Have you ever experienced a new country via hitchhiking? Aftab, a technical engineer, took off to Russia, a country totally new to him and travelled solely through hitchhiking.
Why did you choose Russia for hitchhiking: Russia was not planned at all. One day while I was chatting with a friend, he sent me a picture of beautiful Kazan city and the Mosque in the Kremlin. I felt a call from within to offer my prayers at this Mosque.
How many days did you spend hitch hiking and what paces did you cover: I hitchhiked for around two weeks from Kazan to St Petersburg, covering 1,521 km. The route was Kazan-Nizhny Novgorod-Moscow-St Petersburg.
What was your budget: I toured Russia for two weeks and spent around 18,000 roubles, which is around 20,000 Indian rupees. Even in that half of the money was spent in exploring museums and forts. I spent 10,000 rupees on food and accommodation.
How did you manage food: Food was a little complicated. In Moscow, my friend had hosted me so she helped me with local tidbits on where to eat. In Kazan, which is a Muslim-dominated city, she told me that the green label is for ‘halal.’ In Kazan, I met a lady who suggested I buy local ingredients from the grocery store and cook my own meals instead of spending on restaurant food. Each hostel has its own fridge and microwave. She helped me through the whole process right from placing an order at the counter to using the microwave.
A scary moment in the journey: It was late evening and I was waiting on a highway which was 10-12 km from Tver. There, two Uzbek drivers offered me a lift. As soon as I got on, they asked how much money I had. It was like a Hindi-movie scene. I felt sure they would rob me. The highway was deserted and it was raining. I hid my debit card and other valuables in my shoes when they got off to take a break. I texted my friend in Moscow and he urged me to get off the cab quickly. Those few hours were very scary. Communication was a big problem. I kept translating using my phone to answer their constant stream of questions. They dropped me at the metro station near St Petersburg, where I finally felt relieved and safe.”
A moment that will stay with you forever: My host, Oksana, in Moscow was super amazing. She came to the airport to receive me and cooked me a fabulous local meal. Later she showed me around nearby gardens, her children’s school and more. At night she took me to the Red Square where there is this Zero Point. Locals believe that if you stand there and throw a coin, your wish will come true. She gave me a coin and asked me to perform the fun little ceremony. As soon as I tossed the coin, she said, “Welcome to Russia.”
Your advice to new hitchhikers:
- You should know a few words in the local language as people don’t know your English or Hindi there. Like a friend told me that in order to ask for a lift you have to say ‘Пожалуйста довезите (please take me to) then city name’.
- If you need a lift, carry a big poster with your destination written on it so car and truck drivers can read it from a distance.
- Download offline maps.
Aftab spoke to Rachna of Team Travel Secrets. Aakshat Sinha of Untitled Creations coordinated the interaction.