2000kms in Mazda3 in Siberia13 | 08 | 2013

    "COME TO RUSSIA and drive our new Mazda3," the happy chappy from Mazda UK's HQ said. "You'll love the trip: it'll be a blast." (Watch our Mazda3 video roadtest).

    Ok, I thought. That sounds like a pretty productive way to spend a few days. The new Mazda3 is pivotal to the future success of Mazda in Scotland, and the rest of the UK.

    How important is the car? The previous Mazda3 was launched in 2007/8, and in the UK it vies with the Mazda2 and Mazda6 as the bestseller.

    And have no doubt: it is a big seller. So far the Mazda3 has sold in excess of 3.5 million models globally.

    So, "ok", I said, to Mr Mazda: "I'll come."

    "Oh, meant to say," he casually added, "you'll actually be driving the car the best part of 2000kms over four days in Eastern Siberia on some of the most demanding, challenging and unrelenting roads in the world."

    Mazda's driving eight new Mazda3 models from the factory at Hiroshima in Japan — having been ferried to Vladivostock — to next month's Frankfurt Motor Show where the car will be officially unveiled.

    And so it was, after a four-hour flight from Heathrow to Moscow; a three-hour stopover in Moscow's Domodedovo International Airport, where the outside temp was 29-degrees, and there was no aircon in the airport; and a near six-hour through-the night flight, I arrived in Ulan-Ude.

    Having left Heathrow at 11am, touchdown in Siberia was 9am next day: and suddenly I'd lost eight hours of my life. I had to put my watch eight hours forward: and had managed only three hours sleep.

    First challenge, after dumping my handbaggage — yup, I'd been warned to travel light — at the the hotel was negotiating the notoriously dangerous Siberian traffic as we headed for some 'chill-out' time at the Ivolginski Datsan Temple.

    Founded in 1946, the temple is considered to be the centre of Buddhism in Russia: and given we're almost within touching distance — relatively speaking — of the Mongolian border, the significance of Buddhism in the country is massive.

    Now, I jest not: within 5kms of leaving Ulan-Ude to travel the 30kms, I had cattle strolling across what is the main A-type road east out of the city.

    And potholes? Forget anything you've ever thought about what we have in the UK: these are serious potholes. I honestly believe there were some big enough to lose early teenage children down, they were so deep.

    The most frightening thing? Ok, concentrate.

    We're on the right-hand lane of the A-class road heading east. Suddenly we come to a 'Give Way' like no other I've ever experienced, or want to again.

    On the other side of the 'Give Way' is the shaded area marking the END of the outside lane of the dual-carriageway heading west. Yup, those cars were heading straight towards us before they filtered into the single-carriageway heading west.

    Our 'Give Way' feeds us into the outside lane of the east-bound dual-carriageway which has just appeared over our right-hand shoulder.

    Precariously exposed as cars clocking 100km/h head towards me before ducking to the right into their own lane, we dart into the first gap we can see in the outside lane of the east-bound dual carriageway.

    Buddhism bit done — and, to be honest, it was quite interesting — the run back was no less challenging, with more cows, manic drivers, potholes, and a sizeable horse strolling down between the lanes.

    After returning to the hotel for a quick coffee, we headed out for lunch at the Old Believer's village of Desyatnikovo.

    A religious sect borne out of the Russian Orthodox Church, were were welcomed into a traditional home which looked as though it hadn't changed since the 17th century. No, honestly, it was that basic, flimsy, ramshackle and dilapidated.

    Lunch? Traditional pickled herring, pork fat, and soup. The soup was a clear broth with shredded cabbage, carrots and potatoes in it. Living is, unquestionably, stark.

    Then, thankfully, it was time for bed.

    Tomorrow's challenge? Drive our Mazda3 almost 600 miles west, along the shore of Lake Baikal — which is big: it holds a fifth of the world's fresh water — via Sludianka to Listvianka.

    To be continued ....

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    Jim McGill

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