Regular readers will be aware that I rather like trains. Admittedly, I am not one of those people who can tell you all about locomotives and stuff, fascinating though I’m sure it is, but I like to go on journeys, and trains allow you to get more of a feel for a place and an opportunity to see it up close.
There is what is described as a tourist train from Borjomi to Bakuriani, a ski town rather higher up in the mountains. It is slow, taking two hours or so to cover a journey which takes about half an hour by bus, but as I was on holiday...
Meet our locomotive, built in Czechoslovakia in 1966. Behind it are three reasonably simple carriages with large windows and plenty of space. The seats are comfortable enough, but you’re making this journey for the views.
The late morning service theoretically allows a connection with the early morning train from Tbilisi but, as our departure time approached, the Tbilisi train didn’t. I hope that there wasn’t anyone intending to make the connection, for we set off on time, without seemingly a thought of waiting.
The slowness is a by-product of the general “upness” of the route, which winds around and around as it gains altitude, often seeming to double back on itself. And it’s rather neglected too, with the station buildings in various states of decay. Indeed, the only money that appears to have been spent is on some spectacular new hats for the stationmasters - they appear inordinately proud of them.
It became apparent quite quickly that our conductor had something of an eye for the main chance. Occasionally, passengers would disembark at a station and be escorted to the locomotive for a ride in the cab. Unfortunately, not being particularly pretty, I didn’t get my hopes up. But it was a lovely ride, with some gorgeous countryside and, for the connoisseur of railway stations, some interesting architecture.
We got to Bakuriani, albeit somewhat later than scheduled, leaving me about three quarters of an hour to briefly explore the town, find a snack lunch, and get back to the station.
The return journey was for standing in the covered open ends of the carriages, taking pictures and enjoying the mountain air. Until Tba, that was. The train driver had caught my eye and indicated that I should spend some time in the cab. I didn’t hesitate.
It’s clear that this is a way for the train crew to pad what is probably a pretty small wage, although I suspect it breaks the routine too. After all, the train is moving at about 10 mph, and they drive the train up and back once a day. They offer to photograph you at the controls, give you a stool to sit on whilst you travel, allow you to take all the photos you want. What could be better?
I left them 10 Lari, which might have been overly generous, but I didn’t care. It was worth it for the fun alone, and the return train fare had only been 4 Lari...