OR IRKUTSK TO ULAANBAATAR TRAIN JOURNEY
Should have known it was all too jolly. I was welcomed by some people who had stayed on the train since Moscow and were not getting off at all until Beijing- the fools. They all had a twitchy feel to them, like people who’d had too much coffee, and there was a reason. They hadn’t had any external input since Moscow they hadn’t had anyone new come into first-class so hadn’t had any fresh blood since Moscow.
They weren’t getting off the train in the near future and they were in that strange state that I had been in when I arrived in Irkutsk… feral and somnambulant. They cross-questioned me on what Lake Baikal and Irkutsk had been like and I told them how amazing it all was and started to explain how cold, cruel and magnificent it was, then I asked them about the diner. With that, they lost interest and scurried off barely answering my questions (they probably no longer equated there was a world outside the poor lost souls) and like a group of junkies wandered glazed eyed up to the diner with cups of tea and grubby UNO cards clutched in their fists like a fix. I followed them but they were fast, when I got there, they were already hunched over their cards at a table playing what I can only presume to be their millionth game since Moscow.
There was a chap travelling alone, however (a train nerd whose wife had firmly told him, that no, she would not be going with him!) and he and I chatted till we were able to see Lake Baikal again and it was cameras at dawn. He was super excited at this obviously, just a solo nerd like me, and Lake Baikal was on his can’t wait to see list. Actually, he was holding up quite well, he looked clean and remarkably focused, but I suppose it was because he was such a train anorak and didn’t want to join the others playing cards. This probably saved him from insanity.
Images of Lake Baikal from train.
Although I had already been there it was amazing to realize how massive it really is. On a high-speed train, we were on its coast for hours. I had my lovely ham and cheeses for my lunch and gave the rest to my anorak friend who was delighted. Of course, they had had the same diner all the way through so the food must have been getting very dull as I had been for me previously, now it was all new to me. Moist eyed with appreciation, he thanked me and off I trotted to my cabin then lay down and went to sleep immediately!!
I came to hours later, with the afternoon sun streaming through the window, feeling really amazing!
Lucky I had that sleep for later my lady told me it was customs and border crossing. This entails stopping on one side of the no mans land to leave the Russian security check the train, and your passports (not as bad as the Mongolian side who gather your passports and disappear with them for about an hour!!) You have to stay in your cabin, have it clear so they can search it. You stand, when they come marching along in full official uniform, in your doorway and stay there until the official checks your passport. This is not the time to smile and be friendly by the way.
HUGEST TOP TIP EVER. IGNORE IT AT YOUR PERIL! Half an hour before the border you should return to your room. The toilets are locked before this ordeal and will only be reopened when you enter Mongolia. I had been stupid and had a couple of beers before this nightmare. Normally I was aware that this happened at main stations too but had forgotten about it for the most important part and hadn’t had a wee for Christ sakes. I had buttered up my lady but even so, she could do nothing for me til we had cleared Russian security and soil. Remember to go to the loo and also have a container with a resealable lid that, in absolute desperation, you can wee in! This goes for stations too!!!
Last of the Russian train part of gazing out of the window!
CUSTOMS AND PASSPORT CHECK AT BORDERS.
I can’t remember what time it started but I do know I went back to bed about 2 a.m. after it all was finally over.
We all lurked in our cabins until they frisked our little homes looking under the seats, in the toilets and in the luggage spaces above the doors. When they were satisfied the sniffer dog came along the corridor (that’s why the toilets get locked, in case smugglers try to flush contraband ) This completed along came a very serious woman in military uniform. Obviously, I have no photos of this section of the journey. If you saw Joanna Lumley’s programme about the Trans Siberian Express you’d have seen the authorities get very angry about the cameras which had to stop filming.
Now the check on my passport was fascinating. She scrutinised at it with infrared and ultraviolet light under an eyeglass for a good few minutes then looked at all my stamps and visas. Then she got out a little device that she ran up and down the spine and pages. This fastidious check seemed so much more intense than the cursory one arriving in St. Petersburg. Maybe I looked shifty because I so needed to relieve my bladder and she picked up on it or maybe it’s normal but the whole check seemed more stringent on the train. I was then told to sit and wait for them to finish. I heard a lot of other people muttering as all this went on but we all wisely stayed in our cabins only daring to stand in the doorways. It would have been funny if it hadn’t been so serious.
And that was a sad goodbye to beautiful Russia and it’s wonderful people.
до скорой встречи
do skoroy vstrechi
See you soon!
We then shunted about half a mile (I think !) up the track. I have to say “I think” because I was more concentrated in coercing my lady into opening the bloody toilet which she did with much clucking and looking over her shoulder! Once relieved I was well, relieved and quite enjoyed the Mongolian check. When they came along the corridor it all seemed more like an airport screening and there was no dog. They did, however, take our passports away for the best part of an hour which caused much consternation among fellow passengers. Our lady reassured us that being ambushed in the middle of the night and having your passport and documents taken from you is par for the course on the Mongolian side.
Сайн уу монголоо (sain uu mongoloo)
I’m sure I’m not breaking some weird law by describing all of this but if I am someone tell me! I loved Russia and Mongolia and want to be let back in!!!!
Passports finally returned by our lady we all went off to bed, slept fitful sleeps after our traumatic experience, and I still woke early having to leave the train again at the Mongolian capital Ulaanbataar. If only we had known how truly ghastly the Chinese border crossing would be we’d have been singing their praises!
ULAANBATAAR IN MORNING HOORAY!
OVER AND OUT FROM REBECCA!
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