CHINA DECEMBER 2001 - JANUARY 2002

Richard Hingley and Mike Simpson

 

This is simply a diary recorded along the way now with pictures added, I made minimal attempt to note loco numbers in China and our impressions of what went on may be very far from the reality.

Summary

Chengde does make a very easy introduction to Chinese gricing and is well recommended, just don't end up inside the works with so called permission that turns out to be false. Fuxin would have justified a longer visit (up to a week), as there is masses of action and a huge system of which I doubt we saw a tenth. Tiefa would be superb but someone has taught them gricers=money and their charge for photography is far too high. Benxi cannot be effectively griced independently, we should, in hindsight, have stuck to the plan and gone to Weihe regardless of the difficulty of getting to Tongliao. The Hushitai system looks run down to next to nothing at the southern end but I should like to have explored the northern end as well before writing it off. Jingpeng was everything we expected of it (except we had no men in leather jackets giving us grief). The cock up failing to find Dahuichang is so embarrassing I almost left it off the report - my excuse is I was still feeling the effects of the previous days headache. I feel we did ok for our first time in China although others may disagree, it was certainly rather hard going at times, mainly due to getting used to a new country.

DEC 8 2001

06:00 Connex to London Bridge (no heat on unit -for acclimatisation?)

Thameslink to Blackfriars (must have been asleep, it's much better to change at Farringdon) then Circle to Liverpool St (10 min delay)

Stansted Express to airport (missed connection and 10 down on the next one)

KLM 2006 to Amsterdam (10 down)

Just time to buy some video tapes then KLM 0897 to Beijing (100% full)

Dec 9 2001

Arrive Beijing on time, bus A to main station as stated in Lonely Planet.

After looking for cheap hotels listed in the guides without success end up in the Hademen @ 450 - 20% (good except rather noisy due to the bus station next door).

No sign of foreigners booking office @ Beijing main and jet lag setting in so crash from 4:30 until 5AM.

Dec 10 2001

Give up the idea of going to Chengde today as we need to do some shopping first and get some maps as Mike did not get hold of the Nelles ones. Knocked Shanhetun off the plan as a result.

Did the shopping, including a semi-decent warm coat, booked soft seat on train K711 (not 225 as stated in the Lonely Planet guide) at 07:20 next morning at Beijing West. (No foreigners ticket office as such here either although there is still an office where the Rough Guide says it should be and they spoke English). Beijing West is a huge station clearly built to impress rather than be useful.

We were going on to look for the narrow gauge around the steelworks but it was snowing and bugger all light so we gave this a miss (may regret this if we don't get another chance!)

Dec 11 2001

Train journey to Chengde is fine (now we are awake the Foreigner's booking office is obvious!). Spend most of the time helping the lady opposite practice her English (or rather American) from a book.

Based on previous reports we turn right out of the station looking for a Hotel, while trying to shake off a woman who wants us to go to one up near the summer resort. End up in the Huilong hotel @ 250Y/day for a decent room with a view of the steam line.

While looking for the hotel we meet up with one of the staff who speaks superb English and invited us for a beer that night. Walked into the city and made the mistake of going into a restaurant with an English sign that overcharged by a factor of at least 5.

The weather was poor - overcast but not snowing. Walked up the line as far as the no photography signs passing one train and one light locomotive (up the hill). Found a couple of locos in the no-phot zone but not much action. Got into position just up the line but some of the coal pickers seemed concerned about us being there and we only saw one train in any case. While walking back we passed a single headed/banked train restarting next to the power station with much wheel slip and streams of sparks, but it is not possible to phot here.

Dec 12 2001

After several beers the previous night we had, perhaps against our better judgement, agreed to Jian being our guide for the day, so the three of us set out via bus 5. In the end we went all the way to the steelworks as our guide claimed to be able to fix a visit. This was a bit of a waste of time - there were two locos on shed and a crane plus the yard shunter on which we had a ride before being gripped for 300Y. From here we went back (via a beer at one of the train dispatchers homes) to the yard at the top of the 'main' line where we photted around the coal stage until we were asked to leave on safety grounds (allegedly). After some 'polite negotiation' on what we were being asked to pay for we ended up in the cab of an SY for the ride down to the no phot zone, once under way we were allowed to drive - a worthwhile result especially on the steep bit near the tunnel.

