Russia was never in my priority list. In fact, I never thought to visit it too early. Trans-Siberian was a dream somewhere in my deep heart, but time and money required to complete that journey never inspired me to go there very soon. But, its written in The Alchemist,
“When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream.”
One day, at my workplace, I saw a Transaero flight landing in Delhi as a scheduled flight. It was flying over Indian airspace to Thailand from many years, but never landed in Delhi as a scheduled flight. Something clicked in my mind and I instantly switched to Wikipedia and Skyscanner to know if Transaero just started their operation to New Delhi. Then,on Skyscanner, I found unbelievable return fair to Saint Petersburg in approximately INR 15000. As I mentioned in my post How to Book a Cheap Flight? that always check if any new flight is inaugurating to your nearest airport. They often offer very cheap promotional fare in the beginning. Wikipedia’s Airport Pages are the best resources to check it.
Within 2-3 days, I booked that ticket and my quest to Russia was started with that booking. I was still not sure that where to go and what to see in Russia. Later on, I realized that Russia was not the cakewalk for a solo traveller, specially for an Indian Backpacker and there were lot of hassle involved from visa invitation to trip planning. I had two months to arrange the visa and to plan the trip accordingly. Two months were good enough, so I was in no hurry and one by one planned everything.
After booking the flight, the next step was to arrange a Russian visa for my journey. I read a lot and found that getting a Russian visa was a bit complicated process, because it required an original visa invitation from a travel agency registered with Russian Ministry of External Affairs. There are some agencies in India that can arrange Russian visa but there prices are too high. After lot of research on the web, I arranged an invitation in original and later, got a 16-days Russian visa for the duration of my trip. I will write a separate post in detail on entire visa application process for Russia.
Before applying for Russian visa or even before arranging the original invitation from an agency in Russia, we are supposed to plan our entire trip, because they need the details of every city you planned to visit as well as every hotel you planned to stay. For that purpose, I had very less time. But, somehow after oscillating between several Russian cities like Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Sochi, Volgograd, Ekaterinburg, Kazan,Nizhny Novgorod and Irkutsk, I decided to visit only four cities Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Kazan. I wanted to include Irkutsk for Lake Baikal and at least one scuba diving destination, but Russia is so vast and 16- days wasn’t good enough for all these purposes. So, I applied for visa invitation on the basis of only those four cities and booked hostels in every city accordingly and received the original invitation within 10 days.
But, whenever I looked at the planned itinerary, I never felt excited. I wanted to add some adventures in my journey, instead of only sightseeing in some cities. I applied for the visa also, and 20-days prior to departure, it was in my hand. Visa for a particular normally remains valid to visit the entire country , not for some particular destinations, only excluding some restricted areas (Some countries like Pakistan have specific restrictions for Indian visitors). So, my Russian visa was also valid for entire Russia, not restricted to only four cities, mentioned in visa invitation.
Then, one day, I thought seriously about Trans-Siberian. It was a long cherished dream somewhere in deep heart and the reason was strong enough for a complete adventure package. I re-planned everything and included Trans-Siberian journey in my trip, even it indicated that there would be very less sightseeing and more time inside the train. But I was happy and excited with the revised itinerary.
The next question was the direction of Trans-Siberian journey, Moscow-Vladivostok or Vladivostok-Moscow? I wanted to watch the Victory Day Parade in Moscow and then, my return flight was from Saint Petersburg, so I decided to start the trip from Vladivostok and end in Leningrad (modern Saint Petersburg). Now a days, many believe that Trans-Siberian Railways includes Moscow-Vladivostok section of Russian railway network, but if we recall our old childhood history and general studies books, then we always learnt that Trans-Siberian runs from Leningrad to Vladivostok. I also decided to complete the entire route of Trans-Siberian from Vladivostok to Leningrad.
I booked a flight ticket from Moscow to Vladivostok and three train tickets Vladivostok-Ulan Ude, Ulan Ude-Moscow and Moscow-Saint Petersburg to complete the whole journey in three parts by three different trains. No single train is available from Vladivostok to Leningrad or vice versa directly, but there are few brave hearts who complete entire Vladivostok-Moscow journey on a single train. I booked hostels in Vladivostok and Ulan Ude and planned other essential things. Finally, my Trans-Siberian Adventure got its final shape.