“Along the Silk Road by train”- article from today’s paper. Buy it in your local shop!
The picture is taken from the webpages of Vodkatrain who operate the tour
The Silk Road has its name from the trade of silk and other things between Asia and Europe, but the routes used were actually many. They all go through Central Asia, through changing landscape, countries and cultures. On my trip from North Korea to Turkey I made stops on the following places:
China: We made one stop at Urumqi, which is a city much different to East Coast China. People are friendlier, the food is like the ex-Soviet countries and most people are muslims. The city feels really Central Asian.
Khazakstan: We stayed in the capital Almaty, which had really good night life and some beautiful mountains lying next to it. The city feels quite like Moscow and more people speak Russian than Khazak.
Uzbekistan: This is the country we spent the most time in and for good reason. We visited Samarkand and Bukhara which have been capitols of one of the Worlds greatest empires where mosques, madrassas, tombs and minarets are built to be the most beautiful ever.
Turkmenistan: We visited Turkmenabat and traveled through the country to see that the capital Ashgabat had gotten all the oil money resulting in a white marble city with lots of fountains and Golden statues. The city has no soul as everything felt a bit fake/un natural, but it was so fascinating to see.
Iran: We stayed in Mashad, Isfahan and Teheran and it was a favorite even though we were tired of mosques and markets which was all there was to see in these cities. The reason being that Iran has the most warm hearted people who showed us that they welcome foreigners by inviting us to their homes, giving us small gifts and just showing genuine interest in us.
Turkey: We went to Ankara and Istanbul which both are cities with a lot of history and are good for cheap onwards flights. The food is also great and it is quite liberal making it a nice place to celebrate having completed the journey
Of the total 25 days we spent approximately 200 hours on the train, which I think was just as great as the stops made inbetween. The Silk Road is a trip everyone should have on their bucket list.
When arriving at the Turkish capitol, Ankara, we felt like we had gotten a lot closer to our home country then we had been before on our Silk Road journey. Ankara felt much more European that I had expected, but just like Istanbul it had its districts that had more in common with its neighbouring countries in the East.
Ankara Castle was definately one of those places. Here the streets were narrow, the buildings were worn and lots of people were selling handicrafts for the tourists. It was also here I realised how big the city really is after walking on the castle walls, overlooking the city from all sides. From there we headed over to the museum of Anatolian Civilization, then to the tomb of Ataturk and when asking our guide what was next he said there were no next. As such a big and historically important city I would have believed it to have more to offer, but sights are also not all. We spent the rest of the day eating one euro kebabs and celebrating having finished a legendary journey through the Silk Road as the group split up here going in different directions and eventually home to their own countries.
The Silk Road goes through many countries, but I am surprised by how little the standard of the trains did vary across the borders. The first ones we took were Chinese trains from from Beijing to Urumqi and Urumqi to Almaty.
We were staying in soft sleeper, 4 berth compartments that had plenty of storage space, a 220v outlet, adjustable speakers and air ventilation and a tv with remote and six channels for each of the beds. The restaurant cart had a good selection of what looked like airplane meals that were readily packed with a variety of meat, rice and vegetables for around 40rmb per set. Ordering a bowl of rice on the side would just be 2rmb and a can of beer was 5rmb, the same price you would pay in a shop or cheap restaurant in Beijing.
Toilets were also quite descent where they had both an Asian squat style toilet in one side of the carriage and a more spacious Western style toilet on the other side. Both unisex and both very clean throughout our train rides.
The Khazak trains were a lot more slow and our short trip from Urumqi to Almaty took as long as our first trip across all of China (33 hours) although the last one including a four hour border crossing. The trains were also much more old, reminding a lot like the Russian trains described in the post “what you can expect from the trains on the Trans Mongolian Railway”.
The night trains stayed pretty much the same throughout all the -Stan countries, with just some changes of compartment colors and the food and style of the train restaurants. For our day trains only lasting a few hours in Uzbekistan we had seats in an open carriage for approximately fourty people who all shared the same movie screens and bathrooms. It was still quite comfortable, and during the rides people would come by handing out included food and drinks for the passengers.
The Iranian train from Mashad to Isfahan also included lots of drinks and snacks and was a major step up from what we had gotten used to in the Stan countries. The carriages felt more spacious, it was super clean and the toilets were modern with a flush button instead of just a step on pedal that would dump in all on the railroads. The joy of the luxurious Iranians trains were not everlasting and for the train from Isfahan to Teheran was with 6 berth compartments, more like the Chinese “hard sleeper” compartments.
For the Trans Asian Express from Teheran to Isfahan we went half way with the nice Iranian trains that we had used before and half with Turkish Trains that were a bit older but had a very lively restaurant for the evenings where we would drink Rake and wrestle the locals. The scenery on the Turkish side was magnificent with rivers and mountains running next to the railway. When arriving Ankara I was a bit sad that I had to get off, as it had been a such a good ride..
We arrived Teheran early morning, just a few minutes after the train had done its daily 5 am prayer stop. It had been a short ride with just a couple of hours of sleep, so we were all happy when we arrived at our hotel and were told that we could eat breakfast, go swimming in the pool and then sleep a few more hours before starting the sightseeing in the Iranian capitol.
First stop on the tour through the capital was a stop at the palace, where the inside decoration was beautiful and full of mirrors. Next up was the former armory, which now had been turned into a Subway station. The last stop for the day was the former US embassy, which had been taken over during the Islamic eevolution in 1979 and is now being used as a museum showing documents found there that they claim proved surveilance and espionage from the US. The walls around the embassy was full of government propaganda saying “down with the us” and showed pictures of the Statue of Liberty and the American flag portrayed with death skulls and bombs etc.
When taking pictures of the grafitti, some guy stopped to tell us that this was all government propaganda that the Iranian people disliked and wanted removed. That confirmed the feeling I had all along, that the Iranian government do not represent the Iranian people very well. We have been invited over to numerous homes, been welcomed warmly to Iran and have been met with countless people wanting to know where we are from and what our countries were like, with no ulterior motive. Iranians have been the most warm hearted people I have ever met when traveling and they deserve the most of respect, so I ask that the pictures below should be perceived with the belief that this is just government propaganda. Iranians are beautiful people and it is both with exitement and sadness that we will be boarding the Trans Asian Express to Turkey today.
Iranian government propaganda. This does not represent the attitude of the people of Iran, who are the most welcoming and friendly people on my trip.