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Narrow gauge steam in China - April 2005

by Ameling Algra

My 16th China was meant to bring me to the north - Jixi, Hegang and Huanan. At the last moment, I decided these were better autumn or winter destinations, and went to Shibanxi, Yinghao and Xingyang instead, with Hans Duyfjes. No new discoveries in this report, but an entirely narrow gauge trip which we both enjoyed very much - and hopefully some additional travel info which may be useful to others The trip was different from previous ones: we used inland flights for the first time, last moment bookings being no problem. And because Hans' dislike of buses we used taxis where I would have preferred long distance buses.

April 17 flight with KLM to Beijing. As there was no change of plane involved, my luggage arrived with me on the 18th. Train to Zhengzhou, overnight in the Tian Er hotel at the bus station opposite the railway station (Y 120 double room). The hotel has two entrances: an entrance opposite the railway station and a side entrance on the road at the right side of the bus station (leaving the train station). The side entrance gives better discounts and throws in breakfast tickets as well.

April 19 to Xingyang brickworks. After three failed attempts I finally found this railway working! Detailed instructions about how to get there and a detailed map are from Jan Willem van Dorp's 2004 report. Take local bus 1 to the west bus station (Y1); the buses leave from outside the side entrance of the Tian Er hotel. The west bus station is quite a distance from the railway station, you see it from the bus on the left hand side & the bus turns left immediately after you reach the bus station, and has its bus stop after the left turn. Frequent buses bring you from there to Xingyang ? ? for 5 Yuan, after which town bus nr 5 brings you to the railway station. There are also trains from Zhengzhou to Xingyang but alas at inconvenient times.

April 20 was spent on leisurely travel to Mianchi (train & taxi), hotel in Mianchi at the main road for Y 120 a double; excellent restaurant at the hotel.

April 21/22 we hired a taxi for the day to visit Yinghao system. I did it previously (October and December) without a taxi but as we wanted to maximise our Shibanxi time, our time here was limited so a taxi proved efficient. The locos seemed to be in much better condition than in October/December, but the track is still terrible. Some walls and buildings around the loading site have been torn down, giving more space for video (or photography).

April 22 in the afternoon back to Zhengzhou, then April 23 by plane to Chengdu - and then taxi to Qianwei. This is one occasion where a taxi is very time-efficient: the trip from Chengdu airport to Qianwei took less than three hours. We asked for the TianBo hotel which we knew from other reports, but the driver brought us to the BaiHe hotel, located at the back of the TianBo. A choice we did not regret at all - extremely helpful staff, Y80 for a double room with working airco, and an excellent restaurant. Every day we chose two main courses, got charged Y 30 for the two of us, and got as many as four delicious additional side dishes. Actually, I don't see why anyone would want to stay in Bagou unless he wants to become a monk and try to abstain from western comfort (excluding beer). With the retiming to 7:00 AM of the morning train, the good positions are reached more easily from Qianwei with a frequent bus service to Shibanxi (there are also many buses and shared taxis to Yueyin).

We both fell in love with Shibanxi . Forget the nonsense about it becoming a ''tourist railway''. Of course, the railway is in some brochures, there are large posters in Shibanxi and Yueyin railway station, and at weekends some trains are filled with crowds of school children, but it is still a very authentic narrow gauge steam railway through beautiful countryside, and probably the only one of its kind in the world which still has a passenger service. We both can hardly wait to go there again, so Hegang & Jixi are postponed again…. The freight ran on five days out of seven - not on Friday and Saturday. I think Friday is market day in bagou, which brings a lot of colourful goods on the passenger.

After a most enjoyable week, we flew back to Beijing and stayed in the Jian Yuan hotel mentioned in Roger van Duijnhoven's Dec 2004 report - it is south of Xidan subway station. A very un-Chinese hotel: the lobby is tiny and unimpressive, and you won't get a daily fresh load of tooth brushes, combs and shower caps, but the rooms, location and rate (we were charged Y220) are excellent. The hotel is at the end of airport shuttle 2 , and near a very big shopping centre, there are buses to the Great Wall from there, so it is also ideal for a prolonged tourist visit to the capital.

On May 2 we visited Dahuichang using bus 937-3. No trains though - and bus 385 has got new buses.

Ameling Algra

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© 2005, Ameling Algra a.algra@chello.nl