Saturday, 18 August 2012

Shanghai to London- Part 6

Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) - Nauschk (Russia)
The preceding train departs from Ulaanbaatar
It is dark by the time we arrive at Ulaanbaatar station for train 263 to Irkutsk. There is a train in the platform upon our arrival- it is about to depart so a quick check with the platform staff is made to ensure that w are not in the process of missing our train. ‘Next train’ is the response when I flash my ticket. Sure enough not long after the first train has departed a TEM2 loco appears hauling in the stock for train 263, which runs daily to Irkutsk starting in Ulaanbaatar. Traction for this train, which is much shorter than our last is a single locomotive: M62M-018.

We take our bunks in coach number one and quickly discover that all the other westerners seem to be here also. We are sharing our 4 berth ‘Kupe’ compartment with an Australian couple who area also travelling to England over land- all be it by a different route to us after Moscow. The ‘Intrepid’ tour group whom we met on train K3 are also onboard, along with several other familiar faces. It certainly feels good to be back on the train after two nights staying with Nomads in the Mongolian countryside and having exhausted the entertainment that Ulaanbaatar has to offer.

The train departs as scheduled at 21:10. After settling into our compartment and receiving our sheets for the night we move down to join the ‘party’ in the cabin of the ‘Intrepid’ group. We have a selection of food and a hip flask of Vodka which my friend has brought along- keen to experience the real Russian train experience. The next couple of hours fly by and it is only when we feel we are keeping the rest of the coach up that we retreat to bed. We are all aware that we will have an early wake-up call in the morning by Mongolian border control.
TEM2 6541 will haul our single coach across the border

M62YM-015 keeps me entertained as it shunts around the
yard. Note the high Mongolian exhaust stack which
distinguishes these locos from their sisters in neighbouring
It is around 8am when the knock comes on the door with the obligatory customs forms. This is a pleasant surprise as it had been feared that we would be woken around 5:30am, the time when the train arrived at the border town of Sukbator. In the meantime we have discovered the reason that all the westerners bound for Russia are in coach 1- The rest of the train, along with our locomotive is nowhere to be seen. The single car is now hooked up to a TEM2 locomotive while there is some entertainment in the adjacent yard from another M62 which is shunting. There is also time for a quick toilet break to freshen up (The toilets flush to the track and are therefore shut for long periods when the train is stationary) before the Mongolian customs process begins. Our belief that this would be simpler than the border with China (after all there is no gauge change here) is quickly dispelled. The Mongolian officials spend a long time checking we are who we say we are and even carry out a quick search of our compartment which involves removing a large pile of dirty laundry from one or the passengers bags. While fairly severe these precautions may not be undue as the Mongolian lady in the far compartment seems to have a rather unusual array of possessions which keep appearing hidden in various places. Just a selection of these items include a used car tyre (wrapped), numerous bottles of whisky and what appears to be a lifetime supply of jeans. She is later seen wandering the corridor with a collection of frying pans...
Stunning scenery on the Mongolia- Russia border
 Some while later we eventually leave the border station and begin our journey through ‘no mans land’ to repeat the process on entering Russia. The landscape here is stunning once again, it would strongly resemble the African Savannah if it were not for the semi-frozen rivers running next to the railway.

My first steps on Russian soil- Nauschka station, Siberia
Security here is tough and our single coach train passes numerous lighting gantries, outposts and cameras before arriving at the Russian border at Nauschka. Officials are quick to board the train here and hand our arrival cards. There is much commotion when one of our Australian friends fills out his form incorrectly. Our assumption that he can simply acquire a replacement form seems beyond the realm of reason to the immigration officer and he is left to fill out a rather spoiled form until a more pleasant official relents and produces a clean form for him. The train is searched once again, this time also with dogs, yet the mysterious used tyre still seems to raise no eyebrows!
A monster of a locomotive, Russian 2TE10M-K-3066
is shunting around the yard at Nauschka
With customs finally complete we are free to enter Russia- however the train is not booked to leave the border for a further three hours. This allows us passengers time to sit down to lunch at the local cafe, buy some supplies for the journey ahead and generally pace up and down the platform wearing shorts. Yes- Shorts. It seems this particular April day in Siberia is warmer than had been expected, indeed my first Siberian purchase is an ice cream!
Our lonely coach has made it across and is now shunted by TE18 218

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