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10/21/2020

The fabled Trans-Siberian Express is arguably the world’s greatest journey. The legendary railway tackles the vastness of Russia in such a way that it becomes something to be appreciated, with the locomotive making its way across the landscape, unhurried and untroubled.

Now, crank up the drama to eleven and you have the Aurora, a heavily modified steam train that will be your steed for a very different version of that same journey, taking you from a decidedly altered Moscow via the Volga all the way to an unrecognizable Caspian Sea and the banks of the Taiga river. Welcome, traveller, to post-apocalyptic Russia. The vistas are still magnificent, but they’re a whole lot more morbid than you might remember.

On this trip, then, the train is not simply transport: it is also much-needed protection. Other than the violently changeable climate, steel yourself for some wild sandstorms and levels of radiation so high you’ll end up sprouting an extra limb if you’re not careful. Local wildlife, meanwhile, really is wild, as are the less-than-welcoming local communities. At Rough Guides, we normally encourage being open with strangers when you’re on your travels – this time, not so much.

Yet it’s not all bad news. On board the Aurora, things are a little different. Passengers on the Trans-Siberian Express often speak of the small pleasures of life on board, the little moments of human society that juxtapose with the unfathomable expanses of the scenes beyond the windows. That will apply on the Aurora, too. Enjoy the company of other passengers; after all, human connection is all we have in the long run.

Finally, a note on supplies. Usually, we’d say to leave things where you found them: tourists’ habit of taking home souvenirs can have surprisingly detrimental effects on the local environment. Yet scavenging is actively encouraged here. But all in all, there’s no getting around it: this is dark tourism taken to its most extreme degree. In fact, you might be inventing a whole new form with this trip. Horror tourism, anyone?

Things not to miss

1. The Volga

The light still plays delightfully on the mighty Volga river, but that’s about all that remains unchanged. Navigating this legendary waterway presents a unique challenge today.

The Volga

2. Yamantau

A vast bunker complex that is anything but a refuge these days – post-apocalyptic tourists will love it, but know that visiting is far from a walk in the park.

3. Caspian Sea

Is it a sea or is it a lake? Actually, nowadays it’s neither. Come and shake your head in despair at this heartbreaking display of the bomb’s power.

4. The Taiga

The ultimate rural idyll. A wonderful reminder of the beauty of nature, but for how much longer?

The Taiga forest with snow-covered mountains in the background

5. Novosibirsk

A winter wonderland it is not, but Novosibirsk’s snowy streets give a fascinating glimpse of contemporary urban Siberia.

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