Sunday, 25 September 2011
I really don't want to leave Mongolia but the bloody train is going & I've got to be on it. We're trundling off into the night & will wake up in the ionic Gobi desert.
The train stopped for a couple of hours at Tsagan Hat in the Gobi, its not on the map as there's just a couple of huts; one with a gigantic satellite dish, so its possibly a communication point or maybe they just like TV. There's also a hint of Mongolia's 1.3 billion people mega-neighbour - a rusting Hanjin shipping container.
The people from three Gers up on the hillside brought a herd of camels & a few horses in the hope of persuading passengers to take a five minute ride - only one step up from a donkey ride on Blackpool beach.
Its bitter cold at 6am, the wind chills to the bone & freezes my ears & then surprisingly it begins to spit with rain, but not for long. There are low growing desert adapted tufty plants but there's nothing else to break up the landscape except the occasional small sandy hill. This is only the edge of the Gobi & further south & west it becomes utterly barren except for the recently discovered oil & precious minerals.
The Mongolian border town of Zamyn-Uud is bigger than expected & we wait in our compartments while immigration control collect passports, exit slips & the customs man merely collects the customs declaration given on arrival. Passports are returned within the hour & we are officially signed out of Mongolia.
The Chinese entry point of Erlian is 20 minutes futher east & we have to change trains for the final leg into Beijing. This was an alternative to the usual hanging around for several hours while all the wheels of the train are changed because Russia railways have a 5 foot wide track which doesnt match any other railway track.
The incompatible track size wasnt a Russian mistake it was a strategic decision intended to impede invading armies that might be planning to use their railway networks to move military forces onto Russian territory.
There was no entry hassle to China, no entry forms to fill in but swarms of guards & officials who just seem to be monitoring & showing a presence. Stayed in Erlian on the Chinese side of the border for a fairly grand 18 course lunch at the Pacific International Hotel, which in the spirit of international exhange - had no WiFi access.
The train was another charter, it was smart enough although spartan with no shower facilities or high end cabins & a Tannoy system that could not be turned off. At dinner I asked for a coffee & was told, 'No coffee'. Someone else asked for a coke - 'No'. We settled for an order of three beers & the waiter brought three sherry sized glasses, filled them & then took the half full bottle away.