Lunch worked out at a rather more reasonable Y10 for the three. The sun had come out so there was just time for a couple of phots on the river bridge before it set.

Dec 13 2001

Took the 5 bus up to the bridge just before the tunnel in glorious sunshine, just in time to get a single headed single banked train going down.

The weather was now perfect but no trains! For some reason there was a 2.5 hour gap before the next train (by which time we were the other side of the tunnels) before a coal train (1+2) finally arrived. This train's bankers soon returned and there was one lot of empties but that was it for daylight trains, my camera batteries failed in the cold so I lost most shots to poor exposure. By the time the next train came we were beyond the no phot zone and it was dark. We then had a most pleasant meal at Jian's flat, and he found out about onward trains to Fuxin.

Dec 14 2001

Unfortunately the only direct train was the hard seat only no 2065 (it appears that every train in China has been renumbered!) at 07:01 so the hoped for days gricing plus sleeper had to be forgone.

As soon as we got on we upgraded into the (slightly) soft seat coach - at 6', I find the upright seats quite a trial irrespective of the extra covers.

Seen along the way:

SY1387 in steam @ Lingyuan (Dong) plus two others in steam hidden behind wagons.

QJ (assumed) 6677 plus crane Z601/98 in steam @ Yebashou, one other passed nearby, another @ Beipiaonan and one more near Yi Xian.

Since a cock up (i.e. I lost the print out) meant we had no information on Fuxin (It's not in any guide book) and it was dark and cold we followed one of Rob Dickinson's suggestions and simply asked a cab for the 'binguan'. After a quick mobile call by the driver we were stuck in the mother of all traffic jams, caused by a CNR diesel delivering coal blocking a major road - our driver got in front of it in the end by about half an inch and delivered us to the Bei Fang Hotel. This hotel has seen better days (or possibly decades!) but has all the basics for 80Y including cold breakfast and there is an acceptable restaurant across the road.

Dec 15 2001

As we knew little about where to find the action here we walked from the hotel towards the power station, which appears nearly new and is fitted for oil burning (road delivered) as well as coal (rail delivered). After a circumnavigation of the power station finding little of interest, following a likely looking piece of track lead us to group of level crossings amid the hutongs where a steady precession of electric-hauled coal and slack trains were seen. (This area seemed to include the washer and weigh-house but we did not look closely enough to be sure). A few kettles sneaked past unphotably but most of the action here was the varied collection of steeple cab electrics. After a pause for tea and firewater in one of the crossing keepers huts we carried on and suddenly found ourselves on the edge of the big hole. The sun was wrong so we picked our way onward through the rather run down pit until we encountered a semi-derelict deep mine with a single (OOU) electric on narrow gauge (30"?) tracks. There must be some action here though as the rails were shiny.

This got us the other side of the hole and allowed the full spectacle of the switch backs to be enjoyed - some 11 trains were in sight, including two steam loaded with temporary track, very hard to photograph due to the haze caused by one of the coal seams being on fire. These seemed to be on their way out of the pit so we started to make our way back and caught the first one in glorious evening light as it joined the main line that nearly circumnavigates the pit. The second one was well behind and we wanted to find an easier way back to the hotel so we headed back - in fact passing the other side of the power station it was not far. By the looks of things a no 6 bus would get one most of the way there.

Dec 16 2001

We still needed to find the station again and we had seen no sign of the mine passenger trains the previous day so we headed for where the map in the hotel lobby suggested the station should be and found it without difficulty. For the future, a no 2 bus is the way from right outside the hotel.

Took a wander through the CNR yards (mainly diesel shunted although we did see a crane in steam and one kettle passed while we were finding our way in). Walking back behind the station we found a connection into the mines system and followed it to what turned out to be a stabling point with coal stage. This contained 6 locos in steam with nothing to do plus a few derelicts. The crew of an SY on a two coach train simmering in the carriage sidings next door invited us up for a cuppa (best we've yet had in China) and we ended up going for a (charged for) ride (plus drive) to one of the mines and back. This took us first parallel with the CNR, then to the left of it, past a huge church to a terminus at a mine where we lay over until dark. We stayed on the loco most of the way back before getting off at the local station and walking back to the CNR one for the bus.

