Friday, May 26, 2017

Theater Square

Ufa, Republic of Bashkortostan, Russia
The other day I met my friends in one of my favorite places in the city. Actually I only like this spot in the summer because there are plenty of benches and green everywhere. The main fountain in the square is called "Seven Girls" and is based on the famous Bashkir legend and dance. They were seven beautiful sisters who were kidnapped by another nationality and taken into slavery. They did not like slavery, and decided to escape because anything was better than the life they were living. One night they jumped from the mountain into the river where they ended up drowning. A happy ending to that story.
Tansulpan was nice enough to buy me cotton candy, which I didn't need, but happily ate and didn't even mind when it turned my mouth blue. I did offer it to the others; I'm not that selfish. We then ended up at Tansulpan's favorite place, Rahat. I've eaten there many times and if you want cheap, quick Halal food, it's the place to go. I actually had their plof for the first time and IT WAS AMAZING. I think it was the best plof I had in Russia. They also have the best tea candy that you get for free when you order a pot of tea. We finished the night by going to a Japanese restaurant where I left them at 9:30 to go home. It was still light out when I left, and that's why I love Russia in the summer!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Shikhan Tora Tau

**Sorry, in advance, for the black specks on the pictures. I didn't realize my camera was dirty until I uploaded the photos. I was really upset about it.

Last week I wrote about the abandoned prison I went to with my friends, Anya and Elizabeth. I actually only learned about the prison after coming across articles of Tora Tau when I was searching for unique places in Bashkortostan. I did a little reading about this hill and learned that it is an ancient barrier reef from the Permian Sea in the Paleozoic era! Yes, there are still fossils, and I have one in a picture below. The idea of going to an ancient barrier reef definitely struck my interest, and it reminded me of the Chocolate Hills my sister and I visited in the Philippines. Bashkortostan is known for its nature and I've been wanting to see more. Unfortunately, A never wants to go with me so I never got to see the Ural Mountains or the caves in the area.

