On the rails on the Trans Mongolian

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

If you read the last entry from Beijing, you might be thinking "hang on a minute, the Forbidden City and other temples you went to are all very nice, but isn't the Great Wall of China very close to Beijing, and why didn't you go there?"

Which is fair enough - the Great Wall is close to Beijing in Chinese terms, but in reality is a solid 3-4 hour trip from the capital - one way! All of us were keen to do it, but with only 2 full days in town and needing to pick up those pesky visas before moving on, a visit to the wall was impossible.

So weren't we happy when not long after choofing out of Beijing on the Trans Mongolian, we happened to notice a large and pretty looking wall in the hills. Very much so. The train passes by the Badaling section of the wall about 70km out of the city, which is one of the sites we may have visited on a day trip anyway. So even if we didn't get to walk on the wall this trip, we did get to see it at least.

Back to the train however. The Beijing to Ulaan Baatar leg is over 30 hours travel, so we settled down for an overnight trip. The rest of China either looked pretty cold and frozen, or dry and dusty as we moved along the south-eastern edge of the Gobi desert in the afternoon. Nothing really to report there but thank goodness I'm not a local farmer.

The night was a bit of a trial - the border crossing formalities taking around four hours in total as the Chinese and Mongolian authorities had to check the traders goods stashed all over the train, interspersed by the carriages having to transferred to bogies with a wider gauge for the ongoing journey. No big deal, just no movement for a long time.

When we awoke however the scene had certainly changed. The countryside was dusted with a white veil of thin snow and temperatures outside had dropped pretty dramatically if the breeze you caught when moving between compartments was anything to go by. When we stopped at a random station in the middle of nowhere, I tested that out and found it to be bloody cold. Yikes!

I adjourned to the newly attached Mongolian dining car, lavishly finished in carved wooden relief and then equally lavishly decorated for Christmas (even though the Mongols are Tibetan Buddhist and don't really celebrate Christmas), which was a nice way to start the day. The two course breakfast that followed of omelette and pancakes with jam, including excellent coffee, automatically served to all was a surprise and a treat, but as it ended up costing about $US8 so it should have been.

Anyway, after that we were all content to while the day away as the frozen country-side rolled by. By 2pm we stepped off the train to a blue sky and a balmy day in Ulaan Baatar, the mercury tinkling in at -11C or so. More on that next time!

Krazy Kontraptions

I suppose it helps keep the passenger slightly warmer on a cool winter day in Beijing. I suppose it helps keep the breeze of the driver as well to some extent. Maybe you can even jam two passengers in back (wouldn't surprise me at all). But this ridiculous tricycle mototaxi with cell box perched on the back has to win this week's Krazy Kontraption award for 'vehicle most likely to be hit by a bus and explode on impact'.

The one we saw idling on a lane marker in the middle of a huge roundabout in the capital, driver's head spinning wildly from side to side as he tried to see out of his box whilst attempting to merge cross multiple lanes of careering traffic, would have been comical had it not been so dangerous. And the one that clipped me as I was crossing a small side road would have toppled over if I put my shoulder into it, which I won't hesitate do next time. Grrr.
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