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After nearly three years my wish came true and I had the opportunity to travel on the Qingzang railway from Xining to Lhasa, a journey of 1,952 km which takes approx. 24 hours. My expectations were as high as the plateau itself and I could hardly wait to start the trip. Here are some impressions:|
Train used was T 165 from Shanghai to Lhasa. Train arrived at Xining with more than two hours delay. Before boarding the train all passengers have to undergo a secuity check, similar to air passengers boarding a plane. We had to wait in a designated lobby and were not permitted to enter the platform before the train arrived at Xining station. Once on the train we were shown our compartments - soft sleeper for four persons each. We shared our compartment with a Taiwanese couple and had a lot of fun on this trip.
After the train left (22:25 hours local time) we decided to get a good night's sleep. From Xining (2,300m ) the train winds up in several circles to reach an altitude of 3,300 m along the northern shore of Qinghai lake. From there the journey continues to Golmud without any further ascent. Golmud lies at an altitude of 2,800 m and is an important center for NW Qinghai and the province's second biggest city. Many people left the train at Golmud. Shortly after Golmud the train "climbed to the sky" because the Kunlun Shan is not far away. The terrain is bare and forbidden. Storm, snow and ice were our companions. Over night a blizzard had blanketed the whole northern plateau with fresh snow. This gave us the feeling of travelling over ice masses. During breakfast we watched the landscape and wondered how people could build such an engineering marvel like the Qingzang railway in this forbidden land. At approx. 10 am the train reached the Kunlun mountains were we crossed the pass at an altitude of 4,770 m. The climb continued for several more hours and reached its climax at the Tanggula Pass, which marks the border between Qinghai and Tibet at an altitude of 5,072m, higher than any mountain in Europe. Shortly after crossing into Tibet ice and snow gave place to more friendly grasslands although the colors of summer were still far away. The descent from Tanggula to Lhasa takes hours and in between were many railroad station where the train did not stop. Due to the delay of the train we reached Lhasa only at 10 pm.
It was a journey that one will never forget. There are not many places on this planet that still can impress me but the Qinghai-Tibet plateau is just such a place.
A few more remarks about the train:
Equipped with 10 passenger waggons and 2 powerful Diesel locomotives.
Dining car is available but food (beverages) is also served to all cabins.
Ticket cost is CNY 810, for soft sleeper - one way
Cabins and beds are clean but too narrow for four persons
Toilets are so la, la. Cleaned only twice, i.e. in Golmud and Baicang.
Foreigners who enter the train must have a valid Tibet permit. Without permit no train journey.
Permits were checked again in Golmud
All foreigners need permits, so do all Chinese who do NOT hold a passport of the PRC (mainland), This includes Chinese residents of Taiwan, HKG, Macao SAR.
I will post some pictures that give you an impression of the train as well as of the landscapes along the plateau. I hope you enjoy it.