Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Journey I'd Love to Do: Silk Route By Rail

Back in the late 90's I took the Trans Manchurian from Beijing through to Moscow in the middle of winter. The world was surreal in it's white starkness, like picture postcards come Christmas time. Outside on the stations amongst the fishmongers, bag ladies with fresh bread and milk, the air was so cold it felt brittle. My thermometer, which measured -20 Centigrade refused, like a reluctant teenager, to budge from its little cocoon to tell me the real temperature. Suffice to say it was cold and I was not going to risk having a quick open air pee.

I loved that particular journey. The five days passed quickly and I was never bored, not even for a second. It was as if I had entered another world where everything slowed down. I could watch the white snow capped houses and trees whizzing by for hours. Almost zen like I lulled myself through Siberia.

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to redo the trip only this time in Summer. It did not disappoint. While the scenery was different and my train companions more affluent I fell into the same dreamlike state. Something like the Matrix's "bullet time" everything slows down but seems hyper real.

Ever since then I've wanted to do similar sorts of train trips. I've toyed with the idea of taking the train through Mexico's Copper Canyon and I've taken the train from Singapore up to Bangkok but the journey I really want to do runs through Central Asia. I've been lucky enough to see Kashgar and Urumqi in Western China but what I'd love to see are the almost mythical cities of Samarkand and Bukhara. What better way to see them than by train. A train that runs all the way from Hong Kong to Moscow but rather than running through Siberia it runs right through the heart of Central Asia. These dreams lead me to John Armitstead's site

John's journey is one I'd like to take. For now though I've just put it into my "travel I like to dream about" book ..... do you have one of those books?

Noticed a few people reading this post are coming here looking for information on the Trans-Siberian. If you wish to read another account of travel on the train have a look at Jon Evan's (the Backpacker Thriller author) post here

Image: Courtesy of used under Creative Commons Licence