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Published: August 6th 2007
Our new Mongolian cabin mates
Me, Nico, Anuka, Altai and their lovely mum
The absolute best thing about travelling by train is the fabulous people that you meet. From Ulanbaatar to Beijing we are delighted to find that we are sharing with a Mongolian family - lovely, friendly (and french-speaking!) mum and her 2 gorgeous, smart kids - on their way to met their father who is working in Beijing. We have hours of fun playing with matrushka dolls with Anuka, age 4 and discussing football with Altai, who is 12 and speaks good conversational English - amazing - but unfortunately has something against the French team (crisis avoided by dripfeeding sulking and outraged Nico with spicy noodles and beer). Their mum also speaks some English so we chat away and time passes nicely in our cosy biscuit and laughter-filled cabin as we chug through the seemingly million miles of dusty and desolate Gobi.
Occasionally we pass a few dwellings (gers surrounded by fences or small concrete houses) clustered together at side of the train tracks and surrounded as far as the eye can see by sand and dust, or a bloke on a horse coming from nowhere heading to nowhere, only sand behind and in front. Hard to imagine living this life.
Mongolian train restaurant wagon
Nico staring wistfully at someone elses dinner
In the corridor the train air is heavy with Gobi dust too, not choking but not overly comfortable either so some time in the late afternoon (Moscow time? London time? Mongolia time? our alarmclock random time?) we head down to the restaurant wagon for coldish drinks and some lunch while we're at it. This one is the best yet, all done up in ornately carved wood and decorated with Mongolian leather hats and crossbows. V nice. Food is fried rice for me and pork/chicken which turns out to be mutton for Nico. Yum.
The border crossing is very smooth and quick - only a couple of hours which is not much considering the whole train with us in it has to be lifted up and levitated while the underneath is changed from a Russian/Mongolian sized frame to a Chinese sized frame. Madness! By way of entertainment an origami session kicks off, with Altai producing a very respectable penguin which makes several impressive flights up and down the corridor on the back of Nico's excellent paper airplane and Anuka coming up with a cool train complete with windows and drawings of us looking out. Sadly my long-awaited paper snowflake didn't
really get off the ground and had to be supressed in a ball of crumpled shame. D'oh.
Good night's sleep, wake up to eggs and bread for breakfast and first glimpses of daylight China. Green fields, distant mountains, men and women on bicycles and farmers working oxen through their crops. It's so totally different from Mongolia and Altai, seeing China for the first time, is very impressed, as are we. As we creep closer to Beijing we enter an area of steep cliffs with rivers snaking through them and the train passes through many tunnels. This allows for endless games and much shrieking and laughing with the kids. Hours of fun! Their mum wisely hides out in another cabin and leaves us children to it 😊
Next thing we know we are saying our goodbyes to the lovely family and tumbling onto the platform in Beijing - a whole new language, culture, world. Yeehaa!!
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