Till four month ago, Russia was far from Tagore Sureshbabu’s list of international bike trips. Yet, the YouTube motorbike influencer who goes by the name Cherry Vlogs and has 3.73 lakh subscribers, embarked on a 23 day Trans-Siberian solo bike trip on July 16.
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While stuck at home in Chennai during the second wave of covid-19, Tagore says he decided on doing a bike trip in a country which didn’t have any covid-19 related restrictions. "I am a person who can't stay at home for long. I yearn to be on a bike and travelling, soaking in new experiences," he says.
It was during this search he stumbled upon the 9,258 km (starting from Moscow) that spans the country from St Petersburg to Vladivostok, near North Korea. Besides being described as one of the toughest and longest routes, what made it appeal was that no Indian biker had attempted it before, says Tagore, who started putting out videos of his bike trips during his second year of engineering.
This is Tagore third bike trip, and the longest one, since the pandemic. Late last year, he did a south to north trip and then went on to do a North East trip, which had to be cut short due to the lockdown imposed to curtail the second wave.
Tagore’s perception of Russia was coloured by how Russians were portrayed in a Tamil movie Dhaam Dhoom shot in Moscow, walking around with guns and affiliated to mafia. While the reality has been quite different, he did manage to get his hands on no less than an AK-47 and even got to shoot it. Calling it the highlight of his trip till now, he halfway through, he visited the Kalashnikov or AK-47 museum in Izhevsk, a city located in the Ural Mountains. “That was an awesome experience. After much pleading, they allowed me to shoot in their shooting range, where I tried AK-47, AK-101 and a rifle,” says the 24-year-old, who is a part of a shooting club in Chennai.
Then there was a time when a taxi driver stopped him in the middle of the road and spoke to him in English. That experience was nothing short of some thriller drama. The person told him about a huge biker party that was taking place and showed him how to get there by following another car. The problem: it was 80 kms of a detour, the last leg of the trip was inside a forest area and he didn’t know whether he would be in danger.
“I was curious and scared at the same time. But I decided to check it out anyway. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I actually saw a party with lot of people around. Everyone wanted to take photo with me, and they took god care of me. They were amused that I was doing this trip. Overall, it was a crazy experience,” recalls Tagore. While leaving some of the bikers gave him a piece of advice – since he would be travelling in the interiors of the country, that he should not stop anywhere as it was unsafe. Interestingly, one of the things that been affecting his sleep is the changing time zones within the country. “Every city has its own time zone, and it’s been very difficult to keep up,” he says.
Language has been a big challenge to mitigate. “It’s been a big headache for me filling fuel, as its difficult to communicate what kind of petrol I want; same with ordering food. Thankfully, I met this Pakistani guy, whom I knew from an event we had collaborated on earlier. He cooked biryani for me when I met up with him. I was so grateful,” he says laughing.
Not all experiences have been so memorable though. Besides dealing with racism in hotels and fuel stations, Tagore was scammed of ₹35000 the day he landed. Having reached Moscow early morning, he took a taxi that swiped more than the agreed amount. When he reached the hostel, he didn’t feel very safe with the upkeep and the other residents of the hostel. “I shifted to a hotel in an hour. I have expensive gadgets with me, so I was afraid someone might steal it as most people seemed to be locals and not foreign travellers,” says Tagore, who has rented a BMW F800GS bike in Moscow.
It’s been a mixed bag experience, he says. “What I have realized is there people’s thinking is the same; there are people with positive and negative mentality. I have also learnt to get intimidated by people’s outward appearance. They come across as rude, angry and aggressive but once you get to know them, they are very friendly,” says Tagore, who has funded the trip with his savings and some sponsors.
Up next, Tagore is looking forward to visiting the Baikal Lake, the deepest lake in the world, and home to fresh water seals endemic to the lake. Meanwhile, he’s already scoping for his next road trip adventure.