After a really, really long shoogly train journey we're in Ulan Batar (loads of different spellings) and once I've mastered the internet here, photos will shortly follow.
Hope everything is well with everyone back home and abroad.
Sunday 1 October 2006.Now off on train number 362 on the Trans Mongolian Railway heading for Ulaanbaatar.This is a local train and is more rickety and shoogly, and less plush/well equipped than the train from Moscow to Irkutsk.But the Mongolian provodnista (carriage attendant) was very pleasant and friendly and gave us a cabin to ourselves.In the next cabin were Ashley and Karen from Northern Ireland who're on a six months trip to Asia, Mexico and Cuba.There were lots of stops, groaning and shunting during the night (from the train, that is!) - wish I could find my earplugs!Woke up to find that half the train had disappeared and ours is now the last carriage - but great view out the back (see photo album). Lovely scenery between Baikal and the Russia/Mongolian border - much different from the vast tracts of forest before - hills, open flat grasslands, lakes, rivers, moors.In some places looks very like parts of Scotland.Train chunters slowly along a single track with lots of stops for local people to alight, but no opportunities for us to get, stretch our legs, get some fresh air or buy provisions.But very relaxing just sitting watching the landscape go by. Arrived at Russian border at 13.20.From that time on we were virtually left sitting in the carriage, without toilets, until 22.45!!However, during that time we had naps, chats with the few fellow passengers we had, games of draughts, ludo and chess, reading, naps, some food but, as you can imagine, not a lot to drink.In the meantime the rest of the train vanished, including the engine, leaving two lonely carriages at the platform.A bit of light relief arrived when numerous Russian officials boarded the train with forms to be completed, collection of passports and the aforementioned forms, search of compartments including hatches above and below the compartments and corridors.Our anticipation of a quick departure thereafter was disappointingly snuffed out when the fast train from Moscow drew alongside.We then knew that our fate was to be attached to that train, but only after the thousands or so of passengers and the train itself had undergone similar rigorous checks! Every so often an engine went past our hopes were raised that we might be on our way. Around 7pm we headed off towards the Mongolian border, past another typically Russian border control - barbed wire fences, watch towers, and several metres before the Mongolian fence (have to say it looked much the same) - looking back to a marvelous sunset. We pulled into the next station where Mongolian officials (much less severe) boarded and began their official duties. Little did we know then that we still had 5 hours to wait as the Mongolian clocks seem to have gone back one hour!Karen and I headed off to the local shops - they looked a wee bit different - for some supplies. I visited the much needed toilet which necessitated a chap at the door of the train so the provinesta could open the door and lower the steps. After the train headed off, we, along with Karen and Ashley, had some of the beers (the provisions bought earlier) and the rest of the half bottle of vodka we'd bought in Moscow.Who'd have thought it would last that long?A rather hot and restless night saw us arrive in Ulaanbattor around 7am on 3 October.Ulaanbaator (UB from now on) is a rather run down sort of place which immediately reminds us of Delhi. It is the pervading smell of smoke, broken pavements piles of sand, rubble and concrete - but as many of you will know we sort of liked Delhi! We found a great café (recommended in guide books) and had a typical Mongolian breakfast - bacon, eggs, toast, coffee and fruit juice. After more than 1 month away could you blame us??Wandering for a while took us around the city to the main square, bought tickets for an event (watch out for details), some Mongolian beers and a rather disappointing meal (it was supposed to be Mexican - recommended in the guidebook). What will tomorrow bring?
E & M xxx