Stage Seven – Trans Siberian/Mongolian – overland UK 2 NZ

Saturday 19th October – DAY FOUR – After Irkuskt – a new world of hills, proper snow, trees and a full carriage.

That's more like real snow in Irkutsk
That’s more like it – in Irkutsk
Snow in the Shelekhovskiy rayon
Snow in the Shelekhovskiy rayon – you can see the ubiquitous power lines

We were asleep until Sil barged in and he was followed down the corridor by hordes. Seems Irkutsk (stopped at 07:50 for 23 minutes) was a popular destination to hop on and off the train.

Sil reads a book on his phone
Sil reads a book on his phone. That’s his official seat. He slept above Anton

Sil was not a svelte ballerina but a 23 year-old-chef, musician and photographer from near Rotterdam. He was on the way to see his girlfriend in Bangkok. Taking the scenic route through Mongolia, as you do when you’re young and you have an urge to see the world and try out your new camera gear!

Passing Lake Baikal
Passing Lake Baikal

We travelled beside Lake Baikal, the longest, biggest, oldest fresh-water lake in the world.

Train meanders near and far from Lake Baikal
Train meandered near and far from Lake Baikal

The rails were about 100 metres away from the water. Ish. Anton and Sil couldn’t agree on that. Maybe 50 metres?

How far away do you estimate the waters of Lake Baikal?
How far away do you estimate the waters of Lake Baikal?

The sky was lead-low and our windows splashed with rain. At times the dark grey clouds huddled together and brushed down closer to the water.

In winter Lake Baikal freezes
In winter Lake Baikal freezes

I thought of my Spanish kids singing that old classic, ‘The Water Cycle’, going UP and DOWN and ALL AROUND.

Snow-capped hills by Lake Baikal
Snow-capped hills by Lake Baikal

Kiwi Mark, as the boy who’d done his homework, reckoned we’d be beside the sea (sorry, Lake) for two hours.

This is when Lake Baikal becomes a sea
This is when Lake Baikal becomes a sea

I asked Craig, Air NZ pilot, what he thought the future held for air travel. He said he wasn’t expecting any change in his career span. He thought he’d see his time out. He thought there was some research into electric planes, and perhaps hybrid, but at the moment size of batteries prohibited long distance travel. He’d heard of algae and seaweed biofuels but thought that technology far-fetched. He had two daughters.

Coal cars parked at Slyudyanka
Coal cars parked at Slyudyanka

Asked about the idea of fast trains as a means of transport, Craig said, until the economics works out, the cost of infrastructure is simply too much. As well, consider supply and demand. There was not that much interest in rail travel in NZ. I offered my theory that airlines could be involved in developing fast rail, certainly in Australia ie Melb-Canberra-Sydney but he thought even Qantas not big enough to cope with the expense.

Gloves hanging out at Slyudyanka
Hanging up your gloves at Slyudyanka

In the middle of that first night, when I was so cold and the bunk bed so hard and I couldn’t sleep, I’m sure the poppy seeds helped my swirling visions of carvings come to life, Indian type elephants and humans entwining and changing, sex and music and velvety softness. Last night sleep was also elusive but too warm. Mainly I felt the darkness and movement, secure and womblike. There was nothing to be done. No responsibility. All one could do was give up, curl up, relax and be carried like a baby. Nothing to be done.

15:50 – 107 degrees East. 540 m elevation. Sleet.

Ulan-Ude station
Stopped for 41 minutes at Ulan-Ude station

I chickened out at the next stop, Ulan-Ude. Even though we had plenty of time, in hindsight, I didn’t want to have to rush and potentially slip in the wet building site that was the station. The Kiwi Brigade managed to pound out and back in the time I’d dithered. They were on the hunt for more Russian treats!

Probably Russian coal
Russia has the second largest coal reserves, after the USA
Our train parked at Ulan-Ude station
Our train parked at Ulan-Ude station – that’s the restaurant car with the red markings. You’ll note the absence of an engine. What’s going on there?

Mark excited because he’d heard the Mongolian restaurant car was arriving. For sure. Was that our Russian engine tagged on to the end of the train? It was adhered to the Russian restaurant which suggested future movement. HOWEVER, because I hadn’t bought any at the station, I went to the restaurant to buy water (70 roubles). I asked the Russian ladies about the change in restaurant. The elderly lady, head chef, in the floral headscarf said, holding up her finger strongly, ‘Only one restaurant.’ Not sure if they are three generations of one family or just representatives but the younger called the middle one ‘Mami’ so draw your own conclusions. Good biz for a family. Work together and live in the compartment next door for a week. I guessed it would be week on week off.

19:30 – 254 degrees West – 580 m elevation.

BORDER RUSSIA AND MONGOLIANaushki – 1 hour and 50 minutes while wheels changed and the toilets locked. This is where we parted from the TransSiberian. From now on, we would be on the TransMongolian Railway.

