Diamonds over Siberia


This is my first night in a proper bed but I cannot sleep.

For five nights, I was soothed by the gentle left-to-right rocking of my train. This same rocking put me to sleep and woke me up seven hours later and kept me content.

But that was last night. I am no longer on the train.

I’ve been staring at the ceiling for hours and all I can see are the bare wooden beams of my guesthouse. There are no windows for me to look out and see the sky.

Oh, that sky.

Just one night ago, I saw diamonds above me. From my window on the train, the sky was pitch black and full of stars. Millions and trillions. I cannot tell you how many. I can only say that they were beautiful.

But that was yesterday. Earlier this morning, I arrived in Irkutsk. One long bus ride later, I reached Lake Baikal. My guesthouse is on Olkhon Island, in a village called Khuzhir. The main road can hardly be called one- it is untarred and dusty, with small shops and houses on either side. More than 3,200 miles have passed since I took my first train from St Petersburg and with that, a whole lot of empty space.

If Siberia sounds empty and vast, that’s because that’s exactly what it is. There are cities here, but they lie hundreds of miles away from each other. There is a huge nothingness in between, and with that nothingness, no lights to blot out the stars I saw from the train.

Liyana, the Russian woman whom I shared my compartment with on the second night on board, saw them too.

“Always like this here, the stars,” she murmured from her berth, startling me. It was past midnight, our compartment was dark and I didn’t know she was still awake.


“Every night.”

“Beautiful,” I said.

“Yes, beautiful.”

And we watched the stars in silence as our train crossed the vast nothingness.


© 2012 – 2014, Anis. All rights reserved.

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4 Responses

  1. Anita says:

    I got goosebumps when I read it… what an experience!

  2. ZAitun zainuddin says:

    Hi. It’s me again. Whilst in school many years,I recall reading Peter Fleming’s ‘News from Tartary’ which narrates real travel tales across The areas you went by train. I wonder if you saw the double hunch backs camels which are almost extinct. Also, tales by Marco Polo and Ibni Battuta cover those areas. Some areas could stiill be barren and inhibited,where time stand still. There is a sort of romance in traveling in no mans land,isnt it? I await your reply.

    • Anis says:

      Oh yes, I saw those camels, a whole herd of them in Mongolia! And you’re right about the romance bit, though the one thing that stops us from being too conceited about travelling in ‘no-man’s land’ is that honestly speaking, every corner of this world has already been explored by someone before us 🙂