A ‘Monumental’ Visit to Moscow. This travel story has been published by Smart photography, India’s leading photography magazine, in their December 2015 Travel Special Issue.
Canon India had provided me an EOS 5D-SR body and an EF 11-24mm f/4.0 USM lens for review during my Moscow visit. If it were not for these pieces of equipment, I would surely not have managed to capture the stunning images you will see in this feature. My grateful thanks to the camera giant for their generosity!
I travelled to Moscow with some trepidation. Knowledgeable folks had told me the language was a big issue – not many understand English there. Despite this, I took the plunge and travelled. Thanks to a friend’s contact in the Indian Embassy, I got a cab driver that could manage some English. Well, not really. But he was eager to help and he had a Wi-Fi router in the cab that turned out to be a blessing. Both of us were able to communicate through a phone app that could translate English to Russian and vice versa.
Upon landing at Sheremetyavo Airport in Moscow and after the customary once-over by the passport control, I made my way towards the baggage carousel. To my utter surprise, there was no duty-free at the Airport. When I enquired, I was told the duty-free is only at the airport departures.
As I made my way to the hotel, I felt a certain lack of character in Moscow that most other cities normally exude. Over the next couple of days, this first impression was to be totally, comprehensively and permanently dislodged from my brain.
I started my sojourn with the capital of Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic the following morning. My first stop was Red Square – a globally famous city square. The sky was overcast. So, while I shot some images, I made a mental note that I needed to visit this location again during my short stay. Sergei, my young cabby, pointed out it would be better if I visited again in the evening. And that is what I did the following evening.
This remarkable landmark is 330×70 metres in area and is surrounded by five heritage marvels. These were Gum Departmental Store in the North-East, State Historical Museum in its North West, Kremlin’s Outer Wall in the South West with Lenin’s Mausoleum projecting out from the middle of this wall and St. Basil’s Cathedral at the South East corner. While we may be more familiar with the onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral, I found the State Historical Museum and Gum Departmental Store to be true architectural gems. Gum, for instance, has an intricate façade that extends an unbelievable 242 metres in length, while the museum’s brickwork is brilliance personified.
From here, I proceeded towards an imposing Orthodox Christian church – Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. It is scenically located on the northern bank of River Moscow. It is the tallest Orthodox Christian church in the world – standing tall at a neck-craning 103 metres. En route, I made a few stops to capture some more stunning structures lying littered across the entire length and breadth of Moscow.
Next stop – Moscow University. Its building not only has 6 other look-alikes in Moscow (one of them being the office block of Russia’s Ministry of External Affairs), but it has an uncanny resemblance to the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw. Sergei mentioned that this similarity might be attributed to the fact that Stalin was instrumental in commissioning all of these. Its stunning design and captivating locale attract Moscow-ites for their cherished photo-ops – be it the candid pre-wedding shoots or the celebratory videos a spouse commissions to surprise her partner.
A short visit to Victory Park and Triumphal Arch later, I called it a day over a chilled glass of beer at the Hard Rock Café. It is situated on a historical pedestrian avenue called Arbat Street. Interestingly, here I had a chance encounter with dancing Russian devotees of ISKCON. Though I had no intention to cover any more landmarks that day, I swung by Red Square again and on my way back to the hotel. Once there, I could not resist capturing a stunning blue hour image of Bolshoi Theatre – the home ground of the world-famous Bolshoi Ballet Troupe.
Next day took me around the underground Moscow. No, I am not talking about the crime-spewing dark underbelly that characterises all large cities! But am referring to the palatial Metro Stations of Moscow’s Metro network. Stalin had envisioned these as the palaces for the proletariat. Some of these are akin to larger than life art galleries and are surely an envy of many-a-museum across the globe. What is even more remarkable is the fact that these were constructed in the mid-1930s – the period between the two World Wars. The deepest station is 84 metres beneath the ground.
The reason for building them so deep was they were to double up as nuclear shelters in the event of a nuclear war. I spent 4 hours moving from one Metro station to the next – all with just one ticket that cost me 50 Rubles (approx. 80 US Cents).
I made a stop at the 110-metre tall Monument to the Conquerors of Space that is made entirely of Titanium! From there, I reached VDNKh – a permanent exhibition site that may be called Moscow’s equivalent of New Delhi’s Pragati Maidan. The place is popular amongst the local Moscow crowd as the structures blend beautifully with the landscape. Additionally, the area is large enough to offer privacy to the thronging multitude and has places that cater to their food and entertainment needs. It sprawls over an area of 2,375,000 square metres!
Another similar vast landscaped leisure space in Moscow is the Tsaritsyno Park. The place takes your breath away with its beauty and leaves you short of breath when you walk around its vast expanse. After this, I made one final visit to the Red Square in the evening. This visit resulted in some idyllic blue hour shots.
Before rushing off to the airport next morning, I stopped by at Kremlin. There are only two words that describe the monuments and churches lying scattered over Kremlin’s outspread grounds – Gigantic Opulence. While being driven to the airport, I found myself smiling at my stupidity of harboring an initial thought that Moscow lacked character. I also silently wondered about how many times I would have crossed the lovely river, Moscow, through its many different bridges during this short, two and a half day trip. I also wished my trip was a little longer! I conclude with an earnest request to the heritage and architecture-loving photophiles to add this magnificent city to their personal must-visit bucket list.