Dec 17 2001

Having decided to stay an extra day now we knew where the steam action was we booked train 4207 on for tomorrow (in under 20sec)

We then headed for the complex near the local station where the deep mine, coal grab and through trains from the other pits provided steam action like I have never seen; and all bathed in sun from the right direction for the chimney first workings to boot. Once the evening passenger trains joined in the scene was amazing. As the light failed there was a lull so we followed a spur back towards the big hole that had produced several loaded trains both steam and electric to find yet another yard complex (including a flyover) that we had not seen before. Even in the dying light, this produced two electric trains (one top and tail and one over the flyover) plus two steam, one of which we managed to catch up with. The walk between the yards also produced a most odd piece of equipment looking rather like a pit winder designed by a Mad Max producer - it was too dark to see exactly what it did but it was running as we passed going back. As we rejoined the yard were we spent the day we saw SY0036 in red oxide in steam outside what turned out to be the workshops, which a quick look confirmed contained one other loco in bits and a cab used as a bike shed (carries 508) outside. It was now well dark so again a No 2 bus back.

Dec 18 2001

Another no 2 bus and a quick couple of hours gricing before the train to Shenyang. A further exploration of the works area revealed 1088 dumped and 3 others not immediately identifiable due to dismantling and new paint. SY0036 was acting as works pilot. A very busy period followed around 11-12 and we headed back for the train well satisfied.

Train 4207 was OK and again we sat opposite someone wanting to practice their English, surprisingly in a non-smoking coach which most of the occupants respected. We could probably have made Tiefa today but it seemed easier to get there in daylight.

Headed for a hotel mentioned in Lonely Planet (near the north station) but it was not obvious so we ended up in the Tie Jian for 120Y with breakfast. This is the CNR hotel (judging by the bedding) to find it go out the south exit of the north station and turn left, the hotel is across the first intersection with English sign on the roof, good clean room and attentive staff, the young lady was to regret offering to carry my rucksack up the stairs! Good restaurant passed on way from station.

Dec 19 2001

Train 6687 to Tiefa, the CNR timetable only goes as far as the junction at Daqing and we intended to excess the rest of the way if this did turn out to be a through train, which it was but never got the chance. The train was a bit late (got into Tiefa @ 13:30) and we turned left out of the station looking for the hotel Rob Dickinson mentioned to find the apparently newly refurbished Tie Fa Kuang Wu Binguan which is a vast marble palace with a huge choice of rooms. Settle for a standard double @ 240Y. To find this head up the main road past the power station until you pass a shopping centre whose architecture could have come straight off a Vesta box, take the next right past the party headquarters? and it is one block up on the left. The staff here were most interested to know why we were in Tiefa - a picture of an SY seemed to explain things, however.

There was just time to go back to the station and see 1770 doing some shunting and the steam coaling crane as the light went. Then to a restaurant in one of the Vesta buildings for a huge meal once the very busy place had set up an extra table.

Dec 20 2001

Not the best day's gricing by a long chalk. Started well with a passenger down to the junction, then a steady walk east in the mist, with sun just trying to break through. The trains I noted were:

10:00 west Sy?? loaded

11:10 west Sy 0065? light

11:50 east 1770 loaded TF

12:10 west 1412 loaded TF

13:00 west diesel on train 6687

13:00 1771 shunting

on the stabling point 1770/0063/1683/1255

At this point the police arrived and we were taken to the mining company administration where they explained that we were welcome to photograph but that they expect all independent visitors to pay a $40 per head fee, they were empathic that they prefer groups. After some discussion this came down very slightly to $35 but in my view, while I take their point that it is reasonable for them to get something, $10 would be nearer the mark. They did provide visitors tags (presumably left over from a group visit as they have dates in March). They offered a guide to the best phot spots which we declined and showed us their 'exhibition room' which contained a selection of locomotive scrap, a pair of 1973 builders plates, the cabsides off nos. 6923 and 0029 and a laminated and mounted copy of Duncan Cotterill's sketch map! (Off the net we assumed, as there was a terminal in there). They also showed us a book they have published in which they are billing themselves as the Tiefa Railway Museum. I leave others to draw their own conclusions but I for one will not be back at this price. Maybe this is the reason for the nearly empty newly rebuilt hotel (it appears to belong to the mining administration) if so dream on!

