Aug 14-15, Beijing to Erlian

From Beijing there are two lines that go to Siberia. One goes almost straight North, through Manchuria and Harbin. The other goes more West, towards Mongolia and Ulaan Baatar (Ulan Bator). I took the one that goes to Mongolia. My first stop was at Sainshand, Mongolia, the capital of Dorngobi province, at the edge of the Gobi desert. The entire trip from Beijing to Sainshand took about 21.5 hours, including several hours at the border.

The trip begins at Beijing main train station, one of three train stations in Beijing, and I assume the oldest -- the fast trains go to the other stations.

This train goes to Ulaan Baatar.

In the last picture above, you can see two spellings in Cyrillic, Ulaan Baatar and Ulan Bator.

Soon after leaving Beijing, the train goes through the mountains that the Great Wall runs through. My guidebook claims it is possible to see the Great Wall from the train, but I did not see it. I find the mountains beautiful on their own, even without seeing the Great Wall.

Part of the rail route is along the San Gan river.

We had a brief stop in Shacheng.

On the West side of the mountains, the ground is already drier. There are many fields of corn (maize), with occasional sunflowers interplanted.

We passed a couple of power plants. Although I have seen this style of cooling towers on nuclear power plants in Switzerland, the tall smokestacks suggests to me that this might be a coal-fired plant.

Since I was riding an electric train, I was directly benefiting from this power plant. However, the pollution was quite noticeable, reminding me of the feeling I had years ago whenever I landed in New York, instant sore throat.

We passed South Zhang Jia Kou.

The pollution got worse, and more visible. This is what Pittsburgh must have been like before the steel industry moved to Japan and then here to China. I believe this is Datong, a city with a distinguished history. Datong is now very developed with an industrial base centered around coal.

Past Datong, the views from the window are often interesting.

I can actually read all the characters on this gas station. The first is "middle", the second is "kingdom" -- in Chinese, China is still the "middle kingdom". The third character means rock, and the fourth means oil. So, China petroleum...

There was a strange sculpture or set of buildings in the distance.

This is South Jining. The sky is beginning to clear. The vertical script at the top looks like old Mongolian script.

There is a lake in the distance.

But the vegetation appears to be much drier in places.

Fairly modern brick houses grouped into "villages" such as these are fairly common. I can imagine that some central planning went into their development.

In contrast, this one train station had a distinctive architecture.

Around sunset, we saw some wind power generators. The sunset was very nice.

After dark, we got to the Erlian, the stop on the Chinese side of the China-Mongolia border. China uses the same train gauge (distance between the two rails) as Europe, 1435mm, but Russia and Mongolia use a different gauge, 1520mm. So, the same wheels that run on Chinese tracks cannot run on Mongolian tracks. The solution is, during the Chinese border check, the passenger cars are lifted off their bogeys (the sets of wheels), and lowered onto a different set of bogeys. This happens in Erlian.

The train cars are lifted by the big orange hydraulic jacks. The lifting is very slow and gentle, and without paying attention, it is impossible to detect from inside the car.

On the other hand, to get us to the place where the jacks were and back, there was a lot of shuffling on tracks, and a lot of bumps to our cars.

While the train is in the station, the toilets are locked, because there are no holding tanks. While the cars are lifted, the doors are locked, and there is no getting in or out of the train!!