Tied Up With Wire

Tied Up With Wire
Kazachinsko-Lensky District, International

Kazachinsko-Lensky District, International

04:30 local

Lena, of the namesake Lena River and also the inspiration for Lenin to change his name, seems a mountain town. The taiga seems taller, older, wiser? The shunting yards and the timber yards are dilapidated but functional. Rusted but oiled by people. Tied up with wire as we say in Australia.

Hot water pipes that used to supply heating to residences, criss-cross the town in trenches lying rusted and exposed, their insulation in tatters.

The mountain road is gravel beside the BAM line. And the early graveyard morning mist is broken sporadically by the first rays of the rising sun.

We’re following a shallow river now. Briefly at least. It’s gravelly bed clearly visible under just a couple of feet of smooth running crystal waters. The sense of mountain life is evident. No longer the wide meandering silt laden rivers of the flat expanses of taiga in the west, the rivers cut through tough meta-sediments and the catchment is largely forested.

The narrow river returns. We’re travelling alongside it heading upriver as it were. Pines and spruce line it’s tidy banks. The river-worked stones are paver-like. Occasional conifers lean out over the river ready to fall and become the decaying flotsam of tomorrow. The fog still hangs over the entire landscape.

Nir (Нир) is another one of those two minute pauses on the BAM. The station building another example of soviet monumental style. I open the vestibule window to take a photo and I’m hit by the freshness of the taiga-infused mountain air! Hmmmm. I can taste Baikal already.

Soon the river we were following is narrower. But as the fog breaks high I can see rounded mountain ranges and that we are in a broad valley and that the river is part of a multi-channeled system hidden beneath the taiga covered valley floor.

The rocks where they tumble from exposed relief are massive and tablet-like now.

In the partition along from mine a lady has emerged from the top bunk and in doing so has inadvertently knocked a pocket knife from the opposite top bunk where the occupant sleeps and it’s fallen neatly into the folded crevice at the back of the knee of Vitalik (the guy who gave me a couple of vodka shots a couple of days ago – god that seems like a different train almost!). He didn’t wake up. And she’s not game to remove it. We’ll see what becomes of the pocket knife later.

The road that follows the BAM is paved now. And I see a piece of soviet memorial in the form of a modest red and blue BAM monument on the side of the road with the superimposed profiles of Lenin and two other bearded chaps.

The sweeping valleys and the trap rock cutaways of the BAM line continue. Around me in platzkart the usual morning ritual of fellow travellers has begun. But I’ve been up for ages. But there are fewer now. Many having alighted during the night.

Rivers have grown in size and then diminished as I suspect we’ve cut across drainage lines. The BAM is almost a cultural icon in and of itself. My provodnitsa of the last few days has worked for the railway since 1991 – since the breakup of the soviet union. She’s seen a lot!

Suddenly the mountains are much more dramatic! We’re approaching the 180 degree switchback and the tunnel. I’m making friends with the chest chougher and the bark worse than her bite ladies: taking vodka in lab ware in the dining cart.

The bright mid morning sun. The orange lichen on the rocks. The scree slopes. The tumbling streams over tabular rocks. Glorified in the late morning breakfast glow of vodka.

The train turns clockwise into the feted 180 degree switch-back turn. And the tunnel comes into view. The tunnel was six and half minutes in passage time. The restaurant ladies were happy to have my excitement and my custom in the restaurant car of a vodka and zakuski order.

Braided streams. And the banks somehow suddenly remind me of the banks around Cangai on the Mann River circa 1980. No longer are we following flowing rivers upstream. I sense these are now flowing clear downstream into Baikal.

Snow on the pass peaks in July. My provodnitsa comes to the restaurant car to find me. I must prepare for my disembarking. Just 20 minutes to go. I pack up my things. Say goodbye in my mind to my dormitory and it’s occupants. And squeeze up the aisle with my packs on. Time for one quick song for the provodnitsa as I stand fully loaded in the vestibule.

Yevgeny of Baikal Trail Hostel awaits me on the Severobaikalsk platform. And having crossed another time zone last night I’m now five hours ahead of Moscow time and I’m not sure if it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner.

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