Thursday, 10 May 2012

Trans-Siberian Part Five: On the Trans-Mongolian

A Trans-Siberian-Mongolian Journey

A long, long Railway Journey

Part Five: Trans-Mongolian
Logo on Trans-Mongolian
Logo on Trans-Mongolian

Gyan C. A. Fernando

After a sad farewell to Gala I get on the Trans-Mongolian. I suppose I have no choice because my visa runs out in 24hrs!
 All of us are in good spirits one way or the other.
I am to share a compartment with Austen and his wife Marilyn, and Maggie. I suppose it is bad luck on their part to draw me as their flat-mate!

That night we have a mad party in Graham and Pam's compartment, complete with music! They connect up their small laptop computer to a pair of speakers.

This is where I start thinking about my own life which then moves on to improbable dreams about my future. 
I do get a lot of sympathy from my traveling companions and, several years on now, it is nice to reflect on one of the turning points in my life: The Trans-Siberian Journey.

Later that night we stop at Slyudyanka. It is described simply as: "It is a stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway". 
That does not matter to us at all. 
We get off the train, and together with other travelers, we dance the Hokey-Cokey on the platform. I suppose we overdid things a little bit and had to make a mad rush to board the train!

Baby Doll
When we were on the Trans-Siberian, Christine wore a medium/dark blue, loose dress with a high waist and shoulder straps, which reminded me of a Baby Doll nightie. 
So, in my usual crazy manner, I started calling her "Baby Doll" and very soon, so did the other men.
I am sure that she took it in the right spirit but here comes her revenge! 
On our first night on the Trans-Mongolian, she confronted us men and got us to wear her Baby Doll dress in turn! 
All of us men looked lovely in her dress! We had good fun!

Ulan Ude
We never saw Ulan Ude as we got there rather late in the night. I am sure we had to stop there as it is a junction where the Trans-Siberian branches off into the Trans-Mongolian. We were all fast asleep.

It is now the 15th of August.
I get up early and find that the landscape has changed. We are getting towards Mongolia and the Gobi Desert.

The Train
View from last carriage, Trans-Mongolian
View from the last carriage
We are now in a Diesel-Electric, double-headed train. The track is single and there is no provision for electric trains. 
 The curves are gentle and the terrain appears deceptively flat, but looking out of the window and the gradient, I know we are climbing. If it is flat terrain there is no need for curves.
Although sparsely populated, the railway infra-structure is good with deep drainage channels on either side of the track. I cannot work out why they need drainage channels as we are now in one of the driest parts of the world.

Naushki Railway Station
Naushki Railway Station
The train, run by a Mongolian Company, follows the same standards as the Trans-Siberian. The service is the same and the carriages and compartments are equipped the same as with the Trans-Sib. The beer is slightly different though! 

The restaurant car promotes Mongolian beer!
Shunting at Naushki
Shunting at Naushki
Local fare at Naushki
Local fare at Naushki

Border Crossing at Naushki

Today turned out to be a funny day where we achieved absolutely nothing. This was the day we had to cross the border between Russia and Mongolia. 
We arrived at the Russian border town of Naushki on the Ulan Ude-Ulaanbaatar sector of the railway. The counterpart station on the Mongolian side is Sukhbaatar.

In preparation for the border crossing, we changed our money into Mongolian Tugriks on the train itself. Local money changers, mostly women, got on the train.
I ended up with a lot of notes of high denominations and Austen had to help me count the lot!

Wheel tapping at Naushki
We spent about five hours on the bleak platform of Naushki in the hot sun whilst going through border formalities. There was not much to do except watch shunting activities.
We wandered out to the local town. There was nothing much but vodka.

Eventually, we got moving across the wide "No Man's Land" to Sukhbaatar. We are now in Mongolia. 
There are more border formalities which take another three hours! The passports are stamped on the train and we then get out of the train. We do the Hokey-Cokey as usual.The local facilities are bleak.
There is a lot of confusing shunting activity with our train so we decide get on board again. We then get hauled to a shunting yard where more carriages are added.
Shunter at Naushki
Shunter at Naushki
We then start off along the edge of the Gobi. It is now dark outside. 
As usual, we have a drinks party in Graham's compartment. Our neighbours are a group of Russian cyclists going to Mongolia to cycle the Gobi. They join us. We wonder how they are going to cycle after consuming so much vodka.

 Today is the 16th of August and I am awoken by Austen because the carriage attendant is asking for our bed linen. We are now approaching Ulaanbaatar.
There is still plenty of time before we get into Ulaanbaatar.

We watch the train going through a tree-less landscape. Although this is the Gobi, there is a bit of grass. 
The train has about twenty carriages and is double headed by diesel electric locomotives. The track is single with curves and a slight rising gradient. The exhaust from the locomotives tells it all.
At 0700 we get to Ulaanbaatar and are met by a guide.
(Continued: Ulaanbaatar and beyond)

Copyright: Gyan C. A. Fernando, 2012


The photographs all belong to the author and are copyright. 

More pictures available here: Picasa 

Further Reading:
  1. The Trans-Siberian Railway (Wikipedia):
  2. The Practicalities (Wikitravel):
  3. The Trans-Siberian Route: 
  4. Ulan Ude:
  5. The Trans-Mongolian:
  6. Naushki:

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