Migrant in Moscow

By Migrant

Head south then east

taiga: the coniferous forests extending across much of subarctic North America and Eurasia, bordered by tundra to the north and steppe to the south

On Day 2, the train passes through a thousand kilometres of "taiga", endless clumps of scruffy forest interspersed with snow-covered fields.  

We crossed the Urals during the night, at Yekaterinburg, so we're now officially in Siberia.  We're also officially in Asia.  Today, the train stops at Tyumen, Ishim, Omsk, Barabinsk and Novosibirsk. There are about 4 hours between stops but the intervals begin to feel much longer.  These are technical stops to change engines mostly, and I don't see people embarking or leaving the train (unlike the local trains).  However, quite frequently, Mongolians who I assume live locally, approach the wagon attendants with what seem to be parcels for conveyance home.

Russian railways runs only on Moscow time.  This helps keep one sane as the time zones ‘lengthen’ and it’s not always possible to know when to change the clock.  We are by now already into a second time zone away from Moscow.  Consequently, I wake up to discover that I’ve missed Tyumen at 06.12 Moscow time.  Locally, it’s already 07.12 (or is it 08.12?). The provodnik (wagon attendant) rouses himself and goes off to turn on the hot water samovar.  I have to remind him to do so every day.  It’s not like there is much else for him to do on the train.  An hour or so later, the train slows and stops.  I see it's Tyumen and I haven't missed it after all.  I give up trying to keep track of the time.

There’s a lot of freight heading west and the line gets busier as we head east.  The section between Omsk and Novosibirsk is apparently the busiest freight line in the world.  We pass ten freight trains during the first hour alone. As the day moves on, the track starts to run slightly northeast and consequently the sun sets behind the train.

At Barabinsk, the engines are changed as they are at several other points during the journey.  Again, the wheeled kiosks on the platform are closed. Most have stuffed toys, playing cards, and other things to distract people from boredom during the journey.  There are also souvenirs from Siberia, painted lacquered boards and pottery.

Again, as throughout the journey, one has an overwhelming sensation of great distances - with a capital D.  And of space too: the sky is a vast undulating pale blue.  Every now and then an industrial complex stands out, most look quite modern and there are clumps of housing blocks around them. This is a heavily industrialised region though that's seldom visible from the train but is abundantly evidenced by the frequent freight trains.

Omsk is the last stop in daylight.  The city of course the headquarters of Admiral Kolchak's White Army during the Russian Civil War in 1920 when the Whites controlled most of the Trains-Siberian Railway.  The station looks like the standard model for all stations and seems to have been painted recently in bright green.  In fact, almost every station is painted in green.  I can see the point of this colour in the long months of winter darkness.  The stations, incidentally, always look very well maintained and have with signs in English too.  There is no whistle to warn passengers that the train is leaving a station, which is always exactly on time.

Novosibirsk is the last stop before lights out.  Originally named Novo-Nikolaevsk until the Bolsheviks took over and wiped out all references to Nicholas.

The snow cover has become lighter as we move east and I see that parts of some rivers and streams have thawed out.  By now, we’re into a 4-hour time difference to Moscow according to the update on my phone but I find I'm now only paying attention only to the sun.  I find too that I have developed a rhythm tuned into the phases of the daylight, and time has begun to lose its context.  The lands run on forever and there is no sign of anyone or any activity.  Neither are there any fences around any fields.  If you’re a fox, this is paradise.

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