Yubanaswa Chakraborty: In April-May 2016, me and my wife Beena, travelled from London to my birthplace, Siliguri (India), overland. It took us 32 days. And on the way, we had a craft beer in Brussels, we sat on the frozen shores of Lake Baikal, encountered paranormal in a Buddhist monastery in Russia, walked on the great wall of China.
It was our 14th day on the road (rail, to be precise), we were looking out of our train window and enjoying the view of the semi frozen lake Baikal. We were on a day long journey on a slow Russian passenger train. Everything moved backwards towards the west, slowly. Pine trees, snow on the ground. The towering snow-clad peaks behind them. We were leaving the western world behind and crossing over to the eastern part of the world. Although the geographical border between Europe and Asia lies near the town of Yekaterinburg, in the Ural Mountains, the real Asia doesn’t start until you cross the deepest lake of the world.
We had come about 8300 km since we started. A little over half the distance we were covering. This is not my usual route to go home. This is not the usual route people travel from Europe to India. But this is one of the most feasible overland routes to complete this journey. Although very few travel this way. Our inn keeper in the village of Listvyanka by the shores of lake Baikal told us – “The last Indian tourist I saw here was about five years ago”.
Ever since I moved to London in 2008, I have been toying with the idea to travel overland to India, by means of public transport – i.e. trains and road transport. After countless flights between London and India, I finally got the chance to travel the route I have been dreaming about. With the aim to find out what lies in between. A journey that took me back home. A journey that took me back to my early years.
Going back to where I was born and where I grew up is not what I call travelling back in time. The reason why I went back to my early years is something very different. The journey took me through the places about which I have been intrigued since my childhood. Countless books, stories, incidents, and artefacts are attached to the places that I had never visited, until now. Most of them will unfold in the relevant episodes to come shortly after this. There has been a strong connect with Russia (called the USSR back in those days) and Tibet through literature I read and stories I heard in my childhood. Although the inception of this journey never came to my mind before 2007, I always had the craving to visit these places.
In April-May 2016, me and my wife Beena, travelled from London to my birthplace, Siliguri (India), overland. It took us 32 days. And on the way, we had a craft beer in Brussels, we ate some dumplings in Warsaw. We followed the Moskva and walked down to Gorky park. We witnessed fights on the Trans-Siberian Express. We sat on the frozen shores of Lake Baikal. We encountered paranormal in a Buddhist monastery in Russia. We drove through the grasslands of Mongolia. We crossed the Gobi Desert on a train. We walked on the great wall of China. We looked at the city of Lhasa from the windows of the Potala Palace and we stood in awe in front of Mt Everest at a clear moonlit night. We enjoyed a rock concert in Kathmandu. We made many new friends.
Over the next few episodes, I am going to share the experience we had on our way. I am going to write about the people we met, the cultures we enjoyed, the history we got to know about. I am going to change the names of people we met to conceal their real identities.
Our trip in numbers:
highest altitude 5400m,
lowest altitude 100m below MSL.
Travel time – 135 hours.
Itinerary of the trip:
Day 1 – 4: London-Brussels-Koln-Warsaw-Minsk-Moscow
Day 4-10: Moscow-Yekaterinburg-Novosibirisk-Irkutsk-Listvyanka
Day 11-14: Irkutsk-Ulan Ude
Day 15-19: Mongolia / Ulan Bator
Day 20-23: Beijing
Day 24-30: Beijing-Lhasa-Shigatse-Quomolangma (Mt Everest) Base Camp
Day 31-32: Lhasa-Kathmandu-Siliguri
Words and photos: Yubanaswa Chakraborty
About the author: Yubanaswa Chakraborty is a software developer based in London. Born in Siliguri, India, he has a degree in engineering and has been a techie for almost two decades now. A passionate traveller and biker, whenever time and money permits, he travels to faraway places to experience new cultures and make new friends.