Trying to find out how to get here without a car was the hardest part. I spent hours searching and trying every combination of Russian and English I could think of to give me any information. Everything I was finding either gave me directions for having a car or told us how to get to the nearby cities from Ufa, but there was no information on how to get to the mountain from those cities. I told Anya and Elizabeth that I didn't think we would be able to go because I couldn't find any information. Finally, the day before we planned to go, I made a last ditch effort and posted on VK asking if any of my friends knew how to get there using public transportation. An angel (or that's what I'd like to think) answered my prayer and gave me the best information on how to get there.
The bus dropped us off at the end of the long road to the mountain. It wasn't that long, but as you can see from the first picture it was about a 20 minute walk. While we were walking we heard a strange noise. Anya said it might have been a bird, but I knew that it wasn't a bird. It sounded like a cat. So, I quickly hopped off the road towards the pond and looked in afraid of what I might see. Actually, I thought there was going to be some kind of wild animal ready to pounce and eat me. Instead, I saw a pile of puppies. It broke my heart. I wanted to rescue them right there, but what could I do? Russia isn't known for it's animal sanctuaries or humane societies. Plus, we took public transportation and I can't have animals in my apartment. We left them hoping their mom would return.
As we walked closer we noticed a lot of hang gliders which was really cool. It really put into perspective how high the mountain was. Also, it was the perfect day for hang gliding and visiting the mountain. It wasn't too hot or cold and the breeze was just right. There also weren't a lot of people around which made us feel like we were the only ones there. We decided to start off by looking at the prison, which was to the right of the main parking lot.
We then headed back towards the parking lot where we met an extremely nice family. They were so sweet and their sons (Ural and Salavat) tried talking to us in English. The father also told us to leave a coin on the plaque and make a wish. Then we started making our way to the top of the mountain, but there was really no clear indication of how to do it. We decided to take a steep path in the front and make our way up. It was a bad idea. We were so tired and the rocks kept slipping out from under us. It didn't seem like the right path, but we didn't have any other ideas.
Finally, we got to flat ground, but we weren't even half way up. Anya had gone here years earlier and said she didn't remember having to climb up like that. We decided to head towards the left of the mountain because that seemed familiar to her. The picture above is an old road from when the GULAG was functioning. The tire marks aren't as clear there, but in other areas you could tell they were track marks. Below we were greeted by a snake. I haven't seen a wild snake in years! I'm not scared of them I'm just kind of creeped out by how they slither.
We saw a road that we decided to follow, but it took us back down from where we were then again, we climbed up. This time it was less dangerous but none the less difficult. My legs were killing me. Finally, we got to a point where we decided to have a snack. We watched the cows in the field far away and started laughing at one renegade cow who was running away from the grazing cows. It was too funny. There was another group nearby who looked like they lived to climb mountains. We decided we should follow them to see if they knew the path. We got led into the forest and then they turned to climb what was basically a wall. We knew that couldn't be the path so we kept walking deeper into the forest. At one point both Elizabeth and Anya decided that this probably wasn't the right way (Later we found out that was actually the right path). So we turned around because the only path we could find was the one the other group took. Elizabeth decided it was too much for her and she was just going to wait where we had our snack. We decide to leave most of our stuff with her. I took my iPhone (that only takes pictures) and my camera and Anya took her backpack. We ascended the mountain.
It was a extremely difficult. My hands were holding on to dirt and roots just to try to get myself up. We stopped for several breaks because it was so tiring. I tried not to look down because I knew I'd fall if I did. About halfway we stopped to take some photos, and in the next two photos you can see what was directly below us and above us.
When we finally got to the top we saw a lot of hang gliders. The field actually reminded me of the old Windows desktop screens. We walked a little bit further to the right where we would get the best panoramic views of the area. When we got there we saw children! Tiny children. There was no way they came up the same way we did. We saw a path in the distance which we figured was probably the "easier" path up. I couldn't believe it. We then decided we'd go get Elizabeth because if these children could get up then so could she. We agreed that if that wasn't the right path then Anya would come back and we'd go back down the way we came together.
It was interesting how different the mountain looked. The front was rocky and the back had grass and trees. Above is one of the fossils I saw. I didn't see any loose fossils. I assume most of them were taken, but I love that even after all these millions of years you can still see evidence of ancient life. Below you can see two more of the Shikhan mountains. These were places of worship for the ancient people and many legends surround them. Unfortunately, these mountains are under threat of being mined. The fourth one (which we think is the white patch in the center-left of the photo below) is already gone because the company "Soda" is mining it. There are many protests to prevent the other three from meeting the same fate, but unfortunately the factory provides a lot of jobs for the area and the government has the final say. I keep saying Bashkortostan needs to build up their tourism industry because people would pay to come see places like this.
After some time I started to get cold. I didn't have my jacket only Anya's backpack. I decided I would go down the path and then I'd meet them and join them on the way back up. When I saw the path that everyone was taking I realized that it wasn't much easier than the one we took. I couldn't imagine Elizabeth taking it, so I figured maybe Anya took an easier path. I waited for a while then I started to worry. I didn't want to take the wrong path only to have them come up a different one. I didn't have my phone because I left it in my bag that was with Elizabeth. It was starting to get close to the time that we agreed we'd call the bus but they still weren't there. I also couldn't remember the path we took up. I was freaking out a little on the inside. Finally, even though I can't speak much Russian, I saw two young guys who I knew would have a phone. I asked if they had a phone and they assumed I needed to make a call. I looked at my iPhone and realized the only number for Anya was an American number. I panicked again, then realized I could call Elizabeth and I hoped she would answer her phone to an unknown number. I finally got ahold of Elizabeth and felt SO relieved. I made my way down slipping and falling the whole way (the "real" path is pictured below).
Finally, around 4 pm I had my first meal of the day. I usually don't eat if I wake up early, and I only slept two hours that night which makes me less hungry in the morning. We also planned on having lunch at the top of the hill but, with everything that happened, I gave Elizabeth the food I packed and I didn't think I'd be up there so long. It was such a beautiful afternoon, so I can't complain. The food and company were good and everyone was so friendly and wishing us a happy victory day. It was May 8th, but it was the holiday weekend. May 9 is the Soviet Victory Day and a major holiday in the country. I even saw my first tick. Ticks are major problems here.
I am so glad we were able to go, I only wish we would have know how to get to the top so Elizabeth could have seen it. Unfortunately, because Anya went back down to get her, we didn't take any photos of ourselves up there, but I did get some scenic views. Also, a huge thanks to Anya for booking our seats on the bus and negotiating for us to be let off at the end of the road.
How to get to Shikhan Toratau from Ufa

Unfortunately, you need to speak Russian or go with someone who speaks Russian as the bus agency and the drivers do not speak English. We called 8 905-002-61-00 and told them we would need a bus to Ishimbay. You should tell the call center you would like to be dropped off at Tora Tau. They will inform you that you should let the bus driver know and ask for a business card so you can call them when you want to be picked up.

When going back to Ufa we had to call again about an hour before we wanted to leave. We asked them to pick us up at the end of the road where we were dropped off.
© Coffee + Cleveland. Design by Fearne.