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Friday, August 31, 2007

Where's my train gone?!

  • Date and Time: Early morning, early Autumn

  • Location: Bed 16, Carriage 1, Approximately 12 hours into a 40-hour journey from the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar to the Russian city of Yakutsk.


  • There is something mightily odd going on here! I've just woken up and stepped outside to have a look at this station where our 10-carriage train has been for several hours. I know we've been here several hours because at about 4.30am I was woken by some loud clanging noises and the jerk of the carriage, as if an engine had just shunted into us. I checked the time, looked out of the window and just saw the usual collection of non-descript station buildings seen at many of the quieter stops along this route. I then fell back to sleep.

    15 minutes ago I was woken again, this time by the rays of a beautiful golden sunrise, shining through the wafer-thin carriage curtains. Looking out of the window I see we are in the same place; the only change is that now there is a gathering of dogs, some 3-legged having been involved in arguments with trains, waiting to be thrown scraps of food. I;m thinking they are the ones abandoned at the border by owners ignorant of rules regarding the importing of animals. I also see a few people clutching towels heading off to the station building; I guess there must be a bathroom there. Needing a morning wee myself (and preferring to avoid the cesspit that is the on-board loo as much as possible), I get up and step off the train. Concerned that it might leave without me I glance along the platform to check that all the other carriage doors are still open. But they're not - because there are no other carriage doors!

    Shunted off and forgotten for good?

    Click here for my Trans-siberian web gallery

    The rest of the train has vanished! All that is left is our carriage, and one other! No engines, nothing! What is going on here? We seem to have been abandoned in the middle of some isolated freight yard! Did the engines get too tired and leave us behind? We were the last two carriages after all. Or did the coupling break without the driver noticing, him continuing to Russia with 8 carriages, oblivious of the fact that he has left a fifth of his sleeping passengers behind?!

    I suppose there's not much we can do but wait. The matron doesn't seem all that concerned; she's just standing at the end of the carriage, cigarette in one hand, coal shovel in the other, feeding her mini boiler for our morning tea.

    Myself and my carriage companions - two Mongolian Russians, and Andrew the Ozzie, have debated what might be the reason behind our abandonment. All we can think of is that our carriages were the only ones with printed images of foxes with pants in their mouths on the curtains.

    No need to worry too much yet though, according to the Russian timetable on the wall we're not due to leave here for another 3 hours... At least I think it's three hours. Time zones make it somewhat confusing. Apparently, Russian trains run on Moscow time, which is 5 hours behind the time in the section of Russia to the north of us. But hang on, we're still in Mongolia right, so does that mean we go by Mongolian time? To make matters even more confusing, as soon as we do cross the border time actually goes forward, not backwards as it should when travelling West. Thus, as of a bit later today, I'll be back on Tokyo time despite a week on the road travelling north-west through the Tokyo-time-minus-an-hour time zone!

    And I thought just dealing with a different alphabet was going to be tricky - now I have to start using a clock that goes backwards!

    Tarra for now.

    The moon. Not a bad shot for a normal camera me thinks.

    Click here for my Trans-siberian web gallery

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