It was a fair few weeks ago now but I shall digress a little back to the final leg of our trans-Mongolian journey. We shared our coach with Jessie & Johannes a German couple who are part way through a 6 month career break. Thankfully for us they both spoke English as we are embarrassingly unilingual. We shared a chilled out day of chatting & sleeping as the view flashing by of Mongolian countryside morphed into the burnt orange of the Gobi desert. We passed small nomadic ger camps, I’m pretty sure I even saw some Camels in the distance & bizarrely also a random man waiting at the side of the tracks in the middle of absolutely no where – he must have walked for miles to get there to meet who I wonder?!
The evening was spent playing cards and supping a few beers with Jessie & Jo. Another English gent popped his head into the coach and introduced himself as Tom, a carpenter from Brighton who had hitched from Europe to Moscow before embarking on the train journey with an extended stop in Ulaanbaatar. He had some fantastic stories of his escapades which are pretty inspiring to say the least. Hopefully he’ll write a book, if not we’ll just have to plagiarise his adventures for ourselves!
The border crossing from Mongolia to China was pretty painless (unlike the 7/8hr wait we had crossing from Russia to Mongolia which involved full carriage searches including removal of ceiling panels) It was the bogie changing that was an unexpectedly drawn out affair. Bogies are the wheel bits by the way not nose boogers. For some reason the Russian wheel sets are 5’ while the Chinese use the standard 4’ 8.5”. It would cost far too much to relay the bazillion km of track throughout Russia so instead the cars are changed at either end of the Russian tracks.
We had heard that passengers were given the option to get off the train during this change over period…not us, the doors remained locked and the train moved back and forwards a few kilometres quite a lot passing the station and the gauge changing worky-shed thing each time with much violent crashing and banging each time. Eventually we were hoisted into the air while our boogers were changed; we then got to see the same work being completed on another carriage full of people which had originally been attached to ours. This would normally be quite an interesting experience; however when no-one has been allowed to go to the bathroom for the past 3 or 4 hours conversation turns instead to toilet humour. We had heard of someone using a shoe to relieve themselves during such a time period, general consensus was a Pringles tube may be better. Luckily neither was required. We were eventually allowed off the train while the remaining carriages were finished…obviously we bought more liquids to immediately re-fill. Unfortunately we were now in China, home of the 2.5% beer. Damn it – should have checked before buying!
One (small) advantage of weak beer is that it’s exceedingly difficult to acquire a hangover. We woke the next morning with clear heads to experience a dramatically changed landscape. Chinese villages, fields of crops & breathtaking valleys – we even glimpsed our first sight of the great wall. The train weaves through various tunnels carved into the hillsides, plunging the carriages into complete darkness and then opening up to a more impressive sight each time. We passed mammoth reservoirs and saw gigantic bridges being built, then through the next tunnel the scene would flip back to a remote village. Along the way people would stop and stand to watch the train pass through, some taking photo’s, others pointing in amazement at the mix of faces passing by just as excited to see us as we were to be arriving. It was an awesome way to enter Beijing!