Wednesday, June 13, 2012

All Aboard!

Leg 1: Beijing to Ulaan Baatar; 1,356 km/843 miles; 29 hours, 15 minutes

Arriving at Beijing Railway Station

Our train, the Trans-Mongolian

The trip from Beijing to Ulaan Baatar flew by!  As soon as we hopped on our car and found our cabin we knew that we were in for a treat.  After our Indian train experiences, this was 5-star luxury! 

Sara relaxes in our cabin

We shared our 4-berth cabin with only one other traveler, a Swiss girl who is staying in Mongolia for a couple of weeks.  We passed the time chatting, looking at the ever-changing countryside from our huge picture window, reading, and hanging out in the dining car.

Lunch in the dining car with fellow travellers Ginette and Anita

It was amazing how quickly the scenery changed from the green mountains north of Beijing, through the arid Gobi Desert, and finally into the rolling grasslands of the Mongolian steppe.  Once we reached the Mongolian border, I think that we saw more horses than trees from the train window!

Mountains of China, north of Beijing, passing by our window

The Gobi Desert in China before reaching the Mongolian border

The train left the station at 8:05 a.m. on Saturday and arrived at 1:20 p.m. on Sunday.  Late Saturday evening we reached the China-Mongolia border.  The border crossing took five hours!  Not only did customs officials check passports and search the train from end to end, but the train actually disappeared from the platform for over an hour so that the railroad could change all of the wheels (bogies).  China uses a standard-gauge track, whereas Russia and Mongolia use a wider gauge.  Apparently the Russians decided to use a wider gauge to make foreign invasion more difficult!

In front of our train as we wait to cross the China-Mongolia border

We were having so much fun on the train that we were a little sad to see the outskirts of Ulaan Baatar appear on the horizon.  It’s okay though, because we have four more legs to go on our way to St. Petersburg.

The outskirts of Ulaan Baatar outside our window

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