Siberia’s Last Beautiful Gasp

Nicholas Quirke was awake at 6.30 on 25 January 2020, despite the late night revelling, as the train would be rolling into Irkutsk that morning at 7.45 and then they would begin the ride to and around the perimeter of Lake Baikal which was a sight he did not wish to miss. Nicholas had felt cold lying in bed, listening to the wind and the strange unearthly crackling of the train, which he realised must be the ice forming on the sides of the carriage and for first time he heard and felt the wheels thundering beneath his head, It was not a fitful rest. The train had started to make regular stops and from his window he surveyed the short stops at local stations. By the time they reached the penultimate station he was dressed and ready and then he noted that it was -17 degrees outside and armed himself with gloves and face mask.  It was a very early start for them, but he was thankful he had risen, was dressed and awake as the train opened its carriage doors to a throng of new passengers. Two of whom joined him in his cabin. He had tried to keep it neat, but having enjoyed first class status for the journey to date he had made himself at home and had to scamper around to let them have their space. Two young women, India and Elinor from England joined him and they spent an enjoyable hour or so getting to know each other. They too were stopping at Ulan Bator. The carriage itself was now almost full and they were joined by a collective of Mongolians, and Russian Hockey Players. It wasn’t long before the beautiful sights of Lake Bakail opened up to them. Once again the landscape had dramatically changed they were now in mountains and an oddly busier life with trains rushing past, people, fishing on the ice, farmers with their small herds and the villages themselves with their timber home became even quainter, more rural and colourful than they had seen to date. It was a truly spectacular view as the negotiated the perimeter of the Lake. He couldn’t help chuckling as he viewed the ‘Vast White Stillness’ an image, a thought he dearly wished to share with Peta Taylor! Slava shared with him that seeing the lake was the realisation of a lifelong dream and Nicholas felt that emotion go straight to his heart. He knew what that moment of epiphany felt like. Qifang joined him and Lyusaku for a final meal, lunch in the restaurant car. Mark and Rob were there too playing Rummy and after eating Nicholas excitedly joined them, feeling particularly proud of a round that he won with a great flourish. He was actually sad that his 5 days off grid were coming to an end it had been a remarkable experience his mind and photo album full of images and experiences that would feed his soul for many years. He certainly would miss the new friends he had shared the journey with and they swapped We Chat and Facebook ~Id’s with promises to share photos and watch blogs. In the late afternoon, after their final Russian stop before the border where they squandered their last Roubles, at the highly polluted Ulan Unde, a drama unfolded when Slava and kseniya, under pressure from their families cancelled their immediate China plans due to the escalating panic about the Corona Virus and decided to stop instead, for the time being at Ulan Bator. Nicholas shared his accommodation address with them and looked forward to their company in the city. He anticipated that there would be messages of concern  from home awaiting him in Ulan Bator once WiFi was restored to him and he pondered what he would do. His aim was to spend a year in China, to travel round and visit other areas of the Continent he was now approaching, surely he wouldn’t have to curtail his adventure. He didn’t panic, he had 4 days in Mongolia to assess the situation. The magnificent scenery was finally lost to view as a spectacular dusk settled over the landscape and they sped to the Mongolian border. On leaving Russia they were confined to quarters and endured a 3 hour wait as a parade of customs officials with a sniffer dog checked passports, their baggage, money and their medicine bags. And once they crossed the border into Mongolia a similar parade checked everything including their health, pointing a temperature gun at their heads. Every official wore a face mask and a bewildering number of forms with the same information was being asked to be completed. Everyone else in the carriage were asked to add their temperature to the form but Nicholas’s cabin were not asked and that became a cause for concern. A row flared up between the guards and the Mongolians, who it turned out were not with tickets to take them onto Ulan Bator. They were removed from the train. By midnight still sitting in a siding Nicholas decided to give up and go to sleep. They were arriving at Ulan Bator at 6,50 am.


  1. Really beautiful Nick. Although you seem to be going backwards in time in more ways than one. December? The views of the lake are very evocative of Dr Zhivago. Thrilling!

    1. Thank you Grace. Yes. I had to go back to December when I bought the ticket which was the main horror. Should anyone wish to follow in my footsteps, they will now know to find Mtt Gabna.

  2. Ooooooooooohhhhh! Great photos of the VWS. The lake is especially enchanting. You’ll no doubt have news updates on UK travel to China from all sources so will desist and trust you on that decision, if it is yours, at the border. Enjoy U B. Apparently, Mongolia leads Japan now in Sumo (something to do with the traditional herding, nomadic lifestyle changing due to climate change and alternatives being found). If the chance to see Sumo arises…. I know you’re the man. Or to participate. X

  3. Lake Baikal – utterly amazing! One of nature’s wonders. Keep writing, keep warm and keep SAFE! X

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