The mine manager asked us what we were going to do next and provided a lift back to the stabling point, where the light and the action had both gone. We watched a state railway diesel (1998 plates) shunting the hump yard - it sounded very like a BR class 50 with a 'Hoover' whine from the turbocharger. We headed down to the passenger station for the train back and a warm up but at first, the staff would not let us on while they attended to the stoves. I saw a loco pass that I identified as SY1785 -if so this must be brand new so I suspect it was 1765, it was nearly dark and it went straight onto the stabling point. SY0063 now backed on the stock and we accepted an invite into the cab for a warm. The train back filled up at the first colliery (better than the through train, which was nearly empty) and we headed back after an eventful but disappointing day.

Dec 21 2001

A much better day by any measure although it started badly as we overslept and woke to find the sun out but were too late for the morning passenger trains. Breakfast was rather weird - the main dining room was being painted so breakfast was in a sort of conservatory - this had been ok if rather cold but the roof had now warmed up and there was a steady rain as the ice from the condensation melted!

To the station in time for the 09:48 to the west junction which we caught by the skin of our teeth - vintage coach with wooden seats and panelling - the clippie could not understand why we did not move up the train to a coach with the heat on. I completely lost track of the trains today, basically we started east of the junction (where the police had a quick look at us, checked with the office and were not seen again). Then we had a succession of trains - at one point there was one shunting the colliery to the south, one each way on the main line, one coming from the north and a pick up goods in the west junction yard. And all with the sun out.

We saw all six passenger trains, two of which are diesel (note there must be a balloon loop to the south as this train came and went chimney first with the vintage coach at the front)

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We then kept on until the light went, then a bit longer on video before getting the 17:15 back, very cold but well satisfied.

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One word of warning the 'Hapi' beer is quite tasty but very gassy - you end up feeling like a Zeppelin if you have any quantity of it.

Dec 22 2001

The $1 alarm clock that Mike got in Indonesia was put to good use, we had breakfast while the staff were still setting it out and were at the station for the morning sequence of arrivals and departures. This left time to get back to the hotel and check out before the 12PM cut off, then wait for the afternoon arrivals/departures (mainly tender first today) before getting the diesel back to Shenyang - this seems to serve as a school train so quite a few kids now have Mike's name in their books! Incidentally, there is Internet access available in the station at Tiefa (the rooms to the right of the platform gates). The tickets (the office and main platform access only seems to be opened for the through trains) came as card ones for the only time in China.

On the way we saw a pair of kettles at Xintaizi, plus one having its fire dropped at Hushitai, presumably these are on the local/mining railway although one of them had the CNR logo on its tender

Booked into the same hotel as before in Shenyang and discussed what to do next. The original plan had been to go to Weihe via Shanetun then finish off at Jingping but there was no longer enough time. Getting to Weihe from Teiling would have been no problem - the trains connected nicely, but (and this may just be the way the CNR time table is laid out making it hard to find) there seemed no easy way from Weihe or Harbin to Tongliao for the JiTong bash.

Dec 23 2001

We decided to sleep on the question and (mainly because there was a train) ended up heading to Benxi to have a look at the steel works. The problems of travelling in a country where we can neither speak nor read the language, plus a rather unhelpful booking clerk meant that the 09:20 we were trying to catch was missed. After a further session with the timetable and the summery of departures on the city map we still could not find a train so we decided to go the next day and went to book the ticket, this time the clerk was much more helpful and came up with no 4206 @ 12:06 (a train which does not appear in the timetable). We tried to book our Shenyang - Tongliao train but the computer could not issue them so far in advance.

On the way we passed an opencast mine with an electric railway, at a guess based on the information the steelworks gave us this could be the iron ore mine, described as the largest open pit mine in Asia. Arriving at Benxi the railway hotel was right outside so we used it - ok @Y128, if a bit run down and underheated. As this was not somewhere we had intended to go we had only the minimal info in the IRS book to go on so we went for a walk to find the works. The no 1 works was obvious but getting to it proved difficult - we spent a long time lost in the CNR C&W shops trying to get across the railway - there are under passes but not all roads leading to the railway have them (two steam cranes seen in use moving wagon bodies around) before crossing the river and walking up the hill to what turned out to be the slag tipping point. This was an impressive sight in the last of the light but, as expected from the IRS description, it is diesel worked. The (immaculate) diesels were worth watching and there were at least two equally clean electrics also working the molten steel trains on the adjacent line. A no 11 bus runs up here but it turned out only from the main road across the river.

