Transmongolian ● 8000 km on a train

“Why can’t you visit London, again, for example?”.
I remember the look in my parents’ eyes. Fierce, but disillusioned. They knew nothing could change my mind when in April 2010 I announced that I would cover nearly 8000 kms from Saint Petersburg to Bejing the following September. Means of transport: train. My only company: my Nikon and my rucksack. On those train tracks I saw bright green grass changing into lifeless steppe. I saw eyes growing longer and alphabets transforming from cyrillic into ideograms. Dinners, scarily unknown alcoholic drinks, toilets, coffee sessions, witty tips from provodnizas: everything was shared with Siberians, Mongolians, Chinese, Bulgarians, Dutch and everything made perfect sense, all the way through.

The following episodes are memory and feelings of my Transmongolian experience. Instead of starting up in Moscow, as tradition would impose, I left from Saint Petersburg, even further up north. On the table below, the places in italics are the stations where I got off the train and spent a somehow longer amount of time. Distances are understandably approximate: you lose track of time, and time zones don’t matter anymore. On that train, the idea of space and geographical limitations slips away from your hands. A sort of alien feeling starts creeping in around your 1000th km: your day isn’t regulated by clocks anymore. Something unknown to our Western culture begins to kick in: your biological clock.

If you feel tired, you will sleep, although it’s 11 am. If you are famished, you will eat: nobody will mind if this natural push awakens at 5am. Besides being a gentle stroll among three gigantic cultures, my Transmongolian crossing gave me back a chance to listen to my bones, my eyes, my muscles and my heat beat.

Place Kilometers Country
Saint Petersburg 0 Russia
Moscow – Yaroslavsky vokzal 750 Russia
Petushki 145 (from Moscow) Russia
Vladimir 191 Russia
Nizhny Novgorod 441 Russia
Perm 1434 Russia
Official border between Europe and Asia 1777 Was it still Europe or already Asia?
Yekaterinburg 1814 Russia
Official border between Russia and Siberia 2102 Was it still Russia or already Siberia?
Tyumen 2138 Siberia
Omsk 2716 Siberia
Barabinsk 3035 Siberia
Novosibirsk 3343 Siberia
Krasnoyarsk 4098 Siberia
Irkutsk 5185 Siberia – Lake Baikal
Listvyanka By car Siberia – Lake Baikal
Ulan Ude 5640 Siberia
Naushki / Sükhbaatar 5902 / 5931 Border between Siberia and Mongolia
Ulaan Bataar 6335 Mongolia – when I got kicked in the back
Natural Park Gun Galuut By car Mongolia
Erlian 6780 Border between Mongolia and China
Harbin 7570 China
Bejing / Peking 7700 China

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