THE TRANS MONGOLIAN EXPRESS: FROM BEIJING TO ULAN BATAR
Ok, just a warning. As you read about the next bit of the journey, you are going to notice that the pictures of me feature an increasingly scary moustache which makes me look like a porn star c1972.
It is my own fault and the result of a competition for which I was the instigator.
More of this later, but I did want to warn you.
The Sunday morning after the end of my China tour was a bit, as I mentioned before, strange.
I was no longer with one group but had not yet met up with the next and so had time to kill on my own. Or, in this case with my chum, Jackie Tang who had led the China trip for us and offered on her day off to show me around some of the markets of Beijing and introduce me to the some of the myriad of street foods on offer including the much lauded Juanbing.
In effect, a crepe type snack that involves batter, eggs, sunflower seeds, chilli and a slice of deep fried dough.
It is a pretty hefty snack and, for all of about 50p, enough to keep most normal people full for one day or me until lunchtime when I headed back to gourmet st and to pick up some Olympic type pressies for my neice and Nephew back home.
I used the next couple of days to catch up on my writing and, by the Sunday was ready to meet up with my new travelling companions for the trip to Mongolia and from there on to Russia.
It is an odd feeling moving from one group of people to another. Dynamics change and so do the personalities. You just get to the point of being comfortable with one lot of people and then they leave, probably never to be seen again, to be replaced by another group who you will get to know incredibly well, primarily due to the close proximity, knowing that they will disappear too.
Still, this small group of about ten people seemed harmless enough and, as it turned out, perfect companions for the long, long journey
First up though, yet another supper of roast duck Beijing style. This was my third of the time in Beijing, but for most of the group, having just arrived from overseas, it was the first and only chance they would get to try it. I did not mind and, as it turned out, this was the best of the lot.
Li Qun is legendary and, situated deep in a Huetong, it has been visited by many foreign dignitaries whose pictures adorn the walls of the small restaurant. Well worth a visit.
The next day, while the others did some of the tourist stuff that I had already done, I spent most of the day napping and then preparing for the horrors of yet more train journeys.
The first leg of the trip was from Beijing to Ulan Baatar. It was, by the standards of the rest of our trip, a pretty short hop, being a mere thirty seven hours, however, much of it was taken up by sitting at a standstill as we waited to cross from China into Mongolia.
Given the horrors of my previous train journeys, this one actually turned out to be much easier. The trains, although Chinese run, were more comfortable and our four berth cabins were clean, if not spacious. Much of the time was spent playing cards, drinking copious amounts of beer and getting to know my companions a little bit better. Although, I am pretty sure I crossed the line when I told them that I prefer to sleep “unburdened”
The first long stop came at the Chinese border where we were asked to leave the train and wait in a holding station until our departure documents had been checked. Then, back on board the train to the Mongolian border where our visas for that country were checked again before we were finally clear to try and get a few hours sleep
I awoke in the middle of a coughing fit and slunk out of the cabin trying not to wake my friends only to find that the entire carriage was filled with dust, the obvious source of my discomfort.
We were, of course, heading through The Gobi Desert.
The dust clouds were so heavy that, despite all the windows being shut and the doors closed, the small corridor had filled with a sand cloud which coated the train and all of us in its wake.
I trudged to the tiny bathroom with its cold & cold running water and managed to give myself a bit of a clean just in time for me to join my companions who were heading down to the dining car to avail ourselves of a meal provided courtesy of Mongolian Railways.
Unfortunately, we were late getting down there and most of the food was gone which resulted in us being presented with two meatballs each along side a plate of lettuce. I was hungry as a dog so, I am not ashamed to say that I actually ate them.
A few hours later and after a few stops along the way, we arrived in Ulan Batar, the capital of Mongolia which turned out to be one of the most amazing places on the whole trip to date.
But, more of that later