Mongolian Experience

Trip Start Jul 24, 2006
Trip End Jan 07, 2011

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Just a quick entry before we undertake the next stage of our rail journey. We arrived in Irkutsk on Tuesday morning at 0921 - the only trouble was that between leaving Moscow on Friday evening at 2325 and arriving there, we had gained 5 hours through time differences. That was quite a change to effect over the last couple of days or so - trying to go to bed a bit earlier to prepare for the difference and not being able to sleep and then waking up at 0330 on Monday morning, and even earlier, 0130 on Tuesday to find wonderful red skies at sunrise. But very confusing when you don't know whether it's time to get up or not!

The train journey is something else - about 87 hours! Pete and I had cheated a bit. We'd booked a whole 4-berth carriage for just the 2 of us, so we weren't nearly as crowded as most of the other passengers were. However, we still managed to meet other travellers and enjoy the experience of getting off the train at all the longer stops to see the locals hurrying onto the platforms to sell us food and local goods. I'll try and post one of the photos soon but I think it'll have to wait until we arrive in Beijing on 5th August.

When we arrived in Irkutsk, our first impression of the city was really chaotic - just like some frontier town. Trying to get out of the station was bedlam, cars and vans overtaking and changing lane everywhere and people weaving their way between them and nearly getting run over. Of course the noise was quite overwhelming as well, with people shouting and using their car horns all the time! We were met by a very nice young man called Pasha, who whisked us into a minibus with 4 charming young Swiss and German students who were going to the same village as us on the shores of Lake Baikal.

If you get a chance to look up details about Lake Baikal, you'd be able to check out if what they told us about it being the deepest lake in the world is true or not. It certainly is huge and was a lovely place to spend two nights after the train journey. There was a little harbour with a collection of fishing and boats which are used to ferry people around a small part of the lake, and there was also a hydrofoil that took people over to some of the little islands in the lake.

In the village itself, apart from one big, new hotel, there were very few really 'touristy' things to do. A small museum with exhibits on the fish and seals, flowers and plants which are exclusive to that area, a small market which specialised in selling a smoked fish, as well as souvenirs including items made from the many semi-precious stones that are to be found in and around the lake.

We stayed in a 'homestay', which is really like a B& B. It was a big chalet situated about half a mile up a side road off the lake front. Being built on the hill and then over 3 floors, meant that we had quite a lot of climbing to do each time we went out. Luckily, we only climbed it with our backpacks the first time. You'd think we'd have lost a bit of weight with all the walking we did over the 2 days, but somehow the excellent food we had with the breakfast and evening meals - both in quality and quantity - must have prevented that!

Yesterday we were driven back to Irkutsk to spend the night and buy a few provisions for the train journey to Ulan Bataar, as there is no restaurant carriage on this part of the journey. The weather was rather grey and depressing at first, but luckily it soon cheered up and in fact then got rather too hot for comfort. Never mind, at least we didn't get soaked. Somehow the people seem a little more approachable than they did in Moscow. Going into shops there was a real experience - it was almost as thought the sales assistants thought they were doing you a favour by serving you!!

There's a huge open air fruit and veg market here and then almost the same size again inside, as well as another high area devoted to all sorts of clothing and cheap imports. It's a shame we haven't got any room in our backpacks and just can't take any more weight really. I have to confine any purchases to tiny charms I can add to my silver bracelet!

The hotel wasn't too great although we have a nice view of the river. I can't believe that we can hear almost every pa annoucement from the railway station on the other side of the bridge, so that ut was almost like sleeping on the train again! I won't even notice the difference tonight when we leave Irkukst at 2100.

Well, time to stop again - still having problems getting the photos downloaded from the camera but will definitely do them from Beijing. Probably no chance to do much in Ulan Bataar, Mongolia, so talk to you all then.
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