Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Trans Mongolian Railway - Beijing to Ulan Bator

Tuesday September 3, we were on the train to Ulan Bator (UB), leaving from Beijing by 8:05am, on the dot.  After 45 minutes the industrial scenery north of the city gave way to small towns, rivers and gorgeous wooded gorges. We had no idea this kind of landscape was so close to the capital. 
Herbei Province Sails by
Our two days were spent sitting in our private berth with a thermos of tea, reading and watching Northern China float by – not really whiz by, as the speed of the train felt like around 45 miles per hour – and that was fine.  We had our own sink and shower and the shared bathroom was down the hall – it’s good that it was close by, due to the mass quantities of tea.  We supplied the tea bags, and the piping hot water was provided by a samovar also down the hall, heated by coal. 
coal fired Samovar
Our research indicated that we would see segments of the Great Wall at about 280 kilometers from Beijing, and there it was to the East, more run-down than the sections near the capital accessible to tourists, but impressive, nonetheless.  Just above the wall we could see considerable strip-mining.  Kind of symbolic of China:  fascinating history and rampant industrialization.
Yesterday, we woke up on the train, our first morning in Mongolia.  From the upper bunk, I opened the window shade and looked out on the endless
A nomadic rancher running
alongside the train
Mongolian steppe, a sage sea grassland stretching to the horizon – a very calming sight after experiencing the hordes in Beijing and overnight interruptions from the customs and immigration teams.  Late in the evening, we waited 3 hours for the train’s wheel adjustments.  Chinese trains use a standard railroad gauge of wheels; Mongolia and Russia do not – so the rail cars were moved into a shed, raised up on big, red hydraulic lifts, the Chinese wheel carriages were removed, and the Mongolian carriages were installed.  Lots of clanging and jerking around – Chris left to scrounge around the station; I stayed on board – interesting experience.
swapping the bogie
  Then at 12:30, Chinese officials took our departure documents, made sure we looked like our passport pictures (“smile, please”), at 1:00am Mongolian officials showed up for immigration and we were on our way. Note; a global standard – immigrations officials everywhere are humorless, dehumanizing lost souls.

also as part of this swap, we swapped our Chinese dining car for a Mongolian dining car.  A great Mongolian menu!  we ordered up some interesting looking dishes for breakfast - the new Mongolian waiter, in true Khan family fashion, nodded yes politely and then barked "NO!  just Omelette, toast, coffee! $15 USD!".  That offerring was not on the menu.  We were in the land of Genghis Khan.

This morning we leave for our Mongolian journey, starting with a look at the Ganden Monastery in UB.  Then to the Steppe!  In the “outback” of Mongolia, there is no Internet, so you won’t hear from us until we are back in UB.

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