Monday, August 16, 2010

The Trans-Mongolian Railway

August 15

We’re on the K23 which left Beijing at 7.47am (on the dot) yesterday and will arrive in Ulan Bator at 1pm this afternoon. There are plenty of Westerners aboard, though they are outnumbered by Chinese and Mongolians. Some spectacular scenery of rocky mountains and valleys.

The train arrived at the border at about 10.30pm where the wheels had to be changed because the rails in Mongolia have a narrower gauge. This gave us a couple of hours in the border-town of Erlyan (on the China side) where we managed to find a restaurant that was still open -- the train food was average. After we set off again, we crossed over to the Mongolian side of the border to be checked by immigration officials. Kristen and I didn’t have our visas for Mongolia because we had read that it was possible and pretty easy to get them at the border. It turned out that we were the only passengers not to have them, so there were some stern-looking faces among the train staff as we got off the train at about 1am and walked to the office to get our visas. At first, we were told it was not possible, then possible only for five-day visas. After a few panicky moments - our Russian visas are only valid beginning August 27 so we weren’t sure what we were going to do between end of the five days and that date - the official said she would give us 15-day visas. With sighs of relief we got back on board.

I slept pretty well last night, though Kristen didn’t. The Mongolian landscape (I think it's the Gobi desert) reminds me of Canterbury - lots of dry grassy plains, but the plains are bigger. Actually, they seem almost endless.

PS: now that I've left China, I have full access to my blog again and can post the photos of China that I couldn't before. Scroll down to the 'Beijing' entry to see some photos from Shanghai.

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