17.08.2010

Trans-Siberian Express Part 2: Irkutsk-Wladiwostok

Irtuksk on the Angara River, view from the train departing to Vladivostok

The rain has diminished a little – and yet we are falling a bit from the rain into the gutter. We knew that we would have no first-class car but a compartment with four berths, but only for the two of us. Well it turned out that we have by far the oldest car caught in the entire train. The equipment is spartan and some even borderline. Well, we will survive it.

We sit in the express train No. 8 Novosibirsk to Vladivostok, which runs roughly in the timetable of the No. 2 “Rossiya”. The whole train of 19 (!) cars, of which one baggage car and one dining car consists only of second class cars. As far as I can judge, the train is pretty busy. The larger stations, were it stops, are Ulan-Ude (5647 km), Chita (6204 km), Khabarovsk (8531 km) and Vladivostok (9388 km). Mainly at these stations people get off and on the train. We have found some foreigners, a group of girl scouts from England, an Austrian geography teacher with his family from Ulan-Ude (in the same car as us) and a few other foreigners. Most of the passengers are Russian, many families with children, probably because the trip with the train from Irkutsk to Khabarovsk, for example, at least three full days, is much cheaper than flying.

Therefore here the long-haul rail journey is an alternative.

Baikal, view from the south shore near Sljudianka to north-est

We are fully compensated by the landscape that we pass on this stage: First, the route leads over a high plateau to the southwest to the south shore of Lake Baikal in Sljudianka (5317 km), which the line reaches in loops and curves with a slope of approximately 13 ‰ – apparently the highest gradient of the Trans-Siberian railway – and where I met the first tunnel since Moscow. And this all with good weather, fantastic views of Lake Baikal and the mountains on its shores, is the final touch. The journey to the next stop Ulan-Ude leads along the south bank to the estuary of the Selenga, one of the largest tributaries to the Baikal, which rises in Mongolia, and then following up the Selenga to Ulan-Ude, where the direct route through Mongolia to Beijing branches off to the south, but the Transsib continues its route to the east.

In the further course the line passes through mountainous and hilly landscapes, partly covered by coniferous forest of Scots pine, some Siberian pine (which resembles our Cembran or Stone pine) and, increasingly, Siberian, some with mixed forest, i.e. additional poplars, birches and willows, then sections with almost no forest, pure grasslands alternating with small birch ramandeepsinghlongia.blogspot.in groves (“Eine weisse Birke” … Ivan Rebroff, who does not remember?). One can enjoy the vastness of the landscape until night falls. The villages in this region, in general here in eastern Siberia, consist off the same small houses, as in the areas travelled through since, but seem to me well-kept, maintained better. We see rarely little crooked, ruinous houses. In the larger towns where the train stops, there are just buildings made from prefabricated slabs in various states. Now and again we encounter even beautiful examples of propaganda. Through Chita we pass at night.

On the morning of the third day, the world has changed: fewer coniferous trees, some almost pure deciduous forests. I recognize oak trees, several elms, poplars and birches, of course, but also deciduous trees, which I can not identify from the train. We are obviously here in the East Asian deciduous forest area which occurs in Manchuria (China), Korea and even in eastern Siberia, which belongs to Russia, in the broadest sense in the drainage basin of the Amur. For the time being, the landscape is hilly. The railway line runs partly in large loops to gain height or descend into valleys, e.g. at Oblutschje (8198 km), where a connecting line to the BAM which runs in the north joins the Trans-Siberian railway. Then the area is becoming flatter. Facing south, the Manchurian mountains south of the Amur are visible; The Amur here makes the border between China and Russia. We cross the Amur River on the longest bridge on the Trans-Siberian railway, in Khabarovsk (8531 km) in the late afternoon, where the largest passenger-exchange takes place.

The journey to Vladivostok leads to the south, along the Ussuri River, the border river of China. We do not see the river as long there is daylight. The area is undulating and characterized by water and deciduous forest. In the east, the mountains are sometimes visible, which separate the Ussuri region from the Pacific, in the west the Manchurian mountains. Early in the morning, at 6:33, on time, our train journey from Zurich to Vladivostok ends.

And when you have visited the last Km-post, one is welcomed in front of the nicely restored Youth-style station building.

km-post 9288, Vladivostok

Lenin. Main Station Square, Vladivostok

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