A massive snowstorm that blocked 1000 kms of road between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan only temporarily delayed Land Rover’s Journey of Discovery as it crossed from Europe into Asia.
But the one millionth Discovery produced and the three similar vehicles were soon under way again, now more than half way to Beijing after starting the journey in Birmingham.
Earlier the party had driven into a once top-secret nuclear submarine base that was the operational home for the fearsome Soviet Black Sea Fleet at Balaklava on Ukraine’s Crimean coast.
Buried beneath a mountain it took nine years to build and its entrance was camouflaged from view from any spy plane. It could survive a direct nuclear hit and the vast subs that slunk in and out of here between tours of duty could enter and leave underwater, keeping them from prying eyes at all times.
The Discoveries were given unique authorisation to drive through the labyrinth of tunnels inside. They were the first to do so since the Soviet trucks and trailers that ferried in missiles, supplies and essentials over its 40 years of operation.
Driving through the cavernous entrance carved into the heavy rock of the mountain was pure James Bond. The submarine channel was a kilometre long and the dry dock another 100 metres. The hideaway could accommodate six submarines at once.
Every possible measure was taken to keep the base secretive from the outside world too. This included removing Balaklava from all maps in 1957 (it would be 1992 before it reappeared). As well as the submarine channel, all the tunnels were curved for blast protection in the event of attack from the West.
Rolling back out into the sunlight of Balaklava’s bay was almost as odd as driving in had been.
Later after leaving a sleeping Moscow early one morning the Journey of Discovery headed to Volgograd – previously known as Stalingrad – the site of one of the bloodiest battles on the Eastern front in the Second World War. On a largely featureless road, save for pothole swerving motorists and occasional blizzards, the Discoverys shrugged off the 1000 kms day effortlessly.
From Volgograd the route followed Europe’s largest river – the Volga, towards the last official Russian stop of Astrakhan, near the Caspian Sea.
From Astrakhan, the Journey of Discovery headed into Kazakhstan, entering the most remote and testing part of the 12,865 kms route and the massive snowstorm. Thoughts of blizzards faded with the Kazakh sun as the team left Europe for Asia and Atyrau.
After an overnight in Atyrau the four Discovery headed towards its most unpredictable border yet. With reports of the crossing taking anything from hours to days the team apprehensively set out for Uzbekistan, the smooth roads turning to hard-packed, pock-marked mud as the border approached.
Countless lorries queuing signalled the approach of the control, the Journey of Discovery taking advantage of Land Rover’s extraordinary capability and taking a more creative, off-road route to the frontier. After a relatively swift six hour wait the Journey of Discovery set off at midnight into Uzbekistan looking for somewhere to stay, and the promise of adventures ahead.