A Train to Mongolia

Even on paper, weeks before our group gathered in Moscow the night before departure, the itinerary was something to put the imagination into overdrive: a private train from Moscow across Siberia to Mongolia, then to the Chinese border, where a Chinese train would take us south to Beijing.

I woke up on the 7th morning to find the train stopped and the sun barely up. I raised the window shade and there, just 50 feet or so away and looking back at me, was a robed man sitting on a camel. I scrambled into my clothes, grabbed my camera, and went to the far end of the car where to door to the outside was standing open and not a member of the crew in sight.

I climbed down the steps–the last one was a metal bucket placed upside down on the gravel–and peered around. There was no sign of the man on the camel. There was nothing but sand and patches of grass, but he had disappeared. I took a photo of the train, knowing if I gave the sun another five minutes I’d have a better shot, but our Russian car attendant had started down the steps to retrieve his bucket. That’s all I’d need: Miss my train on the Gobi Desert!

Later that morning, our train slowed as we passed a man carefully observing us as we rumbled by. Moments after I took this photograph, he spoke a few words into his mobil phone, mounted his small Mongolian horse and trotted off. To where, we all wondered?

As we neared Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia, we became aware of a smog that hung like a grey mist over the city that was still almost an hour up ahead of us. Apparently a normal thing, we learned later.

This is one of my favorite photos–a lucky shot snapped from the train: a Mongolian mother and daughter leave the traditional yurt with the front door standing open, heading for school and then a job in downtown Ulaanbaatar.

Now don’t tell me you can see something like that from 30,000 feet!