Friday, September 20, 2013

Transversing Siberia

Irkutsk Railway Station

The section of the Trans-Siberian Railway across Siberia from Irkutsk, in central Siberia, to Yekaterinburg, just west of the Siberian border took 55 hours and covered about 3400 kilometers (2200 miles) and dozens of stops in towns and cities big and small. Our carriage originated an additional 2200 miles to the east in Blagoveshchenk, a remote Chinese
Hanging in the cabin
border town and our window shows the length of the journey with the dirt on it. We’ve been in or just outside our cozy Cabin VI on Carriage 3 that entire time and have had lots of time with our faces staring out the window.  Rather than seeing wasted plains that we expected, we’ve observed a rich landscape dominated by rolling hills in the east and extended steppes in the west with the brilliant fall colors of aspens and birch for the entire duration.  We’ve seen small towns with small houses and gardens growing some of the biggest vegetables in the richest of blackest soil. We’ve seen rivers running from the
Crossing the Tomsk River
north still carrying a lot of water. We’ve seen railway towns, many apparently in existence when the railway was first being built in 1895 and during the century before it as a waystation on the Siberian Post Road that have gone from boom to bust as the increasing speed of the engines have left them behind for the larger communities. We’ve seen buildings that may have begun with the Tsars, continued into the early days of the Revolution, and then into the Stalinist and Soviet days through today’s Russian republic. They might have been in favor for one of two of those eras, but not for all.  We’ve seen plenty of train
Surface Coal Mining
lasting a few Russian Eras
stations that exhibit structures with fresh coats of bright turquoise or salmon pastels and at the same time, include an ominous-looking windowless brick turret tower, probably abandoned when radio and electronic communication replaced the sentries positioned there.  We’ve observed train travelers being sent off by their teary-eyed relatives, hawkers selling homemade food and packaged concoctions from the platforms, and train workers with long metal mallets mysteriously banging at things on our train’s undercarriage while in the station.  We’ve seen our carriage mates in the other eight cabins on Carriage 3 change frequently; from workers moving around the Siberian coal fields, to businessmen on mobile phones to young families.  And unlike the previous two segments on the Trans- Mongolian railway, we have seen no Americans and only one other English speaker.       

We experienced thick low grey clouds and spotty sprinkles of autumn as we started in Irkutsk. And, oddly, just as we passed the area where we were “officially” out of Siberia, the clouds broke and we were treated to a gorgeous sunset over the plains. Just in time for our anniversary!

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