In case you are interested, the following are the earlier parts:
1. In the beginning was a flag-bearer
2. The uneventful first day
3. The story of a cathedral
4. Sparrow Hills and Bomber
5. Lunching with the birds
Kremlin, at last. How exciting!
Did you know that ‘Kremlin’ means ‘fortress within a city’? Yes, I know, Kremlin is also used to refer to the government of Russia. But here our K stands for Kremlin the fortress inside the city of Moscow and there I was, standing inside said fortress! Who’d have thunk, while reading about Russia – or the USSR as it was known earlier – and Kremlin in the many novels I devoured, watching scenes of it in movies, or hearing the social studies teacher talk of it in school and the Political Science professor in college, that one day in the future, I’d be standing in the Kremlin itself? Not me, I assure you.
Since our group consisted of an unwieldy 53 members, we were split into two before we got in. One half went off with Anna, the original flag-bearer and we, the second half followed Svetlana, the new flag-bearer. A word about Svetlana. She is a storehouse of information, about the buildings, palaces, cathedrals, the towers et al inside the Kremlin and generously shared with us all the details. But the best part was how she laced it all with humor, though how many could appreciate it is a moot point.
The first thing we saw on entering the Kremlin was the State Kremlin Palace (also known as The Palace of Congresses), a modern glass and concrete design, quite unlike the rest of the buildings. It was used mainly for conferences, public gatherings, concerts etc, Svetlana informed us. The banquet hall could seat 2500 people, the house in the place could accommodate as many as 6000 not to mention that it was the world’s largest building with a theatre stage. Having given us these details, Svetlana announced, quite matter-of-factly, ‘Putin will soon be meeting you all.’
Heads of group members whipped around to look at her in amazement. Was this part of our itinerary? Did Putin meet tourists routinely?!! You could see the confusion on some of the faces and joy and anticipation on a few others. What a story to carry back home! But there were those of us who were smarter, or rather more observant, and had already noticed the twinkling eyes belying the deadpan expression on her face.
The Kremlin Senate Palace is the President’s official residence. The flag was flying high over the building. It always does, Svetlana told us, whether the President is in or not. Apparently, they didn’t want anyone to know where he was at any particular moment. You see that line? Svetlana asked pointing to the really vast space that separated us from the building. Guards with guns could be seen patrolling it midway. You cross that and you are dead, she added. Since none of us were as yet ready to get into coffins (or be cremated as the case may be), we kept to the straight, and broad, path meant for tourists.
The Tsar Bell, also known as the Tsarsky Kolokol, is huge, like really HUGE!! It seems it was believed, louder the sound of the bell, the greater the chances of the supplicant’s prayers reaching the divine, our guide said. I admit, I rolled my eyes at that piece of information. I also wondered if that was why the Hindus are also so hung up on ringing bells in the temples. Wake up, God, hear my prayers! Oh, if anyone is thinking of giving me ‘scientific’ explanations for the same – it’s the in thing now, you know, a supposedly ‘scientific’ explanation for every damn thing – please don’t bother.
There! I have infamously, and not so surprisingly, digressed.
I bet when Empress Anna Ivanovna commissioned the bell, she had high hopes of her prayers reaching their destination at the speed of thought. But… the 20.1 feet height and 22 feet diameter bronze bell, THE biggest in the world, was never ever hung or rung. It cracked (in a fire) soon after being cast and could not be moved. Napaolean Bonaparte wished to take it back to France as a trophy, but for that the bell had first to be moved at least an inch, right? Fat chance he had! He had to go back empty-handed, so heavy was the bell! Where he failed, the French architect Auguste de Montferrand succeeded years later, but only in having it placed on a stone pedestal. Phew, that must have been some concerted effort! You see, the broken slab alone is supposed to weigh 10,432.6 kilograms (23,000 lb!) and is three times larger than the world’s largest tenor bell at Liverpool Cathedral.
Gosh, this sure is taking long. There is more about Kremlin. But I’ll not bore you any further today. So let’s move on to the pictures.
© Shail Mohan 2019