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Time flies on a Mongolian train

By JERICK AGUILAR

I used to ride a lot of trains when I was a PhD student in the United Kingdom. Over there, the fastest (and obviously most expensive) way to get from one city to the next is by rail. I was studying in Bath and it normally takes four hours by bus to go to London to spend the weekend, whereas the trip is cut short to only an hour and a half by train. Before the advent of Easy Jet and Ryan Air, Europe’s leading low cost airlines, the train was also the best way to travel all over this continent. I remember traveling from Paris, France to Vienna, Austria which would have taken a little more than seven hours by train; but I broke down this trip by visiting Zurich, Switzerland and then Munich, Germany along the way – so I was only on the train for about three hours each way.
In other words, I get too impatient and restless seated on a bus and train for more than two hours. If my budget permits and an actual airport exists, I usually take the plane to travel to an exciting destination. So when I found out, here in Mongolia, that the only way to get to Sainshand from Ulaanbaatar is by train and that the trip takes around 11 hours, I nearly decided to forego this trip last weekend. But the World Energy Center, around 40 kilometers from that city, was beckoning and calling me. My Mongolian students and friends have told me a lot about it – that it is the place where positive energy emanates from the core of the earth and whoever goes there is said to be “magnetized” and starts attracting health and wealth.
And so I went. I got on the train in UB before its daily departure at 9.35 am. The night before, I was wondering why the trip to Sainshand takes 11 hours when it is only 456 kilometers southwest of Mongolia’s capital. While living in the United States, I once visited Boston after traveling to New York. The distance between these cities is 348 kilometers and, depending on the number of stops, the train ride lasts from three to five hours. Of course, trains in America are more modern and, hence, faster; but I was still asking myself how going to one place that is only 1.3 times farther takes about three times longer. As soon as the train moved, I knew the answer right away. I reckoned its speed to be only 30 to 40 kilometers per hour and it was stopping at each stop almost every 15 minutes.
During the first 30 minutes on the train, I became worried as to how I would “survive” that trip. I brought only one book with me with the last chapter left to read. My old MP3 player only lasts for two to three hours. I am already bored with the games on my smartphone. The cellular network signal was on and, more often than not, off; so I could not spend a long time talking to a friend or two. And the train ride was during the day so I knew that I would not be able to kill most of the time by sleeping. ‘Twas good that I was with a Mongolian colleague and friend who started chatting with me, but she was also with her son and niece who do not speak English – so she could not give me all of the attention that I thought I needed to forget the long time I was going to be on that train.
After the 31st minute, however, my mindset changed – not because I convinced myself to, but due to what I began to observe. For one thing, my travel buddies and I were assigned to an “open” cabin – a room for four on one side of the train, which is opposite the seats for two more passengers on the other side that transform to a bed (with the second one above it). There is no wall separating “us” and “them,” so it seemed like it was the six of us traveling together. Cabins with the same configuration are adjacent to each other and there are no doors that separate them either. In short, passengers were coming and going. There was no privacy as I saw people passing by and they saw me – especially since our cabin was in the middle of the carriage with the male and female toilets on both ends.
How it was such a delight to see people smile as they passed me by. They were not only smiling at me probably because I am a foreigner, but they were also smiling at everybody else – like everyone was excited to be traveling and getting to his or her own destination. I especially loved it when random children would pass by with their cute faces and colorful clothes. There was even this child who spent a few minutes with us in our room dancing “Gangnam Style,” cheered on by his parents who comfortably sat beside me. Then it was my turn to walk along the inside of the carriage, too, and there I saw several groups of passengers either playing cards, telling each other stories, laughing at jokes, or drinking vodka. When I got back to my cabin, I could still hear them having fun and enjoying every minute of the trip.
How I was also wrong to think that it was bad to travel by train for that long a ride during the day. Otherwise, I would not have been able to marvel at Mongolia’s rural panorama – no houses, no buildings, no trees – just an endless expanse of land for the most part of the ride. There were a few times when I would catch a glimpse of cattle as well as wild horses. There would also be the occasional gers that dot the sometimes flat, sometimes mountainous landscape. It really helped that there are no walls in the carriage that divide the four-passenger cabin on one side and the two seats on the other. Thus, I was looking through the windows on my left and on my right as the train slowly but surely moved to its final destination of Sainshand.
Sooner rather than later, we arrived at the capital of Dornogovi Province. With the interesting people and the captivating sights I had seen for the whole duration of the ride (well, I had taken a nap or two along the way), time flew very fast on that Mongolian train. Coming back to UB, I was quite disappointed that it was on the only regular overnight schedule. The train left Sainshand at exactly 9 pm so, expectedly, most of the passengers hit the sack an hour or so afterwards and so did I. I set my alarm to 6 am so that I could at least enjoy the remaining two hours and five minutes of the trip looking out the windows and observing the people who had already woken up. I want to ride a train in Mongolia again, and my next destination is another 11-hour trip to Erdenet.

Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=4454

Posted by on Jun 13 2013. Filed under Community. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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