Lead us not into tribu­la­tions

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence -

I LOOKED out the train win­dow at the land­scape pass­ing by. Mist cov­ered the dis­tant hills and a glo­ri­ous red sun­rise made the steppes shim­mer. It was our last day on our Trans-Manchurian Rail­way trip and no­body was stir­ring in their bunks.

Oth­ers in our fam­ily group of six were no doubt still re­cov­er­ing from yes­ter­day’s shock when we were sup­posed to fi­nally en­joy our one “up­mar­ket” train on the hol­i­day only to find our tick­ets, which I’d re­served but only briefly checked, were in­cor­rect and we were jammed four to a car­riage, not the lux­ury of two apiece, which I thought I’d booked.

When I of­fered to plan our 79-year-old mother’s dream train trip I didn’t re­alise this also made me group leader, and thus ex­pected to sort out any and all prob­lems. I tried to get us an ex­tra com­part­ment but the train from Ulaan­baatar to Beijing was full; there was not one spare berth. I was di­rected to put those cases that didn’t fit in our car­riages by the train door so at ev­ery stop it would be a mat­ter of stand­ing guard duty for the lug­gage.

I hadn’t ex­pected a smooth trip; it was Rus­sia, Mongo- lia and China, after all, and no one had wanted a pack­age tour.

On Olkhon Is­land on Lake Baikal in Rus­sia our booked English speak­ing guide did not ap­pear at all.

The ho­tel only had seven steaks a night and it de­pended how the chef cooked your or­der as to whether you got one or were told an hour later “No steak!” Surely this was not my fault?

On ar­rival in Ulaan­baatar our trans­fer chap told us he was tak­ing us to dif­fer­ent ac­com­mo­da­tion The Chi­nese Pres­i­dent had taken over our ho­tel and we’d been moved. “Could have hap­pened any­where!” I tell our group.

When we ar­rived at the beau­ti­ful ger camp I had ar­ranged, we dis­cov­ered no one spoke English. Groups would pass through with an English-speak­ing guide but no such lux­ury for us. On the first day, the group wanted to know why I hadn’t thought of book­ing an English­s­peak­ing guide but by Day Five they were all great at sign lan­guage and able to get wa­ter heated for show­ers when­ever they wanted and fires lit in their ger tents.

They all loved the Mon­go­lian staff run­ning the camp. They adored the food, the archery and all the ac­tiv­i­ties I’d booked us, from raft­ing and horse rid­ing to the plea­sures of a tra­di­tional sauna. At last I was re­deemed.

Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Follow the Reader: travel@theaus­tralian.com. au. Colum­nists re­ceive a Trav­elon Anti-Theft Clas­sic Travel Bag fea­tur­ing FRID block­ing tech­nol­ogy, metal mesh lin­ing, de­tach­able cut-proof shoul­der strap and lock­able zip­pers. $115. More: 1800 331 690; trav­elon­bags.com.

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