Breakfast in the Gobi

Some random thoughts and observations during a 36 hour run from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar–over the mountains, across the grasslands, and through the Gobi Desert:

Train sign (Small)

  • We enjoyed the 'old school' Chinese train — a green one with windows that opened and a noisy fan in the compartment. Haven't been on one of those in years.
  • Traveling with the windows open was a treat, except for the fact that within an hour there was a layer of dirt on everything.  By the time we actually reached the Gobi, we did, of course have to close the windows.
  • Wondered about the economics of a ten-car train running 1000 miles with only 80 passengers.  It was nice for us, of course, since it meant we got a compartment to ourselves.
  • We went through 60 tunnels in the mountains just to the west of Beijing.  Sixty–in the space of about one hour!
  • At the Chinese border town of Er Lian, we were serenaded by "Brahms Greatest Hits" wafting over the loudspeaker. Very strange. 
  • At the border the wheels of the train had be changed to accommodate the different gauge of the Mongolian tracks. We stayed on board while the cars were pulled into a shed, hoisted into the air, and the wheels changed.  Quite the process. Here's the question I was pondering as our train was suspended 6 feet off the ground in the middle of the Gobi in the middle of the night:  If you were Mongolian, would you want China to be able send its trains trundling into Mongolia unimpeded?
  • The staff and crew of the train were super.  Just super.
  • At the border they also changed dining cars — health and sanitation laws don't allow them to cross, I guess.  The Mongolian dining car was all decked out in the style of a traditional Mongolian ger (yurt).  Very classy.
  • We spent about 8 hours crossing the Gobi Desert (a section of it), which is the source of Beijing sandstorms.  There is no hope!
  • The last two hours were spent ascending a small mountain range, then down the other side into Ulaanbaatar. The scenery was gorgeous. 

Dining car (Small)
The Mongolian dining car.

On a bend (Small)
Descending towards Ulaanbaatar.