Leaving a country for another is always
a little special, not just because of the arrival in a new country,
but rather because of the procedure at the border itself. The border
crossing between Russia and Mongolia by train is worth a few words....
At a ridiculous 5 am, the train left Ulan-Ude for
Naushki, passing in the steppe a number of abandoned factories, closed
since the fall of the USSR and the abrupt end of the trade with Mongolia
that followed. A sign on the way read "Moscow 5850 km" in
the opposite direction. We reached the border station around 12, a small
town, a tiny station, nothing much. We stayed there for the whole afternoon,
fortunately mild and sunny. Nothing happened for hours, except that
the train was taken apart, leaving only our carriage on the platform.
Meanwhile, Mongols or local Buryats (people living in Russia related
to the Mongols) travelling on this train were busy loading box after
box in their compartments. I met two Brits who were flying back to England
from Ulan-Bator after 5 months canoeing from a river in Mongolia, across
into Russia and down the Amur river until the ocean. They had to slide
the 2 canoes into the train corridor since the luggage compartment was
not continuing into Mongolia. A russian man working at the station came
to ask me for some french coins : "collektsia !". I did not
have any but I gave him some money from Estonia, which he had never
seen. He was quite happy with it and even gave me some rubles back.
At last, a little before 5 pm, there was some movement
as custom officers appeared and we were told to return to our compartments.
At all borders I crossed,
foreigners' bags are rarely checked, since tourists don't transport
any merchandise to be sold over the border. However, bags of local people
are subject to thorough inspection. Here too, the custom officers only
glanced at our bags but they carefully inspected the compartments next
door, which the locals had stuffed with boxes. The Mongols or the Buryats,
like asian people, remained calm, while the russians were speaking to
them rather loudly. Next thing, ripped open boxes were thrown brutally
into the corridor, one after the other. Inside : sponges, loads of sponges,
plastic plates, racks for washing up, and more kitchen things. Obviously,
all this would have been resold in Mongolia, exempt from tax. Every
single box eventually ended up in a heap of boxes on the platform. The
locals did not come back in the train.
A little later, border guards appeared, ordered everyone
in their compartment and proceeded to check and stamp visas and passports.
Outside, armed guards surrounded the one-car train, as the locomotive
was attached. Shortly after, we got moving until the mongol border post
where we stopped briefly for passport control. Next morning, the train
arrived in Ulan-Bator, at another ridiculous 6 am.
see the photos from Russia and the photos from Mongolia