VITAL STATISTICS

Date & Time: 25th August 2007, 10:10am

Location: Train carriage next to remote village in central Mongolia, 1500km from Beijing.

Feeling very happy. The train has stopped at some remote village – by ‘village’ I mean a group of 6 little widely-spaced homesteads, each consisting of a tin-roofed bungalow with up to three yurts behind it, and a large satellite dish. I guess that’s so they can connect to the Tesco website to order their weekly groceries.

I slept well under my Mongolian rug. This, despite the most incredible snoring you have ever heard. It really was incredible, Harold and Barry sounding like they had entire orchestras up their noses. The sound of the train trundling along was incredible soothing though – it hasn’t once gone over about 50mph, but that’s just fine, somehow it fits in with the landscape. An awe-inspiring landscape. Vast, endless stretches of grassland. With not a tree in sight the dusty green is only occasionally interrupted by the appearance of a bunch of grazing horses or an isolated yurt. There’s absolutely no agriculture, it’s far too dry. In fact, rivers don’t feature at all, not even in a dried-up form. I don’t think they’ve ever been here.

I did actually wake up once or twice last night when the train jolted into action after a brief stop: looking out of the window I saw an awesome sight. Such a huge empty landscape, illuminated by the light of the stars – the stars! They were just beautiful. I have so missed them having lived in cities for so long. Out there, there is nothing to mask their beauty.

The sun rises casting a long shadow beside the train

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Horse on the plain

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Very hairy horses on the plain

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This morning Harold and Barry played a few rounds of Mahjong, and then began a nectarine-peeling competition using the box of thirty or so fruits that I bought last night for a pound, and my penknife. There was much laughter as I failed miserably in every attempt to peel a nectarine in one – I blame the movement of the train. They’ve also invited me to stay with them at our destination, a very kind offer that I have turned down due to my booking at the yurt hostel(!).

Barry shows us how it’s done

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A little while ago I was standing in the corridor, camera lens sticking out the window, when I girl in her early twenties approached me and starting talking in Mongolian. I told her that I didn’t understand – did she speak English? No. How about Japanese? I asked, in Japanese, not expecting any intelligible response. On hearing this her face broke into a huge smile, and she replied, in good Japanese, “Yes, I do!”.

It turns out that she’s here with her parents, who in fact I met last night at the Mongolian border town station when her husband, distracted by Pepe the penguin, fell 2 foot off the platform. He was ok, just shaken, and once he’d recovered we had a good sign-language conversation about penguins.

So anyhow, Wurentaogesi (am yet to get the pronunciation right) and I continued to chat, talking about our plans. I told her that I was thinking of going to some place near the capital to ride a horse and things, but that I wasn’t sure exactly where this was. As it happens though, she’s taking her parents to just such a place owned by a friend of hers, 300km East of Ulaanbaatar, and at only £8.50 (transport, meals and horse included) it’s a bargain – would I like to join them? Sounds like a plan to me!

Looking at my schedule, I’m a couple of days behind but this doesn’t really matter, I can still make it to Moscow on time. In fact, the less time I spend in Moscow the better I think, it sounds bloomin expensive!

As the train nears Ulaanbaatar so the number of yurt-centred homesteads increase. A fairly well-used dirt track has appeared by the railway line too – and with more than half an hour until we reach our destination people are already starting to carry their luggage to the vesitible area! After that show at Chinese customs I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised!

The train approaches Ulaanbaatar

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Tatta for now!