A POST-CONGRESS DISCOVERY:
IMMERSION INTO WONDERFUL SIBERIA!
I had visited several times the western part of Russia, traditional target of tourists both for vacation and work. But never had I the opportunity to go to Siberia which is far less usually visited! How can I express my excitment when I saw that Tyumen, site of the XV World ICDS Congress, was located beyond the Ural Mountains and was the first town founded in Siberia at the XVI century! Some of my friends, knowing Siberia, as excited as I was, recommended me to travel from Moscow to Tyumen by railway to discover the beautiful Ural Mountains. A rapid inquiry convinced me that it was out of my time schedule! Given the few free days available, I decided to focus on one name I had always dreamt about: Lake Baikal! The trip involved Tyumen as a starting point, Tobolsk, Pokrovskoe, Omsk and Irkutsk, closest city to the lake.
The scientific program of the Congress did not enable me to thoroughly visit Tyumen as I would have liked. Happily, we had a charming guide who loved so much her city that she showed and detailed heartfully all the historic places with wonderfully curved wooden houses. Surprisingly, we could feel deep in the heart of old Siberia, while intense modern life of a great city was a few meters from us! The charm also came from the Tura river that crosses the town and runs toward the Tobol river. The organization was splendid starting by an official sumptuous reception where our arrival and entrance to the Hall was accompanied by brass music of the army, preceding a wonderful official ceremony, chaired by Natalia Shevchik, Deputy Governor of the region, and by Vadim Kuznetsov, President of the World Congress. In no congress, during the scientific sessions, did I see as many enthusiastic students, full of youth, wishing to understand and participate. It was great from Vadim Kuznetsov and Tyumen University to allow them to attend our debates. They surely represent a dynamic component for the future of Russian research. Exchanges with them were easily possible due to their fluent English speaking. Entertainment was great during the social events which resembled more to a gorgeous family gathering than to formal events and which will let unforgettable souvenirs to everyone!
To refresh us from three highly scientific and hard-thinking days, we were invited to discover Tobolsk, ancient capital of Siberia at the XVII century. The 250 km travel to Tobolsk was interrupted by the visit of Pokrovskoe village, 80 km distant from Tyumen, where Gregory Rasputin was born and lived. Visiting this village made us jump into the past century, with old wooden houses, remaining unchanged. We could easily imagine the priest with his long severe face that has been so much popularized by novels and movies, walking in the small garden around his house and preparing, together with some herb decoction, his social strange ascent.
Going on our way, we arrived to Tobolsk, erected on a plateau. What an unexpected breathtaking view! From the plateau, we look down upon the valley miles away, admiring the loops of the river Tobol before it flows into the Irtysh river.
When entering into Tobolsk Kremlin, we were welcome by Tatars songs, dances, pastries and drinks. The walls of the castle seemed whiter under the blue sky and the sun that made us feel in heaven. Illustrious shadows came to my mind, ranging from Fodor Dostoevsky to Nicolas II and his family, who stayed there before going to Ekaterinburg. After having visited the Abalak Monastery with the theological seminary, having meditated in front of Ermak and Mendeleev’s monument which recalls us our university’s learning years, Vadim Kuznetsov scheduled a wonderful return by boat to Tyumen. On board, generous food and drinks, fine music during the diner, fabulous sunset, with frenzied music and dance upstairs on the roof, while some colleagues apart could extend fruitful exchanges started during the congress! In brief a fantastic ambience! Some nostalgia could be felt among the participants on the arrival to Tyumen, so sad to have to leave!
The day after started my trip to Omsk by car. This gave me the opportunity to visit the Siberian landscape, under the guidance of a clever driver and of a charming guide who happened to be the grand child of Fodor Shaliapin, a favorite singer of which my mother used to collect recordings. We stopped to visit little villages. I was under the charm of the rustic wooden houses, so typical of North-East Europe. I could admire the newly-formed tender-green leaves on the trees and compare the flowering stages between France and Siberia: for instance, for lilac, the delay was only three weeks! Above all, I discovered the Siberian immensity, huge steppes succeeding to endless forests of birch-trees. A few years ago we had the opportunity to see some ancient movies from Sergey Bondarchuk in Paris, showing beautiful views with these well-aligned thin white trunks typical of Russia!
Omsk was my last city to visit in western Siberia and the last one where I could admire the Irtysh river. I could seize how Siberia plays a pivotal geographical role, remembering that this river came from China, where it is called «the black Irtysh», and, joining the Ob, flowed to the Kara sea, from south to north! Funny knowledge that makes that this river, one of the longest after the Amazon and the Nile, is unknown for most people in the world! I was fascinated by the fact that Omsk is a true «carrefour» since the transsiberian railway, stopping at Omsk, makes it possible to cross Russia from West to East!
The day after, I left Omsk for Irkutsk by plane. Irkutsk, foundated in 1651 by the Cossacks to pacify the Tatars, is the door to lake Baikal, the oldest lake in the world, through the river Angara that will flow till the Yenisei river. Irkutsk has some other interest, in addition. There are several houses where the Decembrists lived and I could visit Sergey Troubetskoi family’s house. It is very moving because it is furnished as if they had left the minute before. I was interested by many water-colors paintings made by Troubetskoi, representing familiar locations near the town or the house. Titles were written in French at the bottom of each of them, showing that French was a nearly native language for them at that time. Surprisingly, they seem to have developed a cultural life during these hard times. On the Place Kirova, there was an impressive list of heroes from the second world-war, and a few more steps took me to two well-preserved face-to-face churches named Redemption and Epiphany, where ancient icons can be admired.
One of the highest exciting moments was my visit to Taltsy, an ethnographic museum on the road to Lake Baikal. Old wooden constructions dating from the XVII century have been brought back there from Ust-Ilimsk and identically reconstructed in open air in the forest. Instruments from the daily life of family peasants, fur clothes, furniture, pewter and earthenware dishes, weapons of soldiers recalling that possible danger was always kept in mind, could be seen inside the houses, giving the impression of a recently interrupted life…
My road ended at Listvyanka, a small village on the banks of Lake Baikal with many wooden houses sheltering two or more families in order to more easily fight against coldness in winter. I also visited the Nikolskaya church a few yards from there. Some of the population showed and sold various local handicrafts to visitors. I visited the Institute of limnology, a very documented research center for naturalism, which continuously analyses vegetables, living cells and fishes found in the area. «And what about the Lake Baikal?» will you ask me. I will not give the information you can find in any book, privileging my own impressions: I was seized by the fresh air surrounding me as if I was walking in a large corridor where winds join together from Mongolia, from North Arctic Sea and west Siberia. The pureness of the water was breathtaking and the scenery was at the level of my dreams! Unfortunately the season was just starting and I could not visit it in length till Olkhon Island.
Thus, marvellous idea, I will come back in a near future in summer to make an exhaustive visit of the Lake. So far, I bought a quantity of little bottles of Baikal water to share with my friends when back to Paris. We clinked glasses, drinking to Siberia and the excitement was similar as if it was champagne!
Marvellous Siberia, you have all that will enable your success, water, woods, space, and your underground is as gifted as the surface is! Above all, you also have a fine and heartful population, to whom I send warm wishes for a tremendous future and good luck!
Colette Veyrat, MD