventually settled in Irkutsk, where their comfortable home famously served as a salon frequented by the city’s intellectual elite. Today, talented singers and musicians from Irkutsk often perform for guests in the elegant Volkonsky drawing room, offering a taste of 19th-century life in this cultured little city.
A natural wonder of the world, UNESCO-listed Lake Baikal is the world’s deepest and oldest freshwater lake. Spectacular views and one of the richest and most unusual ecosystems on earth make this an essential stop on any Trans-Siberian journey.
On rail journeys by private train, Lake Baikal makes the picture-perfect stop for an outdoor picnic, with food prepared by the onboard chefs and a chance to dip your feet in the lake’s crystal clear – and chilly – waters.
If you're the wintry type, frozen Lake Baikal is the perfect location to experience the thrill of an ice ride, or to join in on ice-fishing or dogsledding with the locals. You can also visit the shoreside Ice Festival to admire the elaborate ice sculptures.
Founded in 1666, Ulan Ude is home to the Buryats, an indigenous people closely related to their Mongolian neighbors to the south, sharing their Tibetan Buddhist and shamanist traditions. Staunchly proud of their heritage, the Buryats have kept these old customs alive, despite hardship under Soviet rule. Today, Siberia's Ulan Ude is considered the center of Buddhism in Russia and the location of one of the only monasteries to survive Soviet times, the Ivolginsk Datsan.
Buryats also share their region with the Old Believers, a group of Russians that rebelled against the Orthodox Church reforms of the mid-17th century. Isolated in their Siberian villages, they’ve been able to preserve their unique traditions, clothing, architecture, language and songs.
Along the Trans-Siberian, lucky travelers passing through Ulan Ude are treated to a home-cooked meal and concert featuring local singers and musicians from the Old Believer community.
Okay, it's not Russia. But the Mongolia part of the ride is worth stopping for, and Naadam is so important to Mongolia that it’s been designated a part of UNESCO’s “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” More than just another colorful folk festival, Naadam is Mongolia’s celebration of the country’s best athletes, as well as a point of national pride. Originating centuries ago, this annual event showcases the country’s best in wrestling, horse racing and archery, as well as uniquely Mongolian sports such as “ankle-bone shooting.”
While its traditions and spiritual significance were lost during Soviet times, the Naadam Festival has since been revived, commemorating Mongolia’s independence from China (July 11th) and a symbolic reflection of the nation’s cohesion and strength.
No matter where you go along the Trans-Siberian, the scenery is bound to be beautiful, wild and different from day to day. Take a moment to lift your head up from your book or take a much-needed break after an action-packed day to admire the magnificent landscape rolling along outside your cabin window.
Top image credit: Douglas Grimes, mircorp.com
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