Friday 6th September: Trans-Mongolian – Lake Baikal
My first morning in Russia started with the sun rising over the station of Ulan-Ude, with 5641km to go to Moscow. There is a bite in the air for the first time on the trip and I dig out a jacket for my morning platform amble and even consider some trousers. Ulan-Ude is where I first notice the trains in Russia are all-electric, powered by overhead cables. The stations are all covered in cables and the pylons supporting them.
Today’s main event on the train was to be the views travelling round Lake Baikal, regarded as the best scenery of the trip. Overnight we had moved on from Mongolian grassy steeps and were now in Siberia. Rolling through tree covered hills with occasional wooden houses.
Soon I glimpsed the lake through sliver birch trees, a little misty to start but it soon cleared up giving great views of the dark blue, shimmering lake.
Lake Baikal is the worlds deepest lake and contains about one-fifth of the world’s freshwater. As we skirted round the edge of the lake, it’s obvious the water is incredibly clear.
The railway line runs sometimes within a few meters of the water’s edge offering great views.
After a couple of hours of views the train pulls into the small lake-side town of Slyudyanka for a few minutes.
Once we leave the train heads into the tree-lined hills and drags itself up the steepest part of the route. Near the top you get one more fantastic view, back over the lake and of Slyudyanka.
Trees are the main view out of the window, until we arrive at Irkutsk a major stop-off on the Trans-Siberian. Most people get off either for a few days to explore the lake or just for a stretch and to stock up on supplies from the little shops.
This is where I say goodby to Jun again, plus Eric who was one of those travellers off to explore the lake in more detail I’d got to know. Jun is the lightest packer I have seen. Consider that he is going from Singapore to London, he only had the small backpack pictured.
The views then moved into a mix of forest, farmland, grassland, small villages, and rivers repeated over and over. Broken up every 3 hours or so by a big grey city, each city focused on coal, timber or another heavy industry. I did get to see a big rainbow once the rain started in the late afternoon.
In the evening I hit the Pectopah (Russian restaurant car) for some food and drink with Tracy and Travis an Australian couple travelling from Beijing to Moscow then into Europe.
We marked our first day in Russia with a hearty stew, a couple of beers and a bottle of vodka, ensuring a good night’s sleep.