On To Mongolia, Trans Mongolian Train Travel
The Trans Mongolian train from Beijing to Ulan Bataar, Mongolia takes 31 hours. It is not a grueling trip but it has some unique elements. Traversing north and west of Beijing it follows the mountainous area that embeds the Great Wall of China for some breath taking landscapes. If you are not watching the scenery you might be entertained by inside carriage life. Chinese men do not like to wear many clothes on the train (even in second class); at least they take most of their clothes off as soon as they board in Beijing. They don’t wait to let the cosmopolitan aura of an international city gradually wear off. They immediately start stripping down to boxers only. May be this is more of a hot weather thing. After all, it was 35 C.
Another interesting and probably unique event is the replacement of all of the wheels on each carriage with narrower ones (“bogie change”). Yes, that is, the wheels of every carriage must be replaced as the width of the rails in Mongolia and Russia (Russian gauge) is about 3 inches narrower than the standard gauge of Chinese rails. Train aficionados know all this stuff to the millimetre. After a hot day on the train with fans blowing at top speed, the traveler at the China - Mongolia border whiles away several evening hours waiting for customs clearance, shopping at the only grocery store along the entire line and waiting for the bogies to be changed in the rail shed. Anyone who happens to be on the train at bogie change time, goes off to the shed too, under full lock down. Upon recovery of the sinking sensation that the train has left you in Erlan, China, you just might wait out your time over another 750 ml of beer in the welcome evening air watching the customs officers beating away at their computers over your documentation. Don't board the train without relieving yourself as your only point of relief on the train has been locked up solid. Every one of them. And the rail officials don’t take kindly to any begging to open them up until everyone has their papers back, the train brake is released and on to Mongolia...