It's silver service all the way on board Dear Leader's private train

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The Independent Online

With 21 carriages and plenty of room on board for his batch of specially flown in Bordeaux reds, lobster tanks and two armoured Mercedes-Benz cars, no one can accuse President Kim Jong-il of not travelling in style.

The reclusive North Korean leader reportedly crossed the border in his luxury train, albeit with only 17 of the 21 carriages in evidence, early yesterday en route to China for a meeting with his country's only significant ally.

Mr Kim reportedly has a phobia of flying and makes any long-distance journeys on a train given to his father, Kim Il-sung, by former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

One Russian envoy, General Konstantin Pulikovsky, shared the train with Mr Kim in 2001 during a three-week visit to Russia, and the details he gave of that journey inform much of what we know about the train, as well as giving priceless insights into Mr Kim's personality.

Mr Pulikovsky said that roast donkey was flown fresh to the train every day, and that the leader ate with silver chopsticks. He said they drank champagne with a bevy of young women of the "utmost beauty and intelligence", all the cars had internet access and the carriage in which Mr Kim slept was bullet-proof. The train exemplifies many of the stories about Mr Kim's arcane habits. There are stories that he has every grain of rice he eats personally inspected – any slight flaw and out it goes.

Other reports say that blonde Swedish prostitutes are flown in to Pyongyang to satisfy his lust and that he injects himself with the blood of virgins to stay young. Many of the stories are circulated by the South Korean intelligence services to make him look mad. But the image of Mr Kim as a paranoid playboy is borne out by the cognac-maker Hennessy, who said he spent up to £430,000 a year on VSOP from 1989 to 1999.