Headed west out of Shanghai, we’ll be retracing much of our route from this morning – a few hundred miles of it in fact – with quick stops at Suzhou, Wuxi, and eventually Nanjing, whose station looks even more impressive by night. Not that we can see the river at this hour, but as a token nod to it, its lights out after the crossing of the Yangtze. Continue reading “Despatches from the Silk Road :: Train to The Roof of the World”
By day, its an imposing enough sight. By night, Beijing Main Station will be sure to dazzle, if not blind you altogether. In a country known for its over-the-top illumination of public buildings, its a sight not to be missed. For the five of us, as we prepare to depart the Capital, it truly is a lasting impression. Continue reading “Despatches from the Silk Road :: Suspense in Shanghai”
Beijing International Hotel, where we’re staying, is a short walk from Beijing Main Station. Having showered and bid farewell to HV – we’ll see him in a few days time – I browse the hotel literature for some late lunch options. There are a handful of restaurants to choose from, apparently, so I make my way to the most enticing of the lot, a rooftop revolving restaurant. Greeted warmly by a host at the elevator, I’m led by another to a table of my liking, and handed menus by a third. Only to be informed by a fourth – as I proceed to place my order – that they won’t be open till 5 pm. The puzzled look on my face couldn’t be more telling. Oh well, at least the views were worthwhile…
Depending on which day of the week you board it from Ulaanbaatar, Train 24 could be Mongolian, Chinese or Russian. When SK and I saw it off two years ago, it was a Mongolian train. Today, we’re boarding a carriage that bears the bright red emblem of the People’s Republic of China, and fittingly, Beijing is our destination.
A brief spell of rain has resulted in water logging across the city, and off-peak traffic snarls are worse than usual. Two years on, UB or Ulaanbaatar continues to grapple with infrastructural constraints. But a few things have changed, since SK and I were here last. The venerable Chinggis Khaan International is slated to get a swanky new home in a matter of months. The main highway leading out of the city is undergoing extensive repairs, and all along it, modern apartment blocks are rising, looking astonishingly un-Soviet as they do so. The city center now has a bike share – who would’ve thought? And our US-issued mobile devices finally have data coverage in the country. This time around though, we’re headed out. East of the Capital, to be precise, past Nalaïkh – a town who’s name SK and I derive immense pleasure from – into quintessential Mongolian countryside.
Overcast conditions, a cover of threatening clouds, and a thickness in the air that is unmistakably tropical. Stepping out from the climate-controlled interiors of Tocumen International couldn’t be more predictable. Racing along the Pan-American highway some 15-minutes later, from the comforts of my air conditioned Uber, the distant skyline appears almost as dramatic as the sky above it. The highway, at this point, nothing more than a causeway, with low tide conditions to the right, and the vastness of the Pacific to our left. Up ahead, Ciudad de Panamá or Panama City.
It was a longstanding dream of mine to visit, and getting there wasn’t without its share of hiccups. So after a few rounds of questioning, when the big cheese at immigration finally waved me through, it was a momentous occasion to be sure. I now had a José Martí stamp on my passport, and unfettered access to Cuba…