Moscow to Uzbekistan
A weekly round-up of events on the road as Land Rover’s Journey of Discovery travels 8,000 miles from Birmingham to Beijing, uncovering a unique selection of stories en-route. The trip aims to raise £1m for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
After fifteen days and nearly 5,000 miles on the road the Journey of Discovery arrives in Moscow for a couple of days in Russia’s capital city. Special access permitted the Journey of Discovery team to enter Red Square, the quartet of cars parking up with iconic buildings in the background under a beautiful blue sky. The media scrum surrounding them highlighted plenty of local interest in the epic 8,000 mile trip, though a few of the team escaped for some relaxation in the form of a sauna.
Not just any sauna, but a mobile one on a truck, where being beaten by oak branches and rushing out into the snow is all part of the sauna ritual. The team happily get back into the luxury of their Discoverys after such an extreme form of relaxation.
Day two in Moscow and more special treatment saw the Journey of Discovery gain access to some of the beautiful palaces in the Kremlin. Vast state rooms of a mind-boggling scale and grandeur amazed the team, with just one of the bronze chandeliers weighing as much as one of the Land Rover Discoverys parked outside.
Former lead dancer at the Bolshoi ballet Andris Liepa explained how Moscow is a changed city, as he took the Journey of Discovery for a tour around the city he loves. A Range Rover owner himself, Liepa was instantly at home behind the wheel of the millionth Discovery driving through the wild Moscow traffic with ease.
The whistle-stop tour included Lenin Hills and the Bolshi itself, though just as interesting was Liepa’s insight into the huge changes the city has undergone, saying: “Twenty five years ago I would have needed clearance from the KGB to meet with you today,” he said. “Moscow is a very different place now.”
Leaving a sleeping Moscow early on Saturday morning the Journey of Discovery escapes the usual traffic melee to reach the countryside with ease. Over 600 miles in a day makes the run to Volgograd – previously known as Stalingrad – one of the longest on the trip. On a largely featureless road, save for pothole swerving motorists and occasional blizzards, the Discoverys shrugged off the longest day effortlessly.
Volgograd is twinned with Land Rover Solihull’s neighbouring city of Coventry. Delivering greetings from Coventry in the form of a message from the Mayor Keiran Mulhall and a Coventry City pendant, the formal handover ceremony took place in front of the Russian media at Volgograd’s deeply moving memorial to the battle of Stalingrad. The Journey of Discovery team were greeted by Irina Kareva, Chair of the City Council. Leaving with gifts of Russian army hats and good luck pennants on the cars the Journey of Discovery follows Europe’s largest river, the Volga, towards its last official Russian stop of Astrakhan, near the Caspian Sea.
From Astrakhan, the Journey of Discovery heads into Kazakhstan, entering the most remote and testing part of the 8,000 mile route. A smooth border crossing bode well, but a chance meeting with some other Land Rover drivers on an expedition in the same area highlighted that the two borders with Uzbekistan – the next stop – had been closed. A massive snowstorm had taken out 1000km (620 miles) of roads, making them impassable – even in a Land Rover Discovery.
Thoughts of blizzards fade with the Kazakh sun as the team leave Europe and enter Asia. The Journey of Discovery’s next stop would be Atyrau.
After an overnight in Atyrau the Journey of Discovery heads towards its most unpredictable border yet. With reports of the crossing taking anything from hours to days the Journey of Discovery apprehensively set out for Uzbekistan, the smooth roads turning to hard-packed, pock-marked mud as the border approached.
Countless lorries queuing signalled the approach of the control, the Journey of Discovery taking advantage of Land Rover’s extraordinary capability and taking a more creative, off-road route to the frontier. After a relatively swift six hour wait the Journey of Discovery set off at midnight into Uzbekistan looking for somewhere to stay, and the promise of adventures ahead.