Silk road train

As our group had become lazy writers, I asked everyone to write some 5 sentences about our journey from Almaty to Urumqi. I got many sentences, not so many facts, and most of them all were about our time on Kazakhstan/China border, so there will a separate post dedicated to the funny border crossing. But for now – about the Silk road train “Zhibek zholy”.

It was quite late when we entered the train, but who would have known that the caption “Alamutu – Wulumuqi” on the side of the train standing on 1st tracks, means that this is the train to Urumqi. Again, we had booked places in 2 adjacent kupes, but this time they were a little bit different from each other. Each of them had violet clothes-hangers, but in the boy’s kupe each of them had a “pretty” ribbon. There was a little fight to get a hanger with a ribbon, and finally the boys were so kind to change their hangers to ours :D. We put down our bags and stepped out to take a photo, with the hangers, of course.

Pretty hangers Silk road train kupe

The train and the compartments were clean, white and somewhat “sterile”. Every kupe had two thermoses with drinking water (the previous train had drinking water tap in the corridor, however, we drank mostly boiled water after cooling it down in a glass bottle, placed in Everita’s sneaker to not fall apart). Electricity sockets were under the table in each kupe, there were more than 1 and not all the same, but I don’t remember neither how many exactly nor what types. There was a Chinese style (squat) toilet in one end of the wagon, a normal toilet in the other. Also in this train there was a big place for our things over the corridor. We kept there many things including bed linen in day time and among them the melon which had been carried around in Almaty and turned out to be the only piece of fruit to survive till China. Beds were much harder than in the train before, but we slept very well after the long day in Almaty.

Next day I woke up to see a nice scenery outside the window. There was a nice, blue lake behind a meadow and it was still there some hours later. Apparently a very big lake. Here and there were some village or  Muslim cemetery. The landscape of eastern Kazakhstan was very beautiful and none of the pictures taken through the dirty train windows made it justice.

Big lake Mountains Green green grass Rain

It was very quiet in the train. While in the train before everyone was keeping the doors of their kupes open and visiting other people in the train, even unknown people, here most doors were closed and there were no people chatting in corridor. We kept our doors open mostly and sometimes tried to shut the curtains of the windows in the corridor so that there was less Sun shining into eyes. Though the carriage attendant walked through the carriage time after time and always opened them if it was light outside and always shut them if it was dark. He seemed to be a very patient person as he never tried to say anything to us, when we opened the curtains uncountable times in the evening.

Train to Almaty: 2nd day

Continued – based on Emīls notes.

July 11

The morning starts with words “приготовите паспорт” which means “get the passport ready”. The fact that we crossed border to Kazakhstan yesterday doesn’t mean that we can put our passports away till Almaty. The train has an interesting route – it crosses the Russia/Kazakhstan border 3 times as you can see from the map in the 1st page of our site. It could be because of former Soviet Union and common railroads to Russia and Kazakhstan at that time. Though double entry visa is NOT needed for either country. People in both embassies informed us that they think we will need double entry visa when we wanted to check whether the information on internet about not needing double one is right. But it appeared that our visas were already processed at that time, so we couldn’t change entry times and got single entry visas. There were no questions on the 2nd or 3rd border crossing.

After the 2nd border it is still morning so most of us go back to sleep. When we finally get up, the train has a stop and there is no possibility to go to toilet, so someone of us has to contain himself till we are moving again. Toilets are closed before stops, because everything from there goes directly to ground under train and it’s not clever to allow it in stops. The train is still late. Outside the window we see “dry” cows (very thin, in a pale brown color) from time to time, first camels, steppe. We play card games, checkers, dices and riču-raču (Latvian version of the board game Ludo)

Dry camel Cemetary Scenery Riču-raču

We stop at some station, I want to go to buy milk in a nearby shop, but our train hasn’t stopped at the 1st platform and between it and the terminal a very long train arrives. Since it won’t be possible to get back on time by going around, I return to our train before my time has come in the queue in the shop. Though Everita and MārtiņšK who have left at the other side get back by walking through the other train. The scenery outside the window stays the same. A beautiful sunset. I finally get to buy milk at some station. MārtiņšM buys yogurt for Kristīne and a bottle of mineral water. First stars, the night has come and the first educational astronomy lessons start. Our train neighbors are also interested. Unfortunately there’s some haze and not a better sight upwards than in Latvia. Or maybe the light ruins everything. The light in corridor, which windows can be opened, is always on in the night. Last year in steppe the visibility of the sky was much better.

Beautiful sunset Star watching class Moon

Me, Emīls and MārtiņšM watch and take photographs of Moon and Jupiter from the corridor of the train. Others are already asleep. We go past Aral sea but as it is about 100km away, we can see nothing except some salt fields which in night are a bit lighter than the rest of the ground. The morning comes, it gets lighter. Venus and Mars can be seen in the Twins constellation from the window of our kupe. Also MārtiņšM and Emīls sleep when I finally go to bed to wait for Tjuratam station (closest to the Baikonur cosmodrome) there (with the alarm clock on). Last year I was sleeping in the car when we went by it. This year I want at least to look at that direction. There’s not much that can be seen – just rails that suddenly split away to north and some satellite receivers in form of big dishes. Still I feel happy. The sun is rising, I wake up Emīls for that sight and after the sunrise finally go to sleep.