Into China

Double-heading

The train from UB to Beijing was extremely new – still the same basic arrangement (four bunks to a cabin) but with excellent air-conditioning, DVD players, a power socket in the cabin, better sanitation and even a shower. Quite a change compared to the train from Moscow. The ride was also better, though maybe due to better Chinese trackwork.

Before China though, was a day traversing the Gobi desert – a surreal experience of watching a proper desert go by, with the information displays reporting an outside temperature of 37 degrees, as you sip beer in air-condition splendour. It’s hard to convince yourself the windows aren’t in fact a projection. During one brief stop in the depths of nowhere1 I was able to sample the outside air – I’d forgotten how pleasant a true dry heat is, compared to normal tropical humidity. At the border reality intrudes – there’s a rapid (only a couple of hours!) Mongolian departure, an arrival into China accompanied by speakers blaring out what I assume is the national anthem, and then … the bogie change. To accommodate the transition from Russian guage to standard guage, the entire train is pulled, ripped, apart, one carriage at a time (much shunting and jerking), each carriage hoisted up off its bogies, and in a dramatically rapid event, the old bogies are pushed out, and the new ones pulled in, before the carriage is lowered down on top. Then the whole train is re-assembled (more shunting and jerking), immigration completed, and finally (it now being 1am) time for sleep. The memory of watching the preceding carriage being shunted into us (to re-engage the coupler) will remain with me for some time I think.

The morning journey into Beijing was accompanied by some ‘real’ Chinese scenery; firstly a rural landscape, complete with rice fields, gradually turning more industrial, and then a dramatic section along a gorge, descending through tunnels, over bridges and along steep (vertical) hillsides. Finally plenty of time rolling into the suburbs and finally heart of Beijing. Along the way we passed through what is evidently a new main station, which ultimatley looks as if it will rival Waterloo in size, and an ICE test unit – apparently the Chinese are getting a high-speed rail link between Beijing and Shanghai, which makes a lot of sense.

  1. The kind of place you feel exists to avoid a huge blank space on the  maps []
Posted Monday, June 30th, 2008 under travel.

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