Trans-Mongolian; it’s right down my street.

by Ant Stone on July 8, 2007

in Mongolia,Russia,Trans-Mongolian Railway

Dumdum-De-DUM, dumdum-De-DUM, dumdum-De-DUM. It took me the whole 5 days from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar, to decide how I would portray the drum of the Trans-Mongolian train I alighted this morning. Say it with me, dumdum-De-DUM, softer, dumdum-De-DUM, emphasise the capitals dumdum, De-DUM, one-two, three-four, dumdum-De-DUM. Never has a journey left me so relaxed. To my right are a set of antelope horns, the hostel foyet is filled with lounge music and all I want to do is hug the keyboard, close my eyes and drift off to dreams of faraway places. Dumdum-De-DUM.

It would be nigh on impossible to capture the rolling landscapes, the trivial pleasures and the romantic motion of my Siberian journey in words, even pictures would fail to bring the episode to life. At 7:30am this morning I hauled my backpack off carriage 6 and said goodbye to a smörgåsbord of new friends. In the 5 day spell aboard the Trans-Mongolian route, the train and it’s cattle underwent a mystical transformation. The sturdy carriages gradually lost the raw intrigue and a network formed, that I can only liken to one of a small village. My immediate neighbours consisted of 2 Swedish and 2 Dutch to one side and 4 Italians to the other while my housemates took the form of Austrians, Tony & Eveline and Erdenebaatar of Mongolia (seemingly the only Mongol in the village). Life it seemed, couldn’t be better.

At the top of the street lived Lancastrians, Gavin and Les and together with our extended community we rolled through 29 stations, exchanging jokes and learning about our different quirks, cultures and goals. The social highlights of the day were pulling up at a station and alighting to stretch our legs, maybe meeting a new neighbour and watching with admiration as the network filtered out and undertook their desired task. Along the daytime stations, there were usually 10 or so local ladies selling their produce; dried fish, beer, bread, fruit, ramin noodles etc, which meant there was always a feast to be had with my housemates when we returned to our home in the period after.

It’s hard to fathom where time went, for one I still shun the opportunity to join the watch-wearing masses. Days were candidly filled with long breakfasts, followed by a stroll down to the local cafe, where Victor would afford us a scowl and a few slams upon the table should we dare request a top up. We new he laughed inside. Following the morning coffee, I took pleasure in hanging out by an open window, just watching the world roll consistently by. Dumdum-De-DUM.

There was a phenomenon occurring upon Train 4, time outside was quite obviously changing but time within it’s steel frame, curiously remained the same. I slept when I was tired, ate when I was hungry and drank whenever I felt like it. A little too often, perhaps, as I nursed my pounding head under the sheet seemingly missing the “best station along route”, according to Eveline. One day I popped down the street to Gav’s place, purely to discuss topics of choice over a game or two of chess. Another day I chose to stay in my home for a few hours, making sign language with Erdenebaatar and Tony over a bottle of exceedingly strong vodka, while enjoying some Mongolian pop music on his laptop. Overtime Tony, Eveline and I became accustomed with the national sport of the Trans-Siberian, ‘hunting’. To those outside of the Trans-Mongolian world, this was simply taking photos, but with Tony’s colourful spin on the English language bringing a whole new slant to it. As with all good neighbours, I saved farts for the first-class carriage and always opened our, freshly smelling home to passing strangers.

Along the route I battled with three dilemmas. The first being the feeling of “oh go on, you’re on holiday” while I removed the 5th Marlborough Light of the day from it’s cardboard casket. I’m not sure I can compare a 2 year jaunt to a holiday, on the subject of vices at least. The second dilemma being the urge to take photos at every opportunity. I always fall into this trap, and I’m glad I nipped this one in the bud early. I find much more pleasure in selfishly keeping moments to myself, while only capturing a premium selection of what a scenario had to offer. The third dilemma was my realisation of failing to register my Russian visa in Moscow, this is an old Communist hang up, but a rule all the same. Aboard the train, there was nothing I could do but bury the dilemma to the back of my head and await my fate at the border town, Sukhbaatar. Ironically my meal at Sukhbaatar was the quintessential last supper; one of dried fish, bread and water. We made jokes to lighten the mood, and it was with a hearty sigh of relief that I took back my passport from the overtly stern official. Mongolia, here I come.

Arriving in Ulaanbaatar today, I reminisced over the reasons for my coming here. Initially it had been purely a wind up to a former girlfriend, Laura. I knew she’d never consider Mongolia in our feeble attempts to plan a duel RTW trip, but as I stubbornly argued it’s case against the backpacking heavyweights of Australia and Thailand I became intrigued. Sitting here now, paints a Gobi Glow upon my face that even Genghis Kahn would struggle to eradicate.

This week is the Naadam Festival, my primary goal along The Trail while all other time will be spent absorbing the Mongolian culture while looking forward, and planning my next destination, China. But before then, I’ll grab a coffee, light up a Marlborough and reflect upon my first week along The Trail while humming it’s inevitable theme tune; “dumdum-De-DUM, dumdum-De-DUM, dumdum-De-DUM”.


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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Mum & Dad July 8, 2007 at 9:06 pm

Hi Tweedle Dumdum-De-Dum. Pleased to hear you have arrived in Mongolia OK. The train journey sounds as though it has really helped you get into the right travel mood. We are jealous already as we are experiencing nothing but rain, rain rain here and its cold as well. Take care xx

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simon p July 9, 2007 at 4:36 pm

So where are you now then monsieur?

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Ant July 10, 2007 at 4:53 am

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia… I update the map in the top right of the site each time I arrive somewhere new ;)

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Lesley July 10, 2007 at 8:21 am

Lesley
Hi there Ant, I’m still following the trail. Wish I was twenty again I would have gone with you. Keep safe. See you for Xmas in two years.

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