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To Tibet on the Train
Al Camino Rides Again

Posted on Facebook, 25/3/15 2.00pm

I don't come here very often as you know. However, just for once, I'm going to make a bit of an exception. That's because a few minutes ago, the postman delivered my passport complete with a full complement of visas, pictures of which I include for your delectations. That means my hastily prepared trip to Lhasa, Tibet, by train is now definitively on and begins with the 6.37 from Morpeth to Kings Cross on Friday morning. After 8 trains and six countries, I shall arrive in Moscow on Sunday before setting off again on Wednesday on a six-day journey to Ulan-Bator in Mongolia.

I notice from my Russian visa that my name is now to be KACKAPT which some of you may think amusing. I do. At this point in time, I only have four past participles in my head: lost, forgotten, left, stolen and, as a late substitute, missed... although I'm sure that once I'm en route all this apprehension will dissipate and I can just lean back and enjoy the view.

Train journeys provide an unusual but startlingly clear insight into cultures. In England many train lines give you views into people's back gardens and, as we all know, the back garden is where we expose our true selves freely and without shame. What we value and what we don't, our choice of aesthetic, our slovenliness, our dreams and our disillusionments, they're all there. You can read people like a book from their back gardens, once you learn the language.

The same is true of train journeys across the world; they allow you to see a facet of the country through which you're travelling that you would miss if you travelled any other way. That's always been my experience and I'm sure it'll be no different this time.

And on long train journeys, you have the opportunity to get to know your fellow travellers to a much greater degree than, say, on relatively short plane trips. (Ironically, "fellow travellers", of course, was a euphemistically perjorative term for Soviet sympathisers back in the McCarthy era.) Not necessarily in the sort of expansive coming-together cerebro-emotional way. No, you become over-familiar with the intimacies that only someone who loves them should ever have to put up with: the smell of their feet, the way they slurp their soup, how they ease themselves slightly off their seat to fart, their constant search for mineral wealth in the depth of their noses or the incessant scratch of their rashes... By the time the journey's over, you hate them with an almost psychpathic fervour. That's meeting people. That's why you travel... Maybe, I'm convincing myself not to go after all!

Anyway, the first part of the trip awaits and as long as I can get to Düsseldorf on Friday evening, everything will be fine. Hmmm, not the best week for arriving in Düsseldorf, is it?

Everyone's aware of how much I hate the contemporary need to share even the slightest and least significant experience with the rest of the human race and it will be the same this time. It's my journey and I'm not going to share it!! I have been prevailed upon to keep some sort of record and I may (or may not) put this onto a web page, if I can be bothered. Obviously this will begin many days hence. I'm savvy enough to know that tweeting "Ooh, German train toilets are really nice" isn't going to widen the library of human knowledge. Anything I do put up will go to www.alcamino.co.uk/tibet/

Thank you for your attentions. Now fuck off and do something useful.


Lapsang Shoeshine
On a train somewhere
Mobile (local rate): +61 7 3040 6554
Email: lapsang@alcamino.co.uk
Internet: www.alcamino.co.uk/tibet/