Photo: Kyle Taylor
Embark on the longest train ride ever, where the journey IS the destination.
THE CLICK-CLACK of wheels on tracks quickly becomes the soundtrack to your railway voyage, as the locomotive chugs steadily in a meandering fashion.
The appeal of this unorthodox escapade – sequestered within the four walls of a little cabin, as scenery flashes past – may be lost on many. But the Trans-Mongolian route on the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway is sure to give travel an epic twist you won’t forget.
Photo: Mike Stenhouse
The busy Beijing Railway Station is where it all begins, a hive of activity for travellers passing through. Stepping aboard the westbound train toward Moscow, the narrow passageway yields, on either end of each car, a communal washroom and a free hot water dispenser for all your instant food and beverage needs.
A wave of claustrophobia may hit as you enter your four-berth ‘hard sleeper’ compartment. With upper and lower beds along each side of the wall and a large window overlooking the vast outdoors, it is time to get acquainted with your homely living quarters for the days to come.
The most precious commodity en route is the uninterrupted headspace the peaceful journey presents, as you watch the world go by through your window, past grassy flowered meadows, lush forests and fleeting glimpses of the Great Wall of China in a distance.
The second day of train life brings you into the southern stretches of Mongolia and the swathes of ochre plains of Gobi Desert. As the flat terrains get tired, recline with headphones and a good paperback to drown out the rumble of the train or the ruckus from the next cabin.
Ulaanbaatar is an exotic stopover for a nomadic adventure into the desert beyond. As the train clambers through Mongolia into the gloomy dusk, the cabins light up with activity as its occupants emerge for an evening dose of vodka over a hearty game of poker and sobering conversation.
There is something magical about the convergence of unlikely friends from around the globe into a railway cabin. One of the most treasured memories will be the human connection with your new travel companions exchanging enrapturing tales of life all over the world.
Awake the next day to the crystalline surface of Lake Baikal unruffled by all but the tendrils of morning mist as the train skirts its watery edges beneath your window. Irkutsk is the gateway to this ‘Pearl of Siberia’, the world’s largest, clearest and deepest lake.
Trek a scenic route along the Great Baikal Trail or try snowmobiling and ice-biking. While dramatically photogenic all year round, it is especially so in winter as streaks of white criss-cross the glassy frozen surface and carve clandestine grottoes in the ice.
From the restaurant car, grab some Russian tea and schnitzels as you drink in the gleaming ripples on the glorious Yenisei River. Entering Siberian landscapes, the flavour of idyllic countryside briefly unfolds before your eyes amid quaint wooden cottages, winding dirt paths and wispy birch trees.
In sharp juxtaposition to the rural comes looming buildings and vivid onion-domed churches, the first hint of Perm city, painted against the backdrop of the silhouetted Ural Mountains.
A spirited metropolis with a wild side to discover, Perm conceals its wintry secret, the mysterious Kungur Ice Caves, within its magnetic river-centric haven, boasting serene catamaran tours and the thrill of whitewater rafting.
With the hubbub of Perm behind you, it is onward into colourful Moscow, Russia’s soulful cultural epicentre, in all of its historical glory. After the digital disconnect on the rails, pulling into Moscow’s imposing Yaroslavski station is like rejoining civilisation, albeit coupled with a tinge of bittersweet wistfulness at journey’s end.
TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILWAY in NUMBERS
87 cities past
16 Russian rivers
8 time zones
7 days aboard
1 phenomenal ride
The painstaking details of your trip, from stopovers and the accompanying separate tickets to compartment type and class, may be best handled for you by a travel agent to cover all bases.