- Wolfgang Fobo
Train 350M Moscow to Tashkent
The train is operated by Usbekistan Railways, leaving Moscow Kazanskyi Station at 12.16 hrs, but not daily.
This train takes the Southern route, via Volgograd, passing through Kasachstan for just a few hours, then into Karakalpakstan in Usbekistan. I went until Bukhara, and to Tashkent it would have been another 7 hours. (For the sake of completeness, there is also another train to Tashkent, taking the Northern route. Guess this is the Russian one, with higher standards).
This train is a relict of the past. Inside - I had second class, there is no first class - the look reminded me the 1960s or 1970s, when I travelled with my parents to Eastern Germany. Very basic, in other words. Of which, most basic of all was the state of the toilet.
Before entering, you have to take a deep breath. In there is also the only chance for washing yourself or brushing your teeth, which I scaled down to the minimum acceptable for me. The toilet is also locked when the train stops - because all that you discharge would drop on the track. That means that when you have 2 stops at every border, and there are 2 borders to cross, at each stop it may take more than 2 hours that you have to restrain yourself in case of need. Toilet paper luckily however did not run out.
The bedding in my compartment was clean, and for most of the time I was the only one in my compartment of four. Luckily, I must say, because 4 people there in such a narrow confinement is not exactly what I am after, but of course I would have accepted that fate, albeit not with pleasure.
Anyhow. The good part is that the train staff is very friendly. In Volgograd we had a stop of 40 minutes, and the Chief of the train took me out to a brief visit of the station, a quite impressive building with lots of reminiscences to the Great Patriotic War.
The Dining Car. Again something very basic. No menu. And I had to ask all the time what they had for me. And all the time the lady had something different. It was edible. Sometimes you had to deal with lots of bones, which is a challenge when you only got a spoon. No beer. But Vodka, that you order by the grams you want. Seems that the minimum is 150 gram. Which I then took for a smooth sleep.
Hot water is available all the time, so tea never runs out.
By the way, since every communication was in Russian only, I managed to muddle through. I am not sure how I would have ended up with no basic command of Russian.
It seemed to me that at least initially I was the only paying guest in the dining car. All the others were staff of the train, which smoked and thus ignored the “No smoking” signs. But nobody cared, they took the dining car as their living room, and I was the intruder, albeit always friendly welcome.
When this trip takes over 3 days, this means 9 visits to the dining car, so gradually I was considered part of their flock. Being greeted, being offered Vodka. Part of the show, having to answer questions about my whereabouts, how life in Germany is, what people earn there and so on. So towards the latter part of my journey I could not read my book any longer.
The landscape turned more and more barren, the further you were away from Volgograd. Kasachstan was just a lot of Nothing. Plain Nothing. That changed when we entered Karakalpakstan. All of a sudden there were fields being tended. Every space was taken care of, lots of green. This is owed to the Amur Darya river, the famous Oxus in old times, and the irrigation that this river enables.
Then, in Usbekistan, the train filled gradually up, and even I got a neighbor in my compartment. And until then my wagon with 36 places in 9 compartments of 4 only had 3 passengers until we reached Usbekistan. The dining car also filled, so I was no longer the only paying guest there.
After 3 days finally I arrived in Bukhara, in time to the minute (German Railways, please take note). Yes it was high time. I already started to smell myself, and so I wondered what the others would smell.
In Bukhara, I stayed at the Amulet Hotel which I can only recommend. It is located in a building of a former Medressa, has just a few rooms, so very typical. And extremely friendly staff. Bukhara itself is an absolutely fantastic town. A must to see. And, lately dir Usbekistan you need no visa any longer (guess this applies to many Western countries). You just go and get a stamp in your passport.
A week later, I took the train from Belgorod to Moscow. Again 2nd class. 7 hours. A world apart from the Usbekistan train. Well maintained. High standard. Just agreable travelling.