The trip from Irkutsk to Mongolia
18.04.2009 - 19.04.2009
Having spent the night awake in the train station, occasionally being moved to have my ticket checked or so the cleaners can clean under my seat, I get on the train at 5am utterly exhausted & so don't register the words 'Ulan Baator' until I wake in the morning when... I panic; I'm moving steadily towards the Mongolian border without a visa! I try to explain to the carriage guard and he seems to tell me that it's fine, but as I'm so unsure of the level of mutual understanding I spend the entire day worrying. Most of what passes by the window appears to be an open air rubbish dump anyway.
Thew train spends 8 hours at the border, where 2 sets of border police check evcery inch of every cabin & after 30 minutes in a room with shouting Chinese & Mongolians I get my passport back complete with a newly purchased Mongolian transit visa. The train pulls away at about 1am and I drift off to sleep, happy in the knowledge that the morning will bring with it the arid expanses of Mongolia.
I wake up to a blizzard. An actual white out. Gutted, I fall back to sleep, periodically waking to check the weather outside my window, but the hours pass by & everything remains white. Just after midday it clears up a little; enough that you can see about 10 meters from the train. My cabin-mates (very well travelled Danish diplomats)tell me this is because we are nearing the Gobi & the snow is evaporating.
I see wild camels!! There's even a baby one which looks as if it's being scolded by its Mum for getting covered in snow! This is more like it. For the first time I venture to the food cabin, where I have mutton stew & feel disconcertingly like I'm in the 1920's.
The snow and mist finally falls back completely, revealing miles of barren land and sand. A herd of wild horses gallop past , dust clouds roll in the distance & despite the cloudy sky I feel like I'm somewhere new.