21:13 – 182 degrees South – 600 m elevation

Our customs dog was a little black and white speckled cocker spaniel, who appeared slightly over the whole waiting thing but leapt to attention when required to enter each compartment to search. First our passports were collected by an officer, then a customs officer came to look us over, look at each of our luggage and clear us out of the cabin into the corridor before sending in the dog handler with pup. The two women appeared relaxed and totally alert. We waited while they examined the entire population of the train. We received our passports back and in turn, handed in our filled in customs form. No, I did not take photos of the official business. What do you take me for?

See the window in the Selenginskiy rayon?
Seen through a window darkly in the Selenginskiy rayon?

For the first time, our carriage was full for the night. We chatted to a small Intrepid Traveller group lead by Kristina from St Petersburg on her ninth guided trip; Elsa from Maryland USA, Laura from Liverpool UK and John from Newcastle, Aus. The rest of the gang crowded around the phone chargers were an enthusiastic group of twenty three people from Calcutta. One lady explained to me she much preferred travel in a group. No planning, no Google, no research, no searching, no stress … Hmmm. She might have a point.

Divinity in the Selenginskiy rayon
Divinity in the Selenginskiy rayon

There was a rush to the windows to photograph a magnificent Russian sunset.

No grubby window in the Selenginskiy rayon
No grubby window in the Selenginskiy rayon

I flung open the grubby windows and everyone hung their cameras out into clear air until not one but both captains told me off: ‘Hi!’ ‘No! No! No!’ Suppose there must have been Russian heat seekers near-by?

NO! HI! NO! (Naughty grrls open window)
NO! HI! NO! (shut that window)

Sixteenth day Tao said, ‘There is no danger’.

Now that's a sunset in the Selenginskiy rayon
The Selenginskiy rayon

21 thoughts on “Stage Seven – Trans Siberian/Mongolian – overland UK 2 NZ

  1. Thank you, Nollaig! Sounds like you did much the same trip? Yes, the Chinese waiting room and holding pen are at Erlian for FIVE HOURS! Were you in Chinese carriages or Russian? I think the days of bogie changes may be numbered as the Mongolians are building a wide gauge to match the Russian. ( I agree, though, for the next trip I think it would be worth getting on and off the train for some tourist work, perhaps at Irkutsk, Ulan Bator and Ekaterinberg.

    • I was in the dreaded Chinese carraiges. The handle kept falling off the door from the inside, which meant I was locked in. One night I was bursting to go for a pee when the handle came off – had to keep banging for the guard to let me out !

  2. Great read Vickoz. Wish I had done something similar on my trip. Travelled from the centre of England to Beijing on four trains (Leamington – London, Eurostar to Paris, Paris-Moscow, Moscow-Beijing). Strangest part was when we were all taken off the train for hours at the Mongolian-Chinese border (think it was Erlian). The beautiful classical music and all the false rose beds – some juxtaposition. I thought I was the only Irish person on the train until a guy from Belfast got on at Ulan Bator. Next time I would like to get off at Ekaterinberg and see the house where the Tsar and his family were executed in 1918.

  3. the advertising you don’t know is encouraging people to donate blood for the people in need. The girl is the NO.1Female Pingpong Champion Ding Ning.

    • Spasibo, Tatiana! How wonderful you came along for the ride! Great to think of you in Moscow with your lucky students. I bet you are feeling cooler right now than I am here in humid Taiwan!

  4. Wonderful write-up Victoria, I feel like I’ve experienced it with you! I think it’s a great way to use your time, experiencing the reality of the non-flight long distance travel options and ‘seeing the details’ – whether the loo goes straight to the tracks, how cabins are heated and managed etc – you’re doing great. Also really interesting to get a glimpse of how some of those landscapes that people don’t usually see are managed and the variety of lifestyles of your fellow travellers. Good luck with every connection, accomodation and language challenge – we’re there with you!

  5. I do like you blog, Victoria. And your trip. It’s really fantastic! My English is not rich enough to express what I think about it. I feel like travelling myself!

    • Dear Begoña, I am very grateful you enjoy reading about my travels when you are such an experienced adventurer yourself! I’m very happy you feel inspired. I know you will have a great time where-ever you go – with your language skills and interest in other people – the world is yours!

  6. I have finally got through it.. wow, that was epic
    Page 6 best for me, i needed a sign of the step by step baby steps stepping stones
    You rock our intrepid reporter
    See you real soon in brissie

    • Thank you, Louiselle! Glad you managed to get through it. (Hope you were able to have a shower along the way.) Looking forward to landing in Port Brissie!

  7. OMG! Feels like I wrote that first comment days ago…. (it was after page 1 not realising there were 6 days of blog…YOU MADE IT!!!!
    Bloody hell, I was right there with you. Good job girl…show it how it’s done.

    • Thank you, MA! I am so grateful you managed to get through it all. I am trying to walk the talk but hadn’t realised how much fun it was going to be. Now I’m in hot, humid Taiwan it’s quite peculiar thinking I was looking at snow just a couple of weeks ago!

    • I send best wishes and good luck to all Antons, from Mongolia to Melbourne, may they be happy, healthy and looking forward to eating apples from their own trees.

Please leave a comment - would you travel this way??