The BAM

Russia is huge! Looking at the map and realizing what little distance we covered in a week on the BAM scares me a little thinking of the many thousand kilometers we have ahead of us. BAM stands for Baikal Amur Mainline. We are taking it in the opposite direction though, with our heads out the window. The windows are triple-glass and the opening is tiny as winter here is from late August to mid-June, no kidding! You don’t open the train window when its -50°C.

Started as a project by Stalin in the 30s with thousands of prisoners (of war) building it, the BAM only opened in 1991. It begins where Siberia ends. This is serious Russia, endless forests, bears and even tigers roaming. There are next to no people and all settlements along the track are homes to railroad workers. This may well be the most boring post we will ever upload to our blog as there is hardly anything but trees to see. The occassional river crossings are highlights and I finally get to read Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” in half a day – South East Asia never really gave me the space or the tranquility but here it’s just the never-ending sound of the rails on the permafrost underneath. Da-dam, da-dam, .. ,da-dam, da-dam.

Day 2

And on it goes, single track, forests to one side, forests to the other. By now we made friends with the people on board and the word that an “inastranets” – a foreigner – is on board spread quickly. The trains have changed in Russia. Nine years ago, on my first week-long journey across Siberia, drinking was a big part of it and probably the one that’s responsible for having acquired any knowledge of the Russian language. Nowadays it’s not allowed anymore, our attendant sells some anyway, which we find out as guys from all over the train come to her to buy. The same goes for smoking, it seems nowadays it’s not only every man but many women as well. Back in the days you would leave the main section of the carriage and go to the entrance door part which connects to the main section through a little hallway where the attendant runs her shop and anyone can get hot water for tea or instant noodle soup. There you could smoke and freeze as this section is not heated and the windows on the doors are covered by thick frost. Nowadays there is no (official) smoking anymore, but if you’re nice (buying things from the shop) the attendant will let you smoke at the station we’re told.

Day 3 on the BAM and stop over in Tynda with a change of trains
and in the end Day 4 on BAM and arrival on Lake Baikal

Thank You for inviting us for a train ticket or a night in a guesthouse, please let us know your address. We would love to send you a card from Russia!

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