There’s only one train a week from Beijing to Mongolia, and I very nearly missed it. After a night out drinking with John & Macro and a half-hearted idea to stay up all night I finally fell asleep at 5am, woke at 6am when my alarm went off, fell asleep again, was woken by John at 6.50, sprinted with my backpack for 10 minutes, sat fretting in a taxi in traffic for another ten, then just about made it onto the train and slept until 2pm.
The other people in my compartment were the owner and head chef of the first Irish pub in Mongolia, and another guy. The manager spoke a little English, which was good as my Mongolian really isn’t up to much. At midnight we were taken into a shunting yard at the border, where the lower part of the train was reassembled for about three hours because Mongolian train tracks are a few inches wider than Chinese ones. The next morning we crossed the other half of the Gobi Desert. At one point we went through a sandstorm and had to hold tissues over our faces.
Two of the three other people in my compartment, having breakfast.
Water-selling women at a small station.
We arrived in Ulan Bator at about 1pm on Sunday, and I’ve been here since. It’s a strange little place – sandy, dry and lacking any plantlife whatsoever. The “development” that marks out Chinese cities just doesn’t seem to have reached this far. There are a couple of streets with bars and restaurants, but away from these this does indeed seem like the middle of nowhere. The Mongolians themselves are supposed to be “ethnically Asian but culturally European.” I’d narrow that down to culturally Slavic, or perhaps even Russian. I like Slavs though, on the whole, and the people I’ve met have been friendly and pleasant, except the taxi driver who ripped me off and the second taxi driver who tried and failed to rip me off.
As far as “things to see” go, there really aren’t that many, and a lot seem to be closed anyway. There are some decent buddhist temples, though, all with a “sex and death” theme that is more interesting than burning some incense any day. The one I went to this morning was opened up especially for me, as at 10.30am I was the first visitor of the day, and possibly week.
It was actually very cool.
This is a Buddhist university at the end of the road. It’s a shame I wasn’t allowed to take a photo of the gigantic golden buddha that fills this building to the roof.
The Main Square. On the other two sides a dusty road and a building site.
I should be on the train to Irkutsk in Russia this time tomorrow.