Day Two – Somewhere in Mongolia

Waking up bleary but somewhat refreshed, I step into the train corridor and look out the window at – nothing. Nothing much of anything.

Mongolia! The wide open steppes of the Gobi Desert stretch for hundreds of kilometres in every direction.

Patchy grass and scrub in bleached-out greens blends with the sandy yellow and light brown of the Gobi desert. In the distance, low blue-brown hills rise up, not much, and plateau. After you’ve looked out the window for a while, you start to notice little lumps of brown and white on the ground – carcasses. Horses, presumably, maybe some sheep and cattle too. The 2009-2010 Mongolia winter was apparently the worst in two or three decades, with millions of dead animals scattered across the country. In the short-term, this means me and Tama can play “old corpse, new corpse” out the window. What this means for our hearty meals in the wilderness, we are yet to find out.

We stop for a few minutes in this tiny town called Choyr, long enough to duck out and pose next to a wild Soviet-era statue of a heroic Mongol thrusting a missile or a space rocket triumphantly into the sky.

Tama Pugsley posing next to a statue of Mongolia's first cosmonaut. Love a Socialist Realist statue!

Then, we roll on again. This place is blanker than the Nullaboor, but somehow more beautiful, and a bit more hilly. When I head through to the dining car, it has metamorphosised from bland Chinese functionalism into ostentatious Mongolian kitsch – carved, lacquered wood archways, fake gold deer heads jutting from the walls.

Tom Doig in the dining carriage of the Trans-Mongolian express - Mongolian decor deluxe

And the view continues to be nice and desolate and repetitive, then the plains slowly give way to more and more hills, soft vlleys, then hills with pines (trees look startling after hours of desert), then the odd ger, more gers, houses …

View from the Trans-Mongolian Express: the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar, capital of Mongolia. Gers, yurts, white round tents, call them what you will.

When we arrive in Ulaan Baatar around 1.30pm and get dropped off at LG hostel, the view from the window is kind of like The Wire – big ugly Hamsterdam-style falling-apart apartment blocks, kids playing among concrete and rubbish in this bleak-arse courtyard. UlaanBaltimore. Awesome.

The post-Soviet post-industrial decay of Ulaanbaatar looks suspiciously like the ghettoes of Baltimore, especially if you've been watching The Wire

About Doiggus Khan

Tom Doig is a writer, performer, editor and moron. Tom has been published in The Big Issue, Maxim and Voiceworks. His plays include "Survival of the Prettiest", "Hitlerhoff" and "Selling Ice to the Remains of the Eskimos". He has an MA in Hitler Comedy and is currently writing a PhD about climate change. "Mörön to Mörön: two men, two bikes, one Mongolian misadventure" is Tom's first book.
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