Dec 24 2001

We decided to stay a full day to try to have a look at the no 2 works, it was obvious but the entrance was not. Eventually we walked along the CNR until we saw a kettle then headed up a siding towards it, finding ourselves at the loco shed (steam - looked like maybe a dozen SY on shed) with a fair bit of action both steam (all but a loaded ladle train tender first where we were standing) and electric. It looked as if we were still outside the works proper (streets with pavements and standard signs in Pinyin/English, plastic palm trees) but in fact the police arrived and it soon proved that we were right in the heart of the plant where we clearly should not be. We were taken first to the police office then to the works head office in town where the manager (who speaks perfect English) asked us what we were doing, and how we managed to get into the middle of the works without being seen earlier.

He accepted our explanation but explained that it was up to the (city) police to deal with us as the works is off limits without permission. After a couple of phone calls they confiscated my four shots of the day (a decent burial given the quality of them), taking Mike's film to be developed. (They say they will send the shots not taken here back but this seems too much to hope for especially as they are E6 and this cannot be developed nearer than Shenyang) and got us to blank the video, then explained that:

1. Foreigners are welcome to visit the works but it is secret and the local police must give permission in advance.

2. The works is dangerous and walking in via the railway doubly so.

3. We are very welcome with permission next time and sorry for the inconvenience.

We were then presented with a book each (in English) giving an official introduction to the works, which they are clearly in the process of modernising and a lift back to the hotel.

Basically one to chalk up to experience - had we done the same thing in England or Germany I doubt we would have got off any more lightly (certainly the throwing out would have been a sight less friendly). It is clear that little of interest is visible at the no 2 works (which is surrounded by the city) without going right inside, even from the outside I guess it would only have been a matter of time before we were gripped. It was also the case that going somewhere without detailed prior information was always going to be a risk. The worst problem, however, as we found in Greece a few years ago is that getting permission is almost impossible unless you can afford a local guide, which we can't. It is clear enough what to do, the problem is how!

To the station for a train out tomorrow, we were offered one in the afternoon but no point as the hotel was paid for and train L568 (there seemed to be several L series trains around Shenyang/Benxi that were not in the timetable) could get us to Shenyang by 9 the next day. To try to avoid another dubious experience we decided to have a look at the local railway at Shenyang - with luck this will be as laid back as Fuxin.

Dec 25 2001

Seen on the way back to Shenyang a tank engine shunting a dead SY(?) assumed to be the GJ @ Sujiatun Industrial Locomotive Works, they were up sun and wreathed in steam so positive identification was impossible.

Missed the train to the local railway - we were expecting the usual rush at the barriers but in fact nothing happened and neither of us realised the time. The staff were rather over helpful at this point (we were being filmed for some reason which might explain things). The next train was not until the evening and they took some convincing (thanks are due to the English speaking passenger who translated for us) that we did not want to use it but would wait until the next morning. They then insisted on changing our tickets. Since they cost around 20p this was rather a waste of time although nice of them. We could probably have found a bus but the enthusiasm had rather died by this stage.

Went to the nearest hotel (Heping/Peace depending which sign you believe) - rather expensive @ Y180 although this turned out to be a very nice room and there will be cheaper doubles but please don't stay here, see my comments below.

Probably a good job we missed the train as Mike had incipient flu and was in a poor state all day. We dragged ourselves onto a bus in the afternoon to look at the north tomb (well worth it).

