From Mongolia With Love

The 5am (local time) train from Irkutsk began the journey to Mongolia and UB – the track follows the south shore of lake Baikal for some stunning sections; since the lake isn’t tidal in places you’re very close to the water. Over the course of the day the landscape changed more dramatically in a few hours than in the entire three days accross Russia from Moscow – the endless forrest finally giving way to some scrubland and then real steppe. This train had a real restaraunt car, a far more pleasant place to while away some hours drinking tea, then a beer and delicious stroganoff while watching the world pass by – excellent. Since the the restaurant is the last car, on the numerous sweeping curves the whole train was visible snaking ahead. The line also features plenty of steep gradients, and once you leave the trans-siberian mainline, it’s not electrified – the locomotive was a (relatively) compact but smoky unit which I guess is gas-turbine based. Each carriage on this train used coal to heat water, so there was the lovely smell of burning coal, and a black smokey plume visible above the train, despite the lack of steam traction.

Into Mongolia

At 6pm, arrived at the Russian side of the border – where we stopped for four hours while customs and immigration procedures took place. The time passed excruciatingly slowly, then finally we were hooked up to a ferry locomotive which hauled us (at a crawl) the short distance through no-mans-land – complete with barbed wire, flood-lights and watch-towers. Mongolian immigration and customs was quicker, but still took a couple of hours; by 1am (Irkutsk time) we finally moved off and went to bed. The Mongolia officials were considerably more pleasant (and smiling) than their Russian equivalents.

In the morning, prior to arriving into UB, the scenery was utterly breath-taking – endless green steppe rising up, occasionally looking along the length of huge valleys disappearing west and rising up, all empty of any sign of life. Sadly UB itself was announced by Soviet-era industrial sprawl and power-plants.

Posted Monday, June 16th, 2008 under travel.

One comment so far

  1. Did you throw a 5 and a 2 to get into Irkutsk? I rather feel it is the done thing…

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