How is to travel by the trans Siberian Railway in winter ?
I am writing inside the legendary Trans-Siberian railway. It’s hard for me to realise that I am actually in here! Even if we are not travelling for the entire route, the feeling is the same- excitement! We have started our journey from the super frozen Ulan-Ude in the morning and we are crossing the wintery Siberia – I am hoping to help you with my notes regarding an all-time-classic travel question : how is to travel on the Trans Siberian railway in winter? What do you see? What do you feel and why?
I am typing as fast as I can- I don’t have any plug around me so the laptop has to stay alive for as much as possible! Don’t even think about internet connection!
Outside of the window you can only see white, the snow has covered everything and in some villages the fog is so heavy that you hardly notice their names on the signs. The wooden colourful houses with the picturesque windows (very traditional Buryatian architecture) are hidden deep in the snow and some people are trying to sweep the fresh snow aside in order to keep their home paths as clean as possible till the next summer when the sun will speed up the process. Hence, hills of snow are surrounding the villages… maybe a kind of a controversial protection against the cold too? However, it is too late for the areas where the snow hasn’t been cleaned properly from scratch. The ice has now been formed and it is so solid and hard that only the beforementioned sun, from April onwards fingers crossed, can ruin it. If these were not enough, the roofs have already more than 50cm snow on them, how strong they should be? Oh well, I am noticing that the train doors are freezing too!
The landscape is remaining white but it is changing dramatically: from the tiny villages to the forest of thousands of pine and fir trees covered by snow. Few of them are bended, due to the amount of the snow they are receiving consistently, but most of them are standing proud and beautiful and, I can’t find more words, the nature is unbeatably mesmerizing!
From time to time, rivers are appearing out of the window, but you can only tell that they are rivers due to the banks around them, they are frozen and (of course!) off-white. In the summertime their water meets the lake Baikal but for now they are just hibernating. We are crossing some old-fashioned bridges… this time , no need to guess, I am pretty sure that, below us, there are sleeping rivers!
Half of the way around the lake Baikal and the train is reaching Slyudyanka , where the old Circum-Baikal Railway starts. This is an old part of the Trans-Siberian route but in nowadays it operates mainly for tourists daily in summer and for locals (3 times per week) in winter using a different train and of course, having different price! The next stop serves the ski centre of the area and this village is basically as vibrant as a small town, some childern with red cheeks are playing under a wooden shelter, for a moment I thought they are too brave or just… too kids for doing that!
We are saying hello to the lake Baikal and we are planning our next rendezvous as this time we are just passing by her for half an hour!
As we are approaching our stop, getting prepared for -40 C, I am thinking about the people. How do they live here? They should be extremely courageous and strong, but are they happy? I guess they are (why not?!) but I am thirsty to hear their stories before any assumption- the snow, the ice here is a reality not just a Christmassy cute and happy thing so I can’t be on their shoes. However, no doubt the railway has been changing positively their routine for the last 120 years and, under these extreme conditions, it has saved lives as well. So many stories were waiting to be shared and, as the medium is the message*, the train has conveyed and “filtered” any message till nowadays uniquely and reliably.
The days in Siberia are short but , surprisingly, not that short – this makes me have a selfish human-centred thought. The winter days could not be different here anyway. If it were otherwise, we would be unable to admire all of this beauty.
Thank you trans-Siberian for the experience! I shall return for the full trip!
What do you think? Would you hop on the trans-Siberian during winter?