Taking the slow track to China

If you have two weeks to spare, speak half-a-dozen languages, have a high tolerance for hard living and love trains, then the holiday of your dreams has just become possible. True adventure now lies along a new line opened yesterday that could, in theory, take you from London to Peking via the Silk Road cities of Samarkand and Bokhara, in 14 days

To celebrate the occasion, the Iranian engine Pride pulled dignitaries from the eastern city of Mashad through Sarakhs to Tedzhen in Turkmenistan, thus for the first time linking Iranian railways into the ex-Soviet system in Central Asia. Though some technical problems remain, the 185-mile stretch of new track opens the possibility for rail travellers to go from London to Peking without having to go to Moscow.

Currently, those undertaking the journey have to go through Eastern Europe to Moscow and then take the Trans-Siberian express to the Mongolian border, a week-long journey.

Instead, after going through the Channel tunnel, they will be able to take the train from Paris to Budapest, then through to Istanbul, a journey that takes four days.

The Orient Express, if you can afford it, will still take you in luxury as far as Venice. But the trains through Eastern Europe to Istanbul will give you a bumpier ride as you skirt around the region's various embargoes and front lines.

Another three days takes you to Tehran, though this poses a problem. For several months, even armoured trains have not dared go to Iran through Turkey's south-eastern Kurdish war zone. And anyway, a mysterious rise in the water level of Lake Van - shortly after reports of a Loch Ness- like monster - has flooded the rail ferry jetty. But an pounds 18 sleeper ticket will allow you to skirt around the danger area on a 40-hour ride to Kars on the flanks of the Caucasus. A six-hour bus-trip then connects you to the railway line in Iran.

Once in Iran it is another day to Mashad, and you should be in Samarkand later that same day (with luck) One more day and you are in Tashkent, from where there is an "excellent" service to Alma Ata, the capital of Kazakhstan, according to railway experts. Assuming you left Waterloo on a Thursday morning, it is now Saturday morning - and by good fortune, the regular Alma-Ata to Peking service leaves at 1900 that night.

This southern alternative to the mighty Trans-Siberian is not a trip, however, that is likely to drag out into mind-numbing days. The fortnight it would probably take you to reach Peking will need a Gladstone bag full of visas and several Passepartouts to deal with surprises. "If you could survive it," a leading railway expert said yesterday, " you would at least have a tale to tell."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

Beverley James: Accounts Payable

£22,000 - £23,000: Beverley James: Are you looking for the opportunity to work...

Beverley James: Accounts Assistant

£30,000: Beverley James: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a person looki...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower