Sunday, 22 October 2017

Silk Road: Riding the Train to Turpan


Train staff checking to see if the platform is clear before moving on
Our visit through Gansu province was over and now it was time to board the train to Turpan in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

The Dunhuang train station looked spanking new -- two years old we were told -- and right at the entrance we had to deal with security checks, showing our passports and putting our luggage through X-ray machines before even getting into the building.

Staff at the entrance have riot helmets and gear ready...
We arrived early so we had time to hit the loo (pretty clean) before heading to our train. Originally our Gansu-based tour guide was not going to join us -- we were going to go on our own and then meet our Xinjiang guide in Turpan.

However, we felt it was best he help us out just in case and we're so lucky he did.

Our second-class train tickets were bought months in advance; in that time period, some people had renewed passports so their passport number was different from the one printed on their ticket.

At least one person had a lot of hassle because of this and in the end had to refund her ticket and buy another one, which meant she could not sit with us. Our guide was on hand to help her out with this.

A high speed train ready to go (not ours)
If that wasn't all, there was the issue of luggage. One would think traveling by train is straight forward, but in China it's not. We easily took the escalator up to go across to the platform on the other side, but when we wanted to go down, there was no escalator, only stairs and a very steep slope to drag suitcases on the far right.

Needless to say it was a complete disaster -- people's suitcases rolled (or slid) faster than their owners and it created such mess that it was just easier, but more muscle work to carry suitcases down the stairs.

That resulted in our tour guide having to go up and down to help many of us bring our suitcases down several flights of stairs which was quite stressful given the sheer number of people also doing the same thing, and having to lift heavy loads.

Inside our train which is quite new
Finally that was sorted and gathering ourselves together we boarded the train, again our tour guide helping put many of the suitcases in the racks above. Some of us sat three to a seat, so six of us faced each other on the right, while on the left there were two seats.

The train started up quickly and we thought the staff would check tickets but they never did, and because there were many free seats some sat in other places. And then after one or two stops more people got on so we had to sit in our designated seats. 

By the way the food selection is quite dire -- there's instant noodles, drinks and chips -- including cucumber flavour. My uncle got soy bean drink with red bean, but it was the powder version which needed hot water and it turned out lumpy. One bright spot was having Haagen Daz ice cream!

One guy sitting near us had a dumbfounded look on his face watching us the whole time. He wore a black leather cap, black vest, T-shirt, glasses and boots. Sitting next to him was a woman on our tour who reported he had terrible body odour!

Finally he got off at one stop, but another man randomly sat next to her and he too stared at us. He didn't seem to belong in that seat, but what can you say? He looked a bit shifty, but that's because he felt uneasy being in a second-class cabin when perhaps he should have sat elsewhere.

Four hours later we finally arrived in Turpan, in time for dinner -- but wait we still had to deal with getting our luggage off the train and down the stairs again...

So that was our experience riding the train. One would expect it to be more convenient than the plane, but having to carry our suitcases up and down was too much!


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