The Beginning - Trans-Mongolian Rail

Trip Start Jun 08, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Mongolia  ,
Thursday, July 21, 2005

The journey from Beijing to Ulaan Baatar commenced with the odd glimpse of the great wall through the rugged hills (mountains.. I don't know) surrounding Beijing and further on towards Datong. As we progressed further on towards the Chinese boarder the terrain became flatter, drier and more inhospitable with large amounts of coal and probably the most agriculture I had seen since having been in China. Every little flock of sheep (of about 15-30) was being closely tended to by all of the 'Farmer Wong's' of China!

Basically the journey involved alot of card playing and beer drinking though. The food cabin attendant would shuffle you on unless you were either drinking or eating, you weren't really allowed to simply sit around and socialise. The beer was bad, the food was worse so given the best out of two bad options, alot of beer was consumed! When we arrived at the boarder (8.30pm) I was pretty trashed, everyone was. I'd had one too many and my tolerance for alcohol at the best of times isn't so great. Initially it would have seemed that the boarder crossing was going to be a quick easy affair given that my passport was stamped within about 10 minutes of arriving. This was only the beginning of a long but rather painless boarder crossing. Whilst in no mans land the bogies on the train were changed, this took a good couple of hours and involved the occupants of the train just sitting around on the platform simply waiting. There was some lovely elevator music permeating the platform to keep us company with the instrumental version of 'Let it Be' and 'Fur Elyse'. Pretty good progress I guess - English music being played in a public arena at a boarder crossing. A good reminder of how far China has come in such a short time.

Entry into Mongolia was just as uneventful, at about 1.30am the officials came into our cabin and stamped my passport while I lay in bed. The little Mongolian man in our cabin wasn't so lucky, they made him unpack every single one of his bags and checked through all of his books. True to form, I was basically asleep by the time the official had left our cabin.

The darkness of night gave away to caramel plains that extended to every horizon, we were deep in the Gobi desert. This continued for afew hours, but as soon as a tinge of green could be seen or slight growth herds of horses and camels (2 humps) frequented the landscape. Afew rolling hills started to appear, but no fences, no roads, no indications of civilisation just the odd Ger (Mongolian nomadic house). It was beautiful, simply mind blowing scenery.

I am now in Ulaan Baatar, it's very poor, but not that busy. I've really noticed the drop in population compared with China. Only the very main foot paths are paved and long grass grows in area's that would otherwise be pretty public gardens in more wealthy cities. The people appear to take pride in their appearance, they are very very friendly they don't spit like the Chinese (I never got used to that) and it feels safe. The air is clean and there's blue sky and I have welcomed back the view of the moon at night. It's still hot during the day's but quiet cold at night time - it's a pleasant change from China where it's hot all of the time. It's nice to rug up at night!

I'll stay here until I join a trip to go deep into the Gobi desert which will involved travelling by jeep (with a Mongolian driver) for the standard 8 day journey staying in Gers or camping along the way. Apparently there are no road's beyond this city and we won't come across any town's until the 3rd night when we reach Dalandzadagad. Jeep tours are pretty much the done thing here - you can go pretty much anywhere on a jeep trip, everyone does it. North, South, East, West there seems to be heaps to see in this country. The other popular thing to do here is buy horses and either ride around the country or through to Tibet, I have already met quiet afew people that are doing this. Very tempting, but don't worry Mum and Dad, I'd only do that if I could have a nice comfy saddle and I think you'll find that they are all still at home!
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