In 1973 Paul Theroux, an American novelist and traveller, embarked on a four-month journey by train from London through Europe, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. His travels were recounted in the best-selling book The Great Railway Bazaar. 35 years after his initial voyage, he would retrace the journey as an older man, finding that countries once blighted by poverty have transformed like a caterpillar into a butterfly while other places remained desolate and obscure.
There is no shortage of train travel tales: since the development of steam-powered railways in the 19th century, curious minds and wandering hearts have found solace in the soothing, steady, motion of the train, looking out the windows at a world that seems so far away yet so close, living in a time warp of a sort — at least for the duration of their voyage. For those of us who cannot, or will not, take a few weeks or months (or years!) to straddle the tracks, they document their journey to inspire and to tempt the wary…
Morning Edition’s host David Greene took the 6 000 mile ride on the Trans-Siberian Railway, from Moscow to Vladivostok, in the dead of winter. He wrote Midnight in Siberia to recount his journey and the people he met along the way.
There’s really never a dull moment [on the Trans-Siberian]. There might be a Russian guy who has gotten way too hot in his compartment and has come out into the aisle. And he’s in, essentially, his underwear — you know, boxer shorts and a tank top. And hiding a cigarette that he’s sort of taking puffs of when no one’s looking — because you’re not supposed to smoke on the train — and gazing out into this empty landscape.
Basically, vodka is the best thing to do in the dining car because that — you know they will always have it. They have this giant menu with all these delicious choices, and usually none of them are actually available. So you sit there asking, “Oh, can I have the chicken julienne or the mushroom julienne?” “Nyet, nyet, nyet, nyet.” “So what do you have?” “Borscht.” “Ok, let me have some borscht.” Which was fine, but — people would bring their own food on the train and share it. — David Greene
Lukas is a photographer, travel writer and web developper who embarked on a 1500 KM journey from Pune to Delhi in the sleeper class and lived to tell the tale.
I was the only foreigner on the wagon and everyone wanted to hang out. The boys traveling from the very south to Delhi for over two days took me in, shared their food and Chai, prayed and studied by my side and curiously observed everything I was doing. After a while, I felt safe and looked after.
“What is your religion? Are you married?”
“I have no religion and no wife.”
The kids looked at me with worried faces and I think they felt a little sorry.
The open windows were a blessing, I had the wind in my face and the taste of freedom on my lips and after almost 30 hours, the train gently rolled into the Delhi railway station. The special world I dove into and managed to capture with my camera will be long remembered. How different this was to where I come from made an impact on me and gave me food for thought. And that’s what travel should do, right?
Canadian travel blogger Brenna Holeman shook things up by travelling to the Mongolian-Russian border and hopping on the Trans-Siberian train across Russia.
Within a few days of boarding the train that would take me over 6000 kilometres and eight time zones across Eurasia, I realised that this journey would be much more arduous than I could have ever imagined, and yet much more rewarding than I could have ever hoped.
Though there can be hours of restlessness, for the most part the Trans-Siberian is a trip of reflection and tranquility: stare out the window at the Russian countryside for hours and you are bound to become deep in thought.
American author and journalist Ted Conover opted for a 3,000-mile journey by train, accompanied by wife Margot, from South Africa into Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania.
That night, I drifted into a fitful sleep, but Margot stayed up. The train made many, many stops, during which it became clear that it was a lifeline to villages that had no other connection to the outside world. “There’s a guy outside on a donkey cart!” she exclaimed around 2 a.m.
Much of this trading takes place in the corridor outside our cabins. Chilesi, one of the Zambian women, tells me what’s good, and what to pay. Yesterday: “That papaya. Five hundred shillings,” or about 25 cents. Today: “No, don’t buy the caterpillars. Just try mine.” She has bought a plastic bag containing three or four pounds of the roasted amber morsels. I pop one in my mouth. It’s lightly salted. “Mm,” I say, and make a face. She and her travelmates laugh.