Train to Darkhan
A Peace Corps training conference brings Judy and me to Darkhan this week. We flew to Ulaanbaator on Friday, then figured out how to take the train to Darkhan on Sunday.
We left at 10:30 sharp, heading out of Ulaanbator's industrial southwest corner and heading north, through prairie, hills, then gradually mountains that were still covered with snow. It was almost a seven hour ride, gently rocking as we ambled along. The train stops at close to twenty minute intervals along the way, serving several dozen small villages as well as a few towns. Sometimes there is an actual train station with a platform, or just a short wooden deck. Often it is just the gravel beside the track. At all but the smallest and largest, there is a person with a red hat that stands near the track with a yellow baton or rolled up flag, holding it in the air as the train passes.
In addition to those traveling between larger cities, the train services many small villages that don't seem to have a road in or out. We saw people carrying used tires, groceries, and all kinds of improvised packages made of cardboard and tape. When they arrive at their destination, most of the passengers we saw just walked home, though a few were picked up in cars or trucks. At one stop there were two horses and carts tied up, with no driver in sight. A woman from the train walked over to one, threw her large bag on the cart, and led the horse away. A young man hopped onto the other cart, standing behind the horse as he sped away.
Compared to our corner of Mongolia, there were relatively few gers along the way. Many people had small wooden houses, but the most noticeable and common housing were the four-unit single-story buildings that are found right along the tracks in practically every small village. Because of their age and design, I am guessing (will let you know when I find out for sure) that they were build by the Soviets, either to house railroad workers or as agricultural worker housing.
Sometime very close to 5:00 we pulled into Darkhan station, on time.