Tayshetsky District, Russia
(15:00 & 23:00, 4 July)
We left Tayshet (part of the Trans-Siberian) a few hours ago around 15:00 local time. This is the place where the BAM (Baikalo-Amurskaya Magistral or Mainline) starts officially – the 3100km rail link – mega-branch line – to the Pacific across the northern shores of Lake Baikal.
Labelled ‘Hero Project of the Century’ by the soviets to deliberately encourage young patriots to come lend a hand, it was built through virgin taiga and permafrost between 1974 and 1991 (NB: part of it was started in the 1930s but never finished).
Every village I’ve seen so far since leaving Tayshet through this endless taiga has been a logging town. Every train I’ve seen go by has been carrying logs. Every house seems to be made of wood. But they all started as rail depots for comrade workers and supplies along the construction route.
Sawmills burn refuse. Cranes load sawn timber stacks. And as we progress east the undulation continues and I can feel the train heading up an incline for the first time as we negotiate some sweeping bends.
The occasional relief affords a glimpse north and south across the endless expanse of taiga. It seems it’s been the one unchanging vegetation type (at these latitudes) since I left SPb: pine, birch, spruce/fir and larch.
The buildings in these railway timber towns are all made from timber. There would appear to be no shortage.
Today I’ve spent most time in the restaurant carriage reading and writing, as the woman on the bunk below me hasn’t bothered to pack up her mattress and make up the day seats and table that fold up from within the lower bunk bed. She’s not the most sociable. But I did see her smile once yesterday afternoon at Novosibirsk where she boarded. As the train pulled away from the station her son or lover (not sure which) was running alongside the train on the platform. He kept up with the train for a good while. And through the window she was waving him to stop and though he couldn’t hear she was whispering things to him and smiling in a bashful way.
The guy in the restaurant wagon with me now is having his daily ritual. Well its the third time he’s come in to have it today! The restaurant woman with the big bark presents him a measured quantity of vodka in what looks like a giant bell-bottomed lab flask, along with a petite shot glass and a plate of potatoes, onions and herring as zakuski (appetiser). I wonder why he just doesn’t buy himself a whole bottle, but I admire the ritual. And he usually leaves without finishing the absolute last drop either.
23:00 local time and the fog settles over the open areas between the taiga. A pastel red and grey, the colour of galahs back home, paints the near midnight sky. It’s probably time to crawl back into my top bunk and let the rollicking clickity clack lull me to sleep.