This week’s dream: Braving a Siberian winter wonderland
“The romance of Siberia is infectious,” said Sophy Roberts in Condé Nast Traveler. Most people associate the remote territory with its bitter cold and its 400-year history as a brutal penal colony. But there’s a reason why so many exiles from czarist Russia didn’t race back to Moscow when their sentences were up. This immense wilderness, which comprises 9 percent of Earth’s landmass, is “overwhelmingly soulful” in the very middle of winter, with “snowflakes the size of leaves” and vistas that evoke infinity. Last winter, I took a 1,500-mile journey—by car, dogsled, and the Trans-Siberian Express—across the southern edge of the territory. The Siberia saw was not just bigger than its gas reserves and nickel deposits. It was also, thanks to pleasantly overheated cabins and hotels, “more comfortable than one might expect.”
Once begun, my venture “ran as smoothly as a Swiss train timetable.” The challenges of traveling in Siberia require expert advice, and I obtained mine from a guide employed by the Mir Corp., a U.S.-based travel firm with longtime experience in Russia. From Irkutsk, a historic city that Chekhov called the Paris of the East, we drove to frozen Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest lake in the world. Beneath its thick ice, Baikal is “a wildlife freak show of ghostly, transparent fish and bug-eyed seals.” On the surface, the cold was intense as I climbed onto a dogsled. My eyelashes were quickly rimmed in ice as we flew across the lake, my body kept warm by my Canada Goose coat and “the pure adrenaline that lies at the heart of why I travel to these holes in the map.”
After a lunch of grilled fish in a cabin hidden among birch and alder trees, we crossed the rest of the lake in an inflatable hovercraft. At Ulan-Ude, I boarded a railway car for the long journey to Khabarovsk, and settled into a first-class berth with two beds and crisp, pressed sheets. I’d brought along a pot of black Baikal caviar, and I took time to savor it while I watched the taiga’s silver trees, “as fragile as a million matchsticks,” fly swiftly past.
A weeklong trans-Siberia journey with the Mir Corp. (mircorp.com) costs $2,295 per person, double occupancy.