Saturday morning (7th), the start of our Trans-Mongolian/siberian railway adventure. We are up early and arrive around 6:45 at the station to meet up with the lady who has our tickets for the train leaving at 7:45. Also waiting for the train are a lot of travellers, we estimated about 50% of the passengers were foreigners, and guessed that most were off on a similar route as us through to Russia. Once through the typically Chinese 'lines' for the platform gates we got piled into our 4 person sleeper cabin, a little dismayed that our luggage did not seem to fit anywhere! However with the help of the people we were sharing with (a Mongolian Mother and Daughter) we settled in.
Inside our cabin
The passage way
For the first part of the trip we mostly snoozed and chatted a little with the other travellers, a few in the carriage had booked tickets with the same agency we had but had a different timetable to us. Of course by now you must be aware that we are both big fans of long train journeys, especially considering that on all of our big legs on this long way home trip, we will be in a sleeper carriage. Just being able to sit back, eat, drink, read, chat, relax and watch the ever changing scenery can't be beaten, particularly on this journey which took us through western China and into the Mongolian countryside.
Although at first our cabin co-inhabitors were quiet as the journey went on they became a bit more interactive and were teaching us some Mongolian words, and were also kind enough to share some Mongolian food with us - we were not very prepared and had only brought a few basic items as we were told that the dining car on the train was very good... which would have been fine had we the forethought to check how many Chinese Yuan we had to spend before getting on the train!
Another aspect of the journey are the carriage attendants or 'provodnistas', who basically take care of all things within each carriage - sheets, toilets, boiling water etc. We had heard stories about getting on the bad side of the provodnistas, so were wary of doing anything wrong... however as foreigners that seemed to be everything. The provodnistas on the trip were quite unfriendly and we were told were considered the friendliest of the entire journey!
At the Chinese/Mongolian border, apart from immigration and customs, the train has to undergo a bogey change. Paul stayed on to watch the bogey change and Joss jumped off to get a few supplies at the station store - dried noodles, 3 in 1 coffee and sweets.
PM: To change all of the bogeys on the carriages, they move the whole train large shed, de-couple each carriage and raise each individually on 4 hydraulic jacks, roll out the bogeys and roll in new ones! It was quite impressive and very efficient. Unfortunately I do not have any photos to show, this will be explained in a following blog.
The big event of the trip also happened just past the border into Mongolia. Unfortunately for one traveller in our carriage, the long Mongolian border wait was too much for her bladder and she hopped off the train in search of some relief, but whilst outside the train it took off, leaving her in Mongolia in the cold with no warm clothes, money or passport!!! She was found by police, but the authorities had to go through and take all of her belongings off the train. It was her first solo trip and she had only just gotten to Mongolia.
The train at night at the border crossing