Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Saturday 5th October - Ulan Ude and the Mongolian Border

After last night's interrupted sleep and early rise for Lake Baikal, we're tempted back to bed for a couple more hours kip. From the cosiness of bed we witness the last few villages of eastern Siberia on out way to the Mongolian border. Stereotypes are fulfilled - In this photo you can see two older men, both completely blotto, utterly shit-faced on moon shine, falling over each other whilst fighting and arguing about nothing at all. A moment of hilarious tragi-comedy:

In the same settlement of perhaps fifteen houses, and a hundred yards further on, a woman is burning rubbish on a bonfire:

From here on in the landscape begins to change. The close birch and fir forests of the last 5000km begin to open up and we can now see further into the land as the trees fall away. 

Ulan-Ude is the last Russian city before the border, it's a sizeable place, population ~350,000 and is apparently quite pleasant, though with a huge smoke-belching factory at it's centre, I find that difficult to believe. The station is painted the classic Siberian aqua-marine and we stop here for 20 mins to pick up passengers and buy food and booze to ease us through the apprehension of tonight's border crossing.

After leaving Ulan Ude, the train climbs above the river and you get a good view back across the city and its suburbs.

Before exiting Russia, we have a 150min stop at Naushki. It's now dark and the rain-caped Russian border control officers join the train and take our passports. The train rocks and rolls at this station for a couple of hours as the platform lights illuminate the sleet and snow outside. During this time our beloved restaurant/bar car is detached, never to be seen again. Eventually, our papers are returned with the immigration slips removed. So far so good, we've technically left Russia but not yet crossed the border. We then roll through no-man's land for a few kilometres before pulling into Suhe Bator home of the Mongolian immigration police. In our compartments, we welcome several successive guests. First, passports are taken by one officer, then another asks us whether our bags are ours and if we've got more than 10,000 US dollars (or something). Then a sniffer dog and handler walk by, and finally we get our passport photos checked against our real faces before they're returned to us.. We're now in Mongolia, it's past 2am and time for a bit of sleep before our early arrival in UB.

Here, where we would once have been looking back into the restaurant carriage (which was detached at the russian border), now we're looking out of the back of the train from Mongolia towards the eerie Russian border:

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