13th July 2015

imageI’ve decided to leave finishing the article about the rail trip to Chongqing and the one I’m planning about the day we had in the city as they are tricky to do on my phone. In addition to that, the WordPress Android app from Automattic has a bug and twice I’ve lost hours of work and had to recreate it. So I’m focussing on shorter articles.

I’m currently lying on a 2nd tier bunk on a train heading north to Xian.


It’s a 9 hour journey. So far it has been through fairly mountainous terrain. It is remarkable just how much of it is through tunnels, I can’t begin to imagine the cost of such an enterprise. At completely unpredictable intervals we break out into daylight. Sometimes to flash through a small town. Sometimes to cross great rivers, most of which knock my own River Severn back in the UK into a cooked hat. On the rivers the activity ranges from traditional flat bottom fishing boats with tiny people with the archetypal pointed wide-brimmed hat, surely a sight that’s hardly changed for thousands of years. To large ocean-going container vessels. Sometimes to cross narrow tree-lined gorges on seemingly perilous concrete bridges no wider than our train. One time when we popped put of a tunnel we were running alongside a small mountain river and in the afternoon sun children are playing in the sparkling water.

Of course this makes taking photos tricky, some of the tunnels are 15 minutes long and others a few seconds. I could lay in wait, camera at the ready but I can’t resist watching all the people and activity around me. But let me describe the train first.


This is not a state of the art train like the earlier one we travelled on. However it’s in good repair, similar to the majority of rolling stock in the UK. However the interior is very different. To start with this is a long haul train going right into northern China. Consequently it has bunks. 6 to a compartment (these are not divided off from the corridor) :-

There’s a series of narrow seats and tables on the other side. When not relaxing on the bunks, people use the bottom bunks as seats.

All China seems to be here. From the elderly to the young and whole families too, just now a young child passed me looking very smart in orange top and baseball cap. He stopped in front of me bouncing up and down grinning waving his plate at me talking excitedly. Apparently he was saying “bearded Grandpa” over and over. A less than pleased Grandma was trying to move him on as the corridor is very narrow.

All around the people are friendly, the children are open curious, practicing their English by saying “Hello” over and over again. Rapidly the cubicles start to become living areas as people get our the food and things needed to make a long trip comfortable. Like the bullet train there is a catering area with sinks, cold and boiling water. The squat toilets are kept scrupulously clean, I’ve seen far worse on UK trains. There are cleaners on the train and they are assiduous at keeping things clean and tidy, even mopping the carriage floor. If there’s one thing that puzzles me it’s the occasional bumps as if the carriage has come loose. Heaven knows what causes them but no one seems the least bit fazed.

Railway staff are constantly pushing aircraft style vending trolleys. The wares are both the universal, junk food and hot drinks we see in the West to sumptuous packs of fruit. Around 5 a hot food trolley with some sort of hot-pot and hot noodles and rice comes past. It smells great. Hawkers work the carriages too, I wasn’t the least bit tempted by a plastic wriggling fish on wheels that sang Chinese songs and flashed coloured lights!

What is it about railway journeys that’s so fascinating? Maybe it’s the way people are thrown together. Maybe train journeys are a way of reasserting our selves as social creatures in an age, maybe it’s just a pompous old codger pontificating!