FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Steam paradise: The open cast mine at Zhalai Nuoer

Posted in China, Zhalai Nuoer by folkestonejack on February 20, 2009

Now, it has to be said that my idea of paradise is slightly skewed. For some people it is a tropical beach in the Bahamas, whilst for others it is the cultural hub of Rome. For me, it is an open cast coal mine in Inner Mongolia with temperatures hovering around -31. And here I was, in paradise.

Our minibus driver took us to a viewpoint overlooking the pit, dropping us off around about 1.30pm. The view was simply stunning. The vast pit was cut with level after level with at least a dozen SY class steam locomotives working and on top of that the levels were punctuated by the most dramatic icy waterfalls. I spent a while trying to get some shots to capture the magnificence of this, before accepting that no photograph could ever do this justice.

SYs in paradise

SYs in paradise

I spent a while admiring the sights before me and then started my walk down from the viewpoint… taking the road past the huge excavators down to the bottom, dodging the occasional coal lorry along the way.

The bottom of the pit

The bottom of the pit

After reaching the bottom, the only way next was back up the other side – level by level – taking the narrow workers paths and handcut earth steps. All the while steam locomotives worked around us and you hardly knew which way to look next. Some tailmen (sitting on the end of the wagons) waved and drivers smiled at our somewhat strange enthusiasm for the spectacle that lay at the heart of their day to day existence. The warmth of the welcome was quite astonishing and humbling.

It was perhaps not the best afternoon for photography with the poor light and falling snow but that didn’t matter in the face of such an incredible experience. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Now all I needed was to regain full sensitivity in my fingers, but that was just a minor detail…

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