My Epic railway journey Part 2 – The illegal passage to Russia

We were on the move again after a brief stay in Mongolia. Our next stop was Irkutsk along the Trans-Siberian Railway. Excited about what’s in store for us in the next few days, my friend Choi and I were also a little anxious about our passage to Russia. He noticed the night before our departure that our Russian visa entry date is a day later than our arrival at the border, a small but important detail we missed. We couldn’t re-book our tickets because that required at least three-days advance notice. Despite the mess, we decided to board the train and take our chance at the border.

On the way to the 8:20 PM train to Irkutsk at the Ulan-Bator station.
On the way to the 8:20 PM train to Irkutsk at the Ulan-Bator station.
You can either guess what’s written on the ticket or have it translated if you’re lucky enough to find someone who can. The best way is to activate that App on your your smart phone to scan and translate.
There was only one Russian car attached to the train so it was easy for us to find it. The rest were Mongolian cars.
The Mongolian car.
The Mongolian car.

A few minutes after the train left Ulan-Bator, we asked the Provodnitsa through the help of another passenger who translated for us if we could get off at the Mongolian border and then wait the following day to catch a bus to Naushki, in the Russian border. The Provodnitsa said we can stay on the train but we might need to pay a penalty upon entering Russia. With that option we became less anxious, however there was the cost of the penalty to consider. Still, we managed to find humor in our situation and surprisingly, slept soundly that evening.

I liked our compartment in this train better than the one from China. It was newer. The seat’s wide backrest folds down and transforms into the bed. There is enough storage space under the seats and over the compartment door.

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By early next day, we were at the Mongolian border where immigration procedures went without a hitch.

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Suche Bator. The Mongolian border. Train toilets are locked during stops, but there are clean ones at the station passengers can use.
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The long train with multicoloured cars. Ours was silver, the blue one is the luxurious Golden Eagle.
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The Golden Eagle had red carpets to the trains.

The border crossing

It was a fierce looking  female immigration officer who first inspected our passports. Thank goodness she didn’t speak any English that she had two colleagues take over. “Why did you come early?” the tall and younger immigration officer inquired. Choi was about to respond jokingly, but I interrupted and simply said “I don’t know, our agent provided the entry date to the embassy” as I handed over our itinerary and visa invitation letter. A minute later we were off the train and inside the bright yellow yet bleak station where our fingerprints were taken. There were many questions and we were made to sign documents in Russian which made Choi say to me “Do you realize that everything printed in this document is in Russian? What if it says we brought something illegal like drugs” we signed them anyway.

“This paper means you entered Russia illegally but it is not your fault. You will keep a copy” The immigration officer said afterwards. “Do you understand your violation?” he added as he directed our attention to a large board indicating the of list immigration violations and penalties. “Yes. We do and we’re sorry.” We uttered in unison.

After instructing us to pay the lowest fine of $40.00 each at any bank in Russia and to mail the proof of payment (or else we will never ever be able to enter Russia again), the immigration officers smiled and wished us a good trip. In retrospect, our experience at the Russian border crossing was more pleasant compared to the one  at the China-Mongolia crossing that was a pain even under normal circumstances.

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Naushki at the Russian border where we got held

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We were back on the train after an hour much to the relief of the Australian couple who were so nice to mind our bags while we were away. Our passage cleared,  everyone including the Provodnista was in high spirits.

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The mongolian cars detached and now its just the Golden Eagle our train until another set was connected before we left the station.

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This was in one of the small towns in Siberia.

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I woke up to this.
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My first glimpse of Lake Baikal.

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By eight in the morning of the following day, we arrived at Irkutsk.

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Our driver was on the platform waiting by our car’s exit.

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From Swerve of Shore

A Blog by Photographer Aaron Joel Santos

The Smart Way Round

Travel blog of two overland adventurers and now family travellers. Just because you have kids doesn't mean the adventure stops.

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