search.noResults

search.searching

dataCollection.invalidEmail
note.createNoteMessage

search.noResults

search.searching

orderForm.title

orderForm.productCode
orderForm.description
orderForm.quantity
orderForm.itemPrice
orderForm.price
orderForm.totalPrice
orderForm.deliveryDetails.billingAddress
orderForm.deliveryDetails.deliveryAddress
orderForm.noItems
SMART TRAVELLER


NOTES FROM AN AUTHOR // MATTHEW WOODWARD SIBERIA


Crossing one of the world’s remotest borders by train proves to be a challenging experience — not least when faced with a language barrier


A


ſter waiting around for several hours in a snug cafe at the Russian frontier station of Zabaikalsk, Sergei, the


provodnik (guard) for my carriage appears from the icy platform and insists I get back on our train immediately. He’s changed into his full-dress uniform and is also now wearing punishingly strong aſtershave. On the table in my compartment I find a small pile of forms to complete in preparation for the border. This all makes me wonder quite what sort of a crossing it’s going to be. You have to be a relaxed kind of person


to not feel a mild sense of anxiety at an international border. Of course, you know the purpose of your travel is legitimate and that your papers are in order, but at the back of your mind, there’s a lingering self- doubt that you might look a bit suspicious. In fact, you feel that you might look even more guilty by trying not to look guilty. The Russian officer who visits my


compartment takes a lot of time examining my passport. She looks closely at me for some time, saying absolutely nothing, as if waiting for me to crack under the pressure of the silence. She stares right into my very soul while tapping my passport in one hand and considering what to do with me. Conferring with a colleague, they talk about me at some length in the corridor. She returns and points at the photo page. “Wrong date,” she says. Does she think it’s a forgery? Perhaps I’m going nowhere today, stuck between the regions of Siberia and Manchuria in the depths of the winter. Sergei is conspicuous by his absence, and


without his translation services, I speak slowly and slightly loudly. The officers look at each other like I’m talking gibberish and decide to seek advice from a higher authority on how to deal with the man in carriage four with a counterfeit passport. They return with reinforcements. Rather worryingly, some carry assault weapons and they also now have a large dog, which clearly isn’t a pet. The best English speaker in the unit translates my explanations. They look at me like it can’t be true that I have a passport valid for more than 10 years, but eventually concede that it might be possible, just that they’ve never seen


The Russian officer who


visits my compartment takes a lot of time examining my passport. She looks closely


at me for some time, saying absolutely nothing, as if


waiting for me to crack under the pressure of the silence


one before. It takes more than an hour to sort things out, but eventually, it’s stamped and returned. Five hours aſter we arrived at Zabaikalsk,


the Vostok trundles out of the station, complete with its new narrower-gauge bogies (transport trailers). It’s getting dark and I turn the lights out so I can see better outside, to find out what happens where Russia meets China. The Chinese like to make a statement


with their borders: in the distance are the colourful bright lights of Manzhouli with its big business hotels, casinos and concrete follies. As my eyes adjust, I notice the cameras. Hundreds of them, pointing in all directions. Cameras looking at cameras. Even cameras angled to look directly into the carriages of our train. Soldiers are standing to attention in little sentry boxes. Then no buildings; just fences, more cameras and searchlights. This must be no man’s land. On the opposite line, a train arrives with a fresh delegation of officials who climb on board our train in small detachments. When the officer who appears at the door of my compartment sees my British passport, he briefly admires the Christmas decorations I’ve hung up before wishing me a “Happy New Year!” with a warm smile and a vigorous handshake. Life would be rather dull if everything


went smoothly all the time. And this is especially true when you’re travelling. I’ve taught myself to use the time to talk to people. Conversation with fellow passengers is an essential part of any rail adventure and there’s always a shared bond from the train border experience. You might only have a few words in common, but a smile (and sometimes a bottle of vodka) oſten reveals more of life than you might imagine. You meet incredible people on trains. Sometimes a little crazy, but always memorable.


The Railway to Heaven: From the UK to Tibet on the longest and highest railways in the world by Matthew Woodward is published by Lanna Hall, RRP £8.95 @ontherails


May/Jun 2020 35


ILLUSTRATION: JACQUI OAKLEY


Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68  |  Page 69  |  Page 70  |  Page 71  |  Page 72  |  Page 73  |  Page 74  |  Page 75  |  Page 76  |  Page 77  |  Page 78  |  Page 79  |  Page 80  |  Page 81  |  Page 82  |  Page 83  |  Page 84  |  Page 85  |  Page 86  |  Page 87  |  Page 88  |  Page 89  |  Page 90  |  Page 91  |  Page 92  |  Page 93  |  Page 94  |  Page 95  |  Page 96  |  Page 97  |  Page 98  |  Page 99  |  Page 100  |  Page 101  |  Page 102  |  Page 103  |  Page 104  |  Page 105  |  Page 106  |  Page 107  |  Page 108  |  Page 109  |  Page 110  |  Page 111  |  Page 112  |  Page 113  |  Page 114  |  Page 115  |  Page 116  |  Page 117  |  Page 118  |  Page 119  |  Page 120  |  Page 121  |  Page 122  |  Page 123  |  Page 124  |  Page 125  |  Page 126  |  Page 127  |  Page 128  |  Page 129  |  Page 130  |  Page 131  |  Page 132  |  Page 133  |  Page 134  |  Page 135  |  Page 136  |  Page 137  |  Page 138  |  Page 139  |  Page 140  |  Page 141  |  Page 142  |  Page 143  |  Page 144  |  Page 145  |  Page 146  |  Page 147  |  Page 148  |  Page 149  |  Page 150  |  Page 151  |  Page 152  |  Page 153  |  Page 154  |  Page 155  |  Page 156  |  Page 157  |  Page 158  |  Page 159  |  Page 160  |  Page 161  |  Page 162  |  Page 163  |  Page 164