Several people have made several television series about great railway journeys, in several countries over several decades. It is hard to imagine a great railway journey in Holland or Belgium, partly because one can cross either country in less than an hour, and partly because the views from those train windows are not exactly breathtaking. On the other hand, it is equally hard to envisage a great train journey across the Himalayas because there are simply not enough miles of track and with good reason. But there are many railway journeys in various parts of the world which are worth undertaking if only for the sake of the journey. Many such journeys produce wonderful experiences and long-lasting memories. Not only do trains take people from A to B, but they allow passengers to see the part of the world that they are passing through. Trains stop allowing people to get on or off. One can get off a train before reaching one’s final destination, see a little bit of the world and meet a few of its inhabitants, then get on a later train and continue one’s journey. On a plane, you may speak to the person next to you and might even strike up a lasting conversation. But on a long train journey it is much easier to move around, meet more people and talk to them.
An Epic Journey
India is known for its extensive railway network, built by the British during the days of the empire and well-maintained by the Indians since then. Going to say Kashmir in the north or Kerala in the south can be an epic journey, if it is from Delhi, Mumbai or Kolkata. There are some fantastic train journeys possible in both North and South America as some televised documentaries have shown. However, if great refers to either the distance covered or the possible adventures along the way, nothing quite compares with the Trans Siberian Railway. It crosses seven time zones, from Eastern Europe to the Pacific coast. It crosses more bridges than most people can count, of just about every conceivable size and design, and passes through several tunnels. It stops 45 times at 45 very different towns, hundreds of kilometres apart. It is comparable to going from one world to another:
- From Casablanca to Cape Town
- From San Francisco to Rio de Janeiro
- From London to Delhi
The Trans Siberian crosses the Urals from Europe into Asia, from Russia into Mongolia where it stops at the capital city, Ulaan Baatar, then back into Russia. Then it crosses another border into China where it now terminates in Beijing. It can be done in as little as a week or as much as three weeks.
As Depicted in Drama
Documentaries have been made about the construction of the Trans Siberian Railway, which was a massive undertaking in the days before trucks and highways or even telegraphs. In 1972, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing made a film called Horror Express, set on the Trans Siberian Express. That was no comedy. Much more recently Woody Harrelson starred in Trans Siberian, which did not give a particularly favourable impression of the experience that travellers might expect. However, both films give viewers a glimpse of the fantastic scenery through which that railway passes. The Internet now gives people access to a huge number of programs and videos, some professionally made and some not, about this longest railway on Earth. On bookshelves, there is also a political thriller by Warren Adler, involving Russia, China and an unwelcome American on the Trans Siberian Express, which turns into a love story full of intrigue. If you are intrigued, read it. If you prefer to see it for yourself, ride it.
This article was written by Loryli Janice Bell for The Trans-Siberian Travel Company. This is her way of thanking the company and its staff for their help and advice in planning and booking her Trans-Siberian holidays recently from Beijing to Europe, and also her way of helping others who are planning a similar trip.