Part 3a – into China
We had an early dinner on this train in a very ornate Chinese restaurant car. We arrived at the Mongolian border station and we were there about 90 minutes for customs and clearance. It was interesting that the Mongolian police and the Chinese train attendants conversed in English. As is normal passports were collected and taken off to be checked. Then we crossed the border into China where we were due to be nearly four hours. The track gauge in China is the same as the UK and most of the world, but Russia and Mongolia are wider. So, after removing the restaurant car (not sure why!) the train was split into two and put into adjacent tracks in a long shed and the coaches separated. Then each coach was raised up using jacks leaving the bogies on the rails. These were taken out of the shed and the new bogies with the narrower gauge pushed under the carriages. The coaches were then dropped down, still with us inside, and the train was ready to run on the Chinese gauge. Going back into the station about midnight we found a shop still open selling beer at about 55p a half litre. As the train pulled out for its journey to Beijing we settled in our sleeping berths for the night.
I woke about 08.30 and found us passing through a much more populated country with large towns. In the distance we could see the Great Wall of China climbing a mountainside. Then we entered a long, high sided valley that twisted and turned overlooked by high mountains. We travelled through it on the original track but another line had been built mainly on the other side of the valley and we could see, while we were having lunch, a succession of freight and passenger trains using it. Also on the journey we saw the evidence of China's prosperity with new construction works and in particularly high speed lines and new ones being built. We passed the new station in Beijing built for the high speed trains. Amazing. We could see just on this journey, and in Beijing, how fast China has developed.
We arrived at Beijing Main station on time, a very busy station, teeming with people. The temperature was 38 and our guide met us and led us to our road coach. He was excellent and told us many interesting facts about China and Beijing. 99% of the cars were built in China even if by joint Chinese/European or Chinese/Asia companies. Importing cars from abroad was subject to 300% import tax. Cyclists were banned from the main roads of Beijing now. The population of Beijing was 27 million and there were 260,000 CCTV cameras. Policemen were in evidence but not oppressively so. The coach dropped us off at a railway museum in Tiananmen Square that was in an old station. I thought the museum set out the history of Chinese Railways in a very logical and good way. From here we walked into the Square itself. A lady that seemed to be objecting to something was steered away by a street seller without the police getting involved. But I expected to find the Chinese friendly but was still amazed how friendly they were, many of the younger ones asking to take pictures with me, or agreeing to me taking their picture. This was in complete contrast to Russia where it was difficult to make people smile even.
After a ten course lunch at a very large jade shop we were taken to the Great Wall about 40 miles away. Part of the way we travelled on the No 6 ring road. (Yes there are five others, all seemingly packed with traffic.) After a steep walk from the coach a cable car took us up to the Wall very high on the mountainside. We could see it snaking into the distance in both directions. Arriving back at the hotel a few decided to try a brew pub a few metro stops (20p) from our hotel. Ten different beers were brewed on the premises. The two I tasted were excellent, up to UK standards. Burger and chips was quite sufficient after our eating previously. We caught a trolleybus (10p) back to the hotel and at 23.00 found ourselves in a traffic jam. It was a street full of shops and restaurants and the Chinese cars were parked two abreast so blocking the road to passing traffic.
Chris Lewis – Member of Locomotive Club of Great Britain