Gobi Desert Dreams

Nicholas Quirke was anxious once again as his journey resumed on 30 January 2020. This was the train that would take him to Beijing and not quite, but almost into the eye of the storm. He felt apprehensive on waking at 5 am; would the taxi turn up, would the train be ok, would he be sharing his sleeper with someone, would the train be packed, as anticipated, with Chinese, would he have WiFi. And as he dressed, to quell the now familiar low level anxiety experienced on a new start, he made sure he had his totems safe on him. He had intended to post an ‘Offline, On Train’ message to make sure no one following would be concerned if there was no WiFi, and subsequently no posts, but his ponderous, agitated under the calm, mind was so busy checking his packing that he let that thought slip his mind. He had time to check messages and saw on WeChat that Rosalind had responded and that she still had not heard back from the school as the potential job was on hold. Schools were closed. There was no follow up to questions either, where was the job, what were the schedules like. The taxi arrived early and feeling a twinge of sorrow at leaving, Nicholas departed. Once he was on his journey, had boarded the train, which was luxury compared to the basic conditions on the Trans Mongolian Express, and made himself comfortable, all worry evaporated. He looked out to see if he could see India and Elinor who too were due to travel on that train yet there was no sign of them. Did this mean that they too were casualty’s of the fear that was gripping China and the world outside. Was he mad to continue? Should he have changed his ticket too? Stayed for longer in Ulan Bator. There was surely room for him at the Azara Guest House. He did not know where the train came from and he did not see many people embarking. Only one other traveller in his carriage. It was still dark when the train fired up and left. The journey was afoot. He watched out the window as the lights of the City receded and all he could see were the silhouettes of the mountains, as they sped past the vast urban sprawl running along the foothills. He witnessed the dawn, the slow daybreak, he watched the light alter the landscape. From the snow and sun drenched Steppes of Mongolia and plains gripped by a thick frost to a wintry treeless vista. This then was the gobi desert? This plain unending horizon. He took Photographs and videos and had a sleep. On waking from his doze the heat in the cabin felt intense and his mouth was really dry. Time to go to the dining car. It seemed a really long way through at least 7 other carriages and the sight that awaited him was quite astonishing. Though the menu boasted vegan salads and soup the only things available on the menu were meat, meat and then meat. He had a green tea, He did get into conversation with a couple of the train employees one of whom thought he was Indian. The manager of the dining car insisted on taking his photo. Back in his carriage he initiated a conversation with his Chinese neighbour, who he learned was only going as far as Erlin, the Chinese border. It was a hesitant conversation but they both seemed pleased to have made the effort. He felt awed as he looked at the scenery, overwhelmed that this land and it sights had opened up for him and all his worries evapourated. This view, this experience, this other world he had discovered for himself, this was why he was making the journey. The sighting of occasional herds of goat or antelope, Golden Eagles, to see a small flock, of Vultures, feasting on carrion, touched parts of him that had lain dormant since childhood. At about 7pm the train stopped and there was an inspection. This then was the Mongolian border. He thought he should know how much distance he had put between himself and London but for him it was enough to know it was thousands of miles. His temperature looked to be 36 when they showed him but it wasn’t clear, the good news was he was below 38. The train had been so hot earlier he was down to his thermals, though he had noticed that the guards were bare chested, but now that people had boarded and the power and heating off, he thought it best to don respectable clothing. It took an hour and a half for them to clear Mongolia and once again Nicholas experienced severe butterflies in his stomach. As they crossed the hinterland between the borders, a bleak empty, cold dark view, the mounting anticipation was almost crippling. Firecrackers announced their arrival at Erlin Station and immigration centre. They waited 30 minutes as someone in a ….suit, sprayed the train interior. The health officials took his temperature 35.5, it looked like he wasn’t going into quarantine and then everyone disembarked. Nicholas breezed through the Customs and immigration process. He was asked to stand aside and was monitored by a guard before being led back onto the train. Only two of them re-boarded. He went to make a tea but the guard told him there was no power for at least 2 hours. He then appeared in Nicholas’s cabin with a packet of milk for him. Again, it was such a nice gesture he felt bad declining it.  Once they had cleared customs the train was moved into a siding shed where all the carriages were separated, raised and the wheels removed and replaced. Nicholas certainly felt safe for the journey ahead even though had never seen anything like it. He celebrated his arrival in China with the remains of the Jack Daniels and at midnight thought it best to welcome sleep.


  1. I wait for your adventure story. I am enthralled. Wonderful.

  2. The scenery is thrilling. It is so other. Like going to the moon. The restaurant car is really beautiful; it is just s shame they can’t feed you! You must be pretty hungry by now. I loved the video. I too was feeling butterflies in my stomack as this new phase of your journey commenced. X

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