Chengdu to Lhasa III

Towards the end of the second day, we passed through the city of Xining and on towards Golmud. Golmud marks the beginning point of the new railway across the Tibetan plateau.

Near Xining

Near Xining 2

We settled in the dining car for some grub. (and grub it was.) The vista at this point was vast – gently sloping hills, dry grasses. For the first time in China I can see for miles and miles and see only one or two houses. We’ve seen our first yaks. They are very wooly and come in all kinds of colors – black, grey, brown. We also saw lots of sheep, goats and a few deer. In a hay field I spotted a pair of wild pheasants. We were climbing above the tree line and I felt my ears popping. We went to sleep with only nature in all directions – no cities, no houses, no people.

I awoke on day three and was greeted by snow and ice. I jumped up to change out of my pajamas and instantly felt “weird.” I was a bit winded and a little dizzy. What was happening? They say that the affects of high altitude will make you feel tired, nauseated and your head will ache – like a hangover. Turns out we were at 4,666m (13,998ft). That is damn high, no matter I felt strange. We were still climbing, so I just took it easy and relaxed in the dining car. I observed many frozen streams, lakes, snow covered hills and lots of yaks. The icy landscape was stunning.

Ice & Snow on the Tibet Plateau

I can’t imagine how cold it was outside, but the train was cozy and warm. I felt comfortable in a tee shirt and scarf. The sun was also shining brilliantly, at times it was merciless!

Around lunchtime we reached the high mountain pass of Tanggula – over 5000m! (15,000ft) Out the window, we thought we might have seen a small group of antelope. They are supposed to be endangered and some environmentalists believe that the train might disturb their movements. Other opponents of the train say it will bring in more Han Chinese migrants to further dilute the Tibetan population. It has just been revealed that there are valuable mineral deposits around the train line. Hmmm. Could that have been a reason for building the train? On some forums I have read posts from people wondering if it is ethical to take the train. I think would-be travellers should spend more time examining their own lives, in their own countries to ensure they are as ethical as possible before worrying about their presence on the train. One poster on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree said it best – if you want to enter Tibet ethically, walk! and spend time with the Tibetan nomads.

On towards Lhasa, the snow fades away and is replaced by tundra with short, shrubby grass. There are yaks in all directions, along with sheep and goats. The mountain peaks in the distance are majestic and covered in clouds. We begin to see small villages and shepherds. At Naqu, a small village, we slowly pass a train headed from Lhasa to Lanzhou. It is filled with Tibetans. They wave at us and we wave back.

Tibet house

Yaks and more yaks

At 1830, we roll in to Lhasa.

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