AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Train from Lhasa to Chengdu

We continued our tour of Asia by leaving Lhasa by train. We would be taking the Qinghai – Tibet Railway, which at 5,072m is the highest railway in the world. It also goes through the highest railway station in the world, Tanggula railway station at 5,068m. Fenghuoshan tunnel is the highest rail tunnel in the world at 4,905m above sea level. And the section up to Golmud, over 600 miles of track (80%) is at an elevation above 4,000m. That’s an impressive list of records.

We left Lhasa at 10am. Because the train journey would be 46hrs we had chosen soft sleeper. The benefits include; a proper cabin with a door, only 4 beds to a compartment not 6, a power socket, complementary slippers and control over the light switch (in hard sleeper the lights are turned off at 10pm and the carriage is in darkness). Our compartment had us two, and a girl from Hong Kong who’d just graduated as a doctor. Her English was pretty good.

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We spent the first few hours watching the scenery out the window.

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The train seemed to climb quite rapidly out of Lhasa and by mid afternoon we had reached the high point of just over 5,000m. A few compartments down a woman got very ill from the altitude and the doctor was with her for quite a while. The oxygen content in the carriages is higher than normal air and there are oxygen outlets everywhere to hook oxygen masks up the the supply for pure oxygen. The train also has a doctor onboard at all times for such eventualities.

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After a few stops we met the fourth person in our compartment. She was Chinese, pregnant and going back to her family home in Chengdu to give birth. She worked in the civil service and was typical of the Chinese policy in Tibet. Han Chinese are offered good pay and jobs to move to Tibet. This is generally to keep the Tibetan People out of key positions and to slowly overwhelm the locals with foreign, Chinese people. Another form of repression. As a person, she was nice, sharing yogurts and tomatoes with us.

The restaurant car opened for food at 5:30pm. We went in and sat down and we were ignored by the staff for ages. Finally, someone came over. She spoke no English and the menu was in mandarin only. This was somewhat surprising as I’d expected the train to have a tourist element to it and some English. Luckily, we’d downloaded a list of dishes with the Chinese translation and we went through the list until the waitress pointed to something they had. We had pork and green peppers with rice. It cost 50RMB (£5), a little pricey but considering our location, acceptable.

By mid evening we had left the Tibet Autonomous Region and entered Qinghai provence. As the sun set we read and watched stuff on the phone.

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The next morning the landscape had totally changed. It was green and cloudy. We spent the morning lounging around reading. This was bringing back memories from the beginning of the trip where we spent days just sitting around on the train with nothing much to do. The train would stop in stations from time to time and we’d get out to stretch our legs and get some fresh air. The air was getting warmer and more humid as the journey progressed.

We went to the restaurant car again at lunch and managed to get beef and green peppers with a bowl of rice each. Plus a huge bowl of extra. We ate almost all of it, enough to feed us for the whole day! That was probably the highlight of the day. Nothing else happened…

The next morning we were awake for 7am. We sat and watched the cityscapes and towns roll by. In China every city has a few 20 storey high apartment blocks, many have 10+ apartment blocks with the same number under construction. That is quite a sight! At 8:15am we rolled into Chengdu station. Our journey on one of the most impressive feats of Chinese engineering was over.

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