Blogger couple Vasu and Nisha flew down to faraway Chita, in Eastern Siberia. Their offbeat sojourn piqued our curiosity, and we shot them a volley of queries. In return, they tossed back a delightful bouquet of tips from their trip. Catch!
What took you to Chita
Four teams of bloggers and social media influencers from all over the world were selected to visit Siberia in the run up to the 21st Winter Universiade 2019 in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk. The purpose was to promote Siberia as a destination and the games. We (Nisha & Vasu) were invited to explore the town of Chita.
Which month did you travel in and how was the weather? Now that you know, what’s the best month to go?
We went in the beginning of October, which is autumn in Siberia. It was cold but not unbearably so. Day-time temperature was about 6 degrees Celsius, with the lowest hovering between 0 to minus 2 degrees. There was no snow though, and still a lot of greenery in the forest.
Looking back, we would recommend travelling there between June and August, peak summer months. For those who love winter and winter sports, there are a lot of options in Chita. Temperatures hit minus 20 degrees or even lower in winter. Chita is known to reach minus 40 once in a while.
How do you get there? Give us a simple route map
A direct flight or a hopping flight to Moscow, Russia’s gateway, works best. Then to go to Chita the fastest way is to take a domestic flight. It is almost 6000 Kilometres east of Moscow and takes six hours of flying—you cross six time zones. Our advice: Take the late evening flight from Moscow. That way, you’ll reach early morning. For example, take the 20.00 flight and you will reach Chita at 8.00. This gives you a lot more time on the first day to explore Chita. Chita is also on Trans-Siberian Railway; a great option if you love train journeys and don’t mind four to five days aboard the train.
The town is also well connected by road, if you are adventurous enough to do a road trip.
How long did you stay? Looking back, do you wish you had spent more time there?
We were there for three full days, but honestly, you should keep at least five to six days to explore Chita and surroundings at leisure and in full. We were interested in seeing the place where the last Emperor of China was kept as a prisoner but had to give it a miss.
With an extra two days, you’ll also have time to explore Lake Baikal district, which is the world’s largest freshwater lake by volume. Irkutsk, a city near Baikal is about 900 km west of Chita and home to some awesome flora and fauna.
Was language an issue? Are the locals friendly?
Russian is the official language. Vasu knows a bit of the language and can read the cyrillic alphabet easily. Having said that, we found that in the main town of Chita, people spoke fluent English, especially youngsters. We spoke to a few of them and found that they had all learnt English either in school or by joining language classes. Of late, it is mandatory to learn two foreign languages in school and English is the preferred one. We felt more people spoke English in Chita than in Moscow!
At the Aginsky Monastery, a monk started talking to us in Hindi. We first thought he was also an Indian but the mist cleared when he said that he had spent nearly 12 years in India, working in a Buddhist monastery.
Wherever we went we were welcomed warmly. The locals are also quite helpful, as we found out the very first day. We got lost when we were looking for the theater and a girl who not only spoke to us in English, came with us right upto the theater so that we would make it on time for the show.
One unmissable attraction
For Vasu who loves history, it was the Decembrist Church Museum. In fact if it was not for the Decembrists, Chita would not be what it is today. They were the revolutionaries who proposed political reforms and curbed the powers of the Tsar. They were eventually exiled to Chita, to a labour prison camp that existed here. The prisons were for the criminals but once the learned people came here they brought with them education and knowledge and transformed Chita into a cultural centre.
For Nisha – it was the beautiful blue Kazan, the Mother of God Church, right opposite the Railway Station. It has a unique architecture and colour. The only other place where we had seen a blue church was in Bratislava, Slovakia.
How was the food?
As a rule, when we travel outside India, we try the local cuisine or the street food as much as we can. In Chita, there weren’t any Indian restaurants at all. In fact it is quite possible that we may have been the first Indians in the city. Ha-Ha! We tried several of their local dishes, many of them vegetarian. If the preparation included meat, we just asked for “Bez Myasa” meaning “no meat” and the chefs would cook it that way for us.
We had borscht, a kind of beetroot soup, pelmeni (a variety of dumplings), draniki, like the Indian tikki, and pryaniki, which is their version of gingerbread. It is said that the fillings underwent a major change after spice trade began with India about 1000 years ago.
What’s the shopping scene like?
There are a few modern malls, like Fortuna, Novositi, and Maksi, with stores selling luxury brands among other things. There’s a sprinkling of wet, dry and flea markets but we had no time to check them out. Another reason you should stay longer!
Well, Chita is not Moscow! There are many pubs and bars that remain open till late. They are frequented by the locals, mainly youngsters and tourists. Apart from this we do not believe there is much ‘nightlife.’ But we could see people on the road, walking, strolling etc.
The moment we came out of airport, it started snowing lightly and we knew we were in for a great time. The flight was full, which told us Chita isn’t an isolated place. It is a clean and beautiful town with history and lots of open space.
We had our share of vodkas in Siberia, which seemed cheaper than bottled water. We loved their version of champagne, which the hotel presented to Nisha on her birthday. We also tried kwas, an alcoholic drink made of fermented grains. It is good to try, but needs getting used to.
Tea is widely consumed in Siberia, and guess what it is called. Chai. Yes, chai.
YOUR KEY TIPS FOR THOSE VISITING CHITA
Although you’ll get by in English, learning a few simple sentences in Russian is well appreciated by locals who only speak their native tongue. Learn some Russian words and phrases for greetings, a bit of directions, numbers, and if you are vegetarian don’t forget to say ‘Bez Myasa.’
Keep some time to explore nearby places. It is better to drive yourself to all these places except where a 4X4 is needed. Rental cars are a good option, too. They are cheaper to hire than in Western Europe.
At the Decembrists’ church, don’t forget to take a Russian friend along to translate what the guide says. Alternately, you can ask for an English Audio guide at a very nominal price of a dollar or so.
If you visit Aginsky Datsan Monastery, try to locate the Hindi speaking monk. He will be happy to show you around.
If you like the fun of meeting the healers and astrologers, you may do so but personally we think you may give it a miss.
A 10 pc tip is alright subject to the service, in restaurants. In other places, people rarely expect tips.
NISHA – I think I will never forget that Hindi speaking monk. It was someone speaking my mother tongue in the most incongruous place. VASU – Mine would be when we tried archery for the first time and I was coached by the World #2. I hit the inner circle four out five times. Even now I can’t believe I did that.