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Crisscrossing Australia on the Indian Pacific and the Ghan.

 The next morning, back in the desert and not quite halfway through its journey, the Ghan reaches Alice Springs. It stops for several hours here, allowing passengers to tour the area. The statue in the railway station depicts an Afghan camel herder, from whom the train got its name. “Ghan” is, in fact, Aussie shorthand for Afghan. This small city sprung up as a telegraph relay station for the railroad when fresh water was found here, and was originally called Alice’s Spring, after the wife of the telegraph operator.

At first blush Alice Springs seems very familiar. Just over there is the local K-Mart and the anchor store of their air-conditioned indoor mall is a huge Woolworth’s. But an exotic touch comes from the large number of Aborigines moving through the mall, stopping for an ice cream cone or peering into shop windows, and chatting in one of their tribal languages. One, a “stockman,” – that’s what the Aussies call their cowboys – cuts a very impressive figure: long sleeved plaid shirt with a dark blue bandana at his throat, slim jeans cut just so over western boots, and a traditional wide-brimmed hat. 
Late in the afternoon the Ghan crosses the Finke River, described as “a major and intermittent river.” It’s impressively wide, all right, but bone dry save for a bit of water here and there in low spots. According to the conductor, however, it was a raging torrent just three weeks ago.

The harsh desert is left behind during the wee hours and by mid-morning we’re back in the more temperate south, rolling along between pastures and farmland. In less than two hours, we’ll be in Adelaide, final stop of the Ghan’s 1851-mile journey. 

In the lounge car, I shake hands with some of my fellow passengers in case we miss each other on the platform, and return to my compartment, alone with the touch of melancholy I always get during the last few hours of any long distance train trip. 

From Adelaide, Qantas takes me back to Sydney where my final night in Australia is spent at the magnificent Opera House and a brilliant performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.  Still, on the way back to my hotel, I find myself reliving memories of the Indian Pacific and the Ghan, the two magic carpets that carried me twice across this astounding country.

This is the final installment if a story I wrote and which appeared in the Dallas Morning News. 

One Comment

  1. Thought you might be interested in this information posted on another forum this week. NB I have posted as is and hope the passengers ate in the dining cars, not made a dreadful racket. :-)
    Just so happen to have the consist from last Sunday’s 1AD8 Ghan (24th August 2014)
    NR 74 NR75 (Locos marshalled back to back so no turning is needed at Darwin)
    AMRZ 269 (Motorail)
    HGM 903 (Power)
    ER 313 (Crew)
    BRJ 919 (Crew)
    BRG 972 (Premium Class)
    BRG 175 (Premium Class)
    ARJ 984 (Gold Class Roomette)
    ARJ 272 (Gold Class Roomette)
    ARM 952 (Gold Class Deluxe Twinette)
    ARL 963 (Gold Class Twinette)
    AFC 301 (Gold Class Lounge)
    DF 927 (Gold Class Dinning)
    DF 930 (Gold Class Dinning)
    DF 964 (Gold Class Dinning)
    AEC 222 (Gold Class Lounge)
    ARL 925 (Gold Class Twinette)
    ARL 249 (Gold Class Twinette)
    ARM 288 (Gold Class Deluxe Twinette)
    ARJ 282 (Gold Class Roomette)
    ARL 289 (Gold Class Twinette)
    ARL 293 (Gold Class Twinette)
    CDF 966 (Red Class Cafeteria/Club)
    AG 369 (Red Class Sitting)
    HM 318 (Baggage)
    BRJ 918 (Crew)
    HGM 317 (Power)

    26 carriages in total

    Premium Class is always at the “Darwin” end
    GSR have been including 3 Dinning Car for a while. This means all Gold & Premium passengers can be seated in just one session (so there is no rush to eat before another sitting)

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