I VISITING MURMANSK
Beyond the Arctic circle.
t is rare that visitors to Russia deviate from the popular destinations of Moscow and St Petersburg. Those who venture beyond may find a few places remote but interesting. That would give an opportunity to see life in Russia in the far-flung places of the country. Murmansk, beyond the Arctic Circle, is one such place I chose to visit after studying the map.
This city claims, rightly, to be the only one with the largest population of about three lakh people beyond the Arctic Circle. It lies on the Kola Bay, an inlet of Barents Sea, two degrees beyond the Arctic Circle, a distance of about 269 kms. It is a year-round port as the warm ocean current of the Gulf Stream keeps it ice-free even during winter. It is connected with the rest of the country by air, rail and road.
I arrived at Murmansk railway station in the evening from St Petersburg, a journey time of about 26 hours through pine forests, vast uncultivated lands, small towns and settlements and large water bodies. I had to bargain with the taxi driver to take me to the hotel which was nearby. It was too late to go out that evening and I rested after a long train journey. The next morning after breakfast the weather outlook was bad as it was raining and cold. There was no way of going out on my own in that weather. So I requested the hotel manager to fix a taxi for me that would take me to the places of interest for about three hours.
The taxi arrived driven by a tall pleasant man with little English but he was polite and good to show me around various places. I took an umbrella for protection from the rain and wind. The streets were deserted at that morning hour and we reached the top of a small hill with a commanding view of the sea, harbour and the surroundings. It was too cold and windy to stay there for long. Aiyosha, a 35.5 m-tall concrete statue is of a Russian soldier, a war hero. At the lower part of the hill is a memorial for all those women who look forward to their men for a safe return from the sea sailing or fishing trip. It shows a woman on a pedestal with outstretched arms looking at the sea in search of seamen who had gone out to sea for sailing and fishing.
We drove over the long bridge over the Kola Bay in murky weather. I could spot a few ships on the sea either arriving or departing from Murmansk harbour. We stopped briefly on the bridge for a better view of the sea and the surroundings. A few small uninhabited islands are located in the sea against the backdrop of small hills. A haze had covered the scene giving it an aura of mystery. It