Dec 26 2001

Mike's flu was worse so he stayed in while I headed off to the local line to explore. The staff at Shenyang north were expecting me, and once convinced Mike was not coming made sure I got on the right train. I had thought that the Hushitai end was the place to start as there was an obvious power station that would be expected to receive in coming coal and we had seen a passenger coach in passing on the way from Tiefa. In fact it appears that the action (if any) is at the northern end. I arrived at Hushitai (local) at about midday. (To find it go straight out of the CNR station to the east, pick your way through the hutongs to the main road, turn left, follow the CNR north through the market until the buildings stop. Then the station is to the left through the coal yard beyond the prominent church - this is a mile+ rather than the 1km quoted in descriptions). There was an SY on the servicing point when I arrived but it vanished northwards as I walked up to it. I hoped that it was running round the single passenger coach on the other line but it buggered off up the line so I followed it. The loco collected some oil tanks and empty coal wagons from the power station but had vanished before I could catch up with it. For want of anything better to do I followed the line north for several miles, finding it in a very run down state. There is a derelict colliery with the line through its passenger platform lifted, with a possible phot spot on a river bridge. Then a level crossing over a main road (many busses in Shenyang colours here but I lost the note I made of the numbers). All the signal and crossing huts and most of the signals were derelict between the power station and the main road.

Finally after about 6-7 miles I found a pair of working mines with wagons being loaded but clearly a long way from being full and a lot of coal was going out by road. SY1247 now passed me light (typically I was in the wrong place for a phot athough by running across a field I go something), seeing no point in going any further I turned back. The staff at the main road crossing said the train was coming so I tried and failed to get in position as 1247 come back with a single flat wagon. And that was it - I had hoped that the collieries would feed south into the power station, but in fact it appears that the main traffic if any must be north via the CNR connection. Getting back to the terminus the passenger coach appears used (shiny rails/wheels) and the coaling crane was in steam, the only person there (at a guess the crane driver) was unable to understand my attempt to find out when or if the passenger coach was expected to do anything. The only other stock here is a derelict mine wagon, a couple of flatcars and a scruffy 4W railcar with no number. From the look of the rails a fair bit of traffic must enter the power station. As it was now dark I headed back to the CNR station for the only southbound train (indeed the only train anywhere) in the evening. Another place where the booking office does not open until 5 min before the train goes, and then only when someone knocked on the window. God knows what the 7 or 8 staff I saw here do with only four trains a day.

All in all a bit pointless from the gricing point of view, but interesting and a nice walk in the country looking at industrial remains as I used to in the 80s before they started landscaping everything.

Dec 27 2001

Mike was recovered so our first thought was to head straight to Jingpeng, however the hotel buggered this by being unable to change money despite having a board up with the rates and claiming they did it in the service guide. This display of utter shite meant an hour wasted finding the right branch of the Bank of China (who have an English speaking staff member who was most helpful), this bank is nowhere near where either guide book says it is. (Mind you the Lonely Plant book is pants on Shenyang, the Rough Guide is better although I doubt any researchers from either have been there for years as they both write it off in a few pages and make reference to trolley-busses that are clearly long gone). This left no time to get the train so we went back to our original hotel (they also have an exchange board up, we didn't ask however), the Peace Hotel will get no more business from me.

To set the seal on a shit morning I also encountered a booking clerk at the north station that can only be described as a racist bitch from hell (may well be the same one that gave us trouble on the way to Benxi). Despite having date, train number and destination written down in characters she did not even look up the train but screamed and then wrote a load of gibberish (or at least nothing in the guide helped and waved us away). I did wonder if that particular window could not do advanced purchases but I saw the date on the next ticket she issued and that was advanced. Mike had a go a few windows up with the same note and got tickets and seat reservations in 3 minutes, most of which was in the queue. As far as I can see this woman just likes pissing off foreigners (she succeeded!) so if you are in need of a ticket in Shenyang buy it at the ultra helpful (and old, Russian?) south station or in the right most part of the north one where they are reasonably helpful.

The guide books are very dismissive of the palace at Shenyang but, although it suffers from most of the rooms not housing display cases being restored to a universal early Qing (allegedly) appearance and is heavily damaged by the pollution, it is still well worth an afternoon's wander.

Dec 28 2001

Train 4227 was packed as far as Siping, so the reservations were very useful - the hard seat on this one was quite good with non-upright backs to the seats so we declined the upgrade we were offered later. At Tongliao we got touted into an acceptable doss house (hotel would be a bit strong) for Y50 per night which is what you expect for less than a fiver. On the other hand the heat works and Mike's comment on the bog ('have you seen trainspotting?') is a bit harsh although it would help if the light worked in there... As I left one of my gloves in the police van at Benxi, a new set of inners for 20p in the local supermarket was useful. Went for the Mongolian hotpot in a restaurant just up the street.

