Saturday, 14th July 2012
Despite being late to bed last night and losing an hour through changing time zones, it was an early start for we were asked to have our documents ready for inspection by the Mongolian authorities at 7.0 a.m. I got up and dressed just after six and ordered black tea with milk and sugar which arrived with an assortment of biscuits. We arrived at Sukhe Baatar around right time, having travelled 380 km from Ulaan Bataar overnight. We had made various stops stops at passing loops to allow trains travelling in the opposite direction to pass. The cabin attendant had collected my Mongolian Customs form and a pleasant uniformed girl from immigration collected my passport and Departure Card.
Once formalities had been completed, we were invited to the restaurant car for breakfast. In addition to a cold buffet, there were a number of hot items cooked to order. I selected porridge and a plain omelette, accompanied by more black tea with milk and sugar and a glass of orange juice. During the meal, a heavy ‘thump’ seemed to indicate that we were changing engines (the Russian autocoupler requires reasonable force to engage correctly). After a short delay, the train moved off, with a number of soldiers and railway staff dotted along the platform standing rigidly at the salute.
We covered another 23 km to the first Russian station, Nauski. This time, my passport was collected by a uniformed male immigration officer. After a delay, the stamped passports were returned to the Cabin Attendant and we were then allowed to wander on the platform. By the time I emerged into the sunshine on the wide platform, the locomotive which had brought us into the station was long gone and it was some time before a large diesel electric locomotive (half of a twin-section design) backed onto the train to take us forward towards Ulan Ude. Shortly after we set off, lunch was served in the restaurant car and the pattern of travel on the 'Golden Eagle' started to become established. After the meal there was a lecture by our expert speaker Professor George Munro.
About 200 km beyond Naushki, we stopped at the wayside station of Shaluty, where we were to disembark for a coach trip. I found it a little disconcerting to watch our train (with all our possessions) depart for Ulan Ude without us. We boarded a modern coach and drove through a mainly rural area to the 'Old Believers' village. The Russian Orthodox Church suffered a schism around 1666 when Patriarch Nikon attempted to introduce certain liturgical changes. Those who renounced these changes became 'Old Believers' ('Torbogatai') and they retain their separate identity today. There's a useful 'Wikipedia' article on the 'Old Believers' here.
The 'Old Believers' village we arrived at had a long main street lined with gaily-painted wooden dwellings decorated with fretwork. We were met by one of the villagers in the colourful traditional dress and introduced to a similarly-attired elderly lady who invited us to look around her house and garden. I'm always a bit self-conscious in these situations poking around peoples' houses and taking pictures but it's invariably interesting.
Next, we walked a short distance to a museum housed in a former schoolroom which is seeking to preserve artefacts from the traditional lifestyle which is increasingly threatened by modern developments. They've amassed a wonderful collection of objects which jostle for space and kept us intrigued for some time as the Priest's son explained a little about the objects in Russian which was then translated into English for our benefit.
We crossed the road to visit the village church where the twinkle-eyed bearded priest described some of the history of the 'Old Believers' including that during the Communist era, again in Russian with translation.
With plenty to ponder, we were led back across the road to a community centre or church hall where a splendid meal had been laid out on long tables for us. After the meal, we were entertained by singing and then a couple from our party, Kari and Ed, were 'volunteered' for a marriage celebration. It was all very good-natured and we were sorry to say goodbye to our hosts and board our waiting coach.
The coach then drove us to Ulan Ude where we hoped our train would be waiting. We paused biefly in the Central Square to see some of the municipal buildings and a huge bust of Lenin before driving to the railway station where our train was obediently waiting in the late evening sun. Within an hour, we were on the move, travelling west, for a leg of 338 km whilst we slept.
Additional material added 1st August 2012.