Endless taiga, crackling or snow-dusted steppe, mountains, the Gobi Desert and the Great Wall – the Trans-Siberian routes across Asia unite landscapes and experiences into the journey of a lifetime.
The ‘Track of the Camel’
We often talk about the Trans-Siberian as a single railway or even as the ‘express’. Perhaps it was closest to being the Trans-Siberian at the turn of the 20th century, when this engineering feat was celebrated in a grand opening. In reality, it is several different routes and experiences. And as for ‘express’ – well, it was never that, not this magnificently slow ‘track of the camel’.
Russia. Mongolia. China. Three countries, and plenty of opportunities to alight and explore any or all of them during stopovers. Regardless of which route or routes you choose, it’s a magnificently rewarding experience of changing landscapes and cultures, people, and of life on the rails.
Today, the track from Russia’s capital to Vladivostok is the classic Trans-Siberian route. It offers the chance to explore Russia’s regions, and after completing its length, you’ll have a lasting insight into its people. Involving a six-day nonstop journey, this route is a rite of passage through the taiga-bristled soul of Russia.
The Trans-Mongolian, taking you through Russia, China and Mongolia, is a different experience altogether. Complete this trip nonstop, as is frequently done, and the experience of travelling on the Chinese trains K3 from Běijīng or K4 from Moscow might strike you as a cross between a high-rolling party and a geographical expedition conducted from inside a train carriage. Make stopovers and catch short-hop trains, however, and the route offers the chance to explore deeply three very different countries and cultures.
Mongolia & Manchuria
The Trans-Manchurian is an eclectic and unusual route, traversing much of Siberia and veering south into the grasslands of Inner Mongolia and into Manchuria on the flagship Vostok. This is a Russian train staffed by Russians who, incidentally, are among the most personable staff you will find anywhere on the world’s rails. A highlight of this route is the Manchurian town of Hā’ěrbīn (Harbin).
Taiga & Tunnels
And then there’s the Baikal-Amur Mainline (Baikalo-Amurskaya Magistral; BAM). The most recent of the great Russian rail projects so far completed, it was hailed as the ‘Hero Project of the Century’ and may one day form part of a rail link across the Bering Strait. If you like railways, you’ll love the BAM: tunnels, mountains, limitless taiga, and the beauty of train travel itself, made simply for the sake of a journey.
Moscow’s Kremlin & Red Square
This ancient fortress is the founding site of Moscow and the ultimate symbol of political power in Russia. Within its ancient walls you can admire the artistry of Russia’s greatest icon painters, gawk at the treasure trove that fuelled a revolution, shed a tear for Russia’s great and tragic rulers, and climb the tower for an amazing panorama. Flanking the northeastern wall of the Kremlin, Red Square is dominated by bold towers and the colourful domes of St Basil’s Cathedral.
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