I thought twice about showcasing today’s video montage. It features the world famous railway route, the Trans-Mongolian. Many people don’t realise, but the Trans-Siberian Railway is actually made up of a few different lines, of which the Trans-Mongolian is one.
Other options include the Trans-Manchurian line, which slopes off to Beijing and the Trans-Mongolian line, which hooks down to — you guessed it — Mongolia.
The Trans-Mongolian Railway
The reason I thought twice about posting it, was because the slideshow doesn’t exactly enthuse me. I’ve watched it around ten times, and each time I’ve been distracted by a passing sparrow or the steam rising off my coffee.
However, before I explain my doubting, watch the video.
It’s only around three minutes long, and by the end of it you’ll feel good about your own photography skills…
The Truth About the Trans-Mongolian
Now, the real reason I decided to post it, was that despite it being a little melancholy and rather pointlessly dragging your gaze over the tracks, it’s actually a fairly good representation of the Trans-Mongolian railway.
The Trans-Mongolian railway is boring.
There, I said it.
I’m often asked by readers of TrailofAnts.com — and by my mate’s mothers — what the Trans-Mongolian was like. The question usually goes: “Oh wow! You’ve been on the Trans-Siberian railway, I’ve always wanted to do that, how was it?”
I stare into their wide eyes, and watch their slithery tonsils swing in the dark void of their throat.
“It was good,” I lie. Because it’s the most famous railway route in the world, it should be good. People should want to travel along it.
Review of the Trans-Mongolian Railway
The truth is, I was travelling alone and couldn’t leave the confines of the train for five days straight. It’s so easy to write that: Five days straight. Five days straight.
What were you doing five days ago? Four days ago? Three? Two? Yesterday? If you’re reading this while pulling up to Ulaanbaator, you’ve probably been on a train.
The same train. With the same people. With the same little toilet. With the same miserable restaurant car. With the same pine forest landscapes. With the same thrum of the engine. With the same narrow aisle. With the same dim bed light.
I made the mistake of leaving myself no choice but to undertake the journey in one foul swoop. My final days in England were spent at the Glastonbury Festival in southern England, and I was eager to get to the Naadam Games in Mongolia.
I genuinely love travelling by train, it’s second only to motorbike for my preferred mode of transport. But this was too much.
Tips for the Trans-Mongolian Railway
If you’re thinking of travelling along any of the routes of the Trans-Siberian Railway then I recommend the following:
- Take a friend. It’s natural that you will get to know your cabin-mates, but pleasantries are no substitute for a solid friend, or lover.
- Stop en route. Don’t do what I did. Stop along the way at any number of interesting points. Perhaps you can recommend one in the comments?
- Take a variety of distractions. Laptop and DVDs. Books. Cards and candy. Magazines and mints. iPad, iPods (other MP3 players are available).
Don’t get me wrong. The Trans-Mongolian was one of the most relaxing journeys of my entire life. There was no TV. No internet. No front door. No cooking (or washing up). No chores. Nothing. Nada. Zip.
Just me, and a row of dirty windows.
We stopped occasionally at nondescript stations. I alighted, grabbed an armful of fruits, vegetables, fish and vodka, then clambered back into the Iron Rooster and played swapsies with my cabin-mates.
I accept that the length the Trans-Mongolian is epic by today’s standards.
I can look at a map, and like Ewan and Charley, I can say “I crossed that”. For them, it was one of the most difficult and rewarding journeys of their lives. For me, it was painfully easy.