Dec 29 2001

The doss house staff were rather keen for us the leave (since the train is @ 11:35 we were in no hurry). While sorting out some hot water for the morning pot noodles Mike met an English teacher from the local middle school who kindly wrote down Galadesitai for us, making getting the ticket easy. The train was fairly busy at the start but we soon had three seats each and enjoyed the longest steam journey I have ever done (aged 33 I missed most European steam). Not surprisingly no one else got off at Galadesitai and we found our way into town by moonlight in intense cold, booking into the Telecom Hotel once they had unlocked the gates for us. Some confusion meant we ended up with a room each (@60Y each this is hardly a problem though) and it seemed to take 10 grinning staff to sort all this out.

Dec 30 2001

Got up the hill in good light - pity that there was no snow and the wind was well up but 100% steam - a sight I never thought to see. We saw (I think) 7 trains up the hill, one of which was single headed and 5 down, with the new loop being used once. It remains to be seen what the photographic results will be like as I had one film tear its perforations (luckily near the end) and another snapped its leader in the cold. The hotel restaurant was just closing (at about 6:30) but they reopened and rapidly provided a meal including a plate of chips.

Dec 31 2001

Headed for the other side of the pass by minibus where some snow had fallen so the vista was stunning. Unfortunately there were rather less trains than the previous day (4 up / 5 down, with a long and very cold wait from around 10 to gone 12). The last one up being a very short rake without caboose but still double headed - looked very well in the evening light. Also unfortunate was that we both had films snap - time will tell if anything can be saved - well done Fuji because most of it could (lost the best shot though), maybe 12 exposure films were a good idea after all...

Jan 1 2002

Not many trains (but lots of Japanese gricers) today, we were a bit late getting going due to stomach problems so we stayed at the Resui end. There were five up four down (plus a diesel hauled permanent way train down) while the light lasted.

Jan 2 2002

Headed for Linxi then Chifeng by bus no problem although the road from Linxi to Chifeng leaves something to be desired. It is rather like travelling in northern Scotland in the 70's, a new highway is being built but the present road is being destroyed in the process leading to long sections on dirt or unmaintained old roads (and deviations round toll gates not in use via fields). From a 10am start we were in Chifeng by 4pm (the connection at Linxi was less than 10 min). This meant plenty of time to book sleepers on the 8pm to Beijing, then retired to a restaurant across the road to kill the time (and several bottles of the Chifeng beer).

Jan 3 2002

The hard sleeper was fine but a little overheated and got us in dead on time at 06:01. We took bus (no 20) from Beijing West station to the main station and booked in the Hademen again for three nights. By this time I had a splitting headache so spent the rest of the morning in bed, four of Mike's aspirin later I was just about fit for an afternoon wander around the forbidden city.

Jan 4 2002

We were supposed to be going to Dahuichang limestone works but a series of cock-ups meant we never found it. The IRS book's description puts it SW of the second last metro stop on a 385 bus route but gives no clue where to get off the bus and claims it is walking distance from the metro. We found what appeared to be it (standard gauge wagons full of white powder, loads of dumped rock) but no trace of any narrow gauge. My best guess was that we had further to go but the note of which bus to take must have blown away when I pulled the map out of my pocket so we ended up on the wrong (327) one. We were on the correct (385) route as well so we must have been quite near the place, although the person suggesting it is walking distance is clearly being rather optimistic. A right bugger really, made worse by the fact that I had written the directions on the back of Rob's highly detailed instructions on how to find Yexi.

Jan 5 2002

We spent the last day at the Great Wall; for once the lonely planet suggestion of how to get there was spot on and even Badaling was largely deserted once you walked more than a kilometre.

Jan 6 2001

Used the airport bus and got there with time in hand for the 11:11 KLM flight back. This was about 20 min late (although it landed on time) due to earlier fog and delays at Amsterdam, the connection to Stansted being about 45min late after a no show passenger had been found. Incidentally the guard on the Stansted express took some convincing that Savers are valid for a month not 5 days, as he seems to believe! Clearly not only China has major problems making its railways work! Returned via the Central and Northern lines, for once making a decent connection at London Bridge and was home by 8pm. To paraphrase Flanders and Swan just in time to go to bed at breakfast time!

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