The Qinghai-Tibet train is truly an engineering marvel. The 1,215 mile journey from Xining to Lhasa traverses the Tangula Pass at 16,650 feet, making it the world’s highest point on a railway. As I mentioned in the last blog on logistics, we picked this option for two reasons. One, for the incredible scenery along the way and second, because the compartments are not pressurized, it’s a great way to get to Lhasa giving our body to acclimatize.
We flew into Xining from Guangzhou and had about 6 hours before boarding the train. Good thing too, as the shuttle bus to the train station only leaves when it’s full and takes a full hour to get there. Also takes a while to swap the e-tickets into boarding passes, check the permits, passports, etc. Xining has a 2,000+ year history of being a major trade route on the Northern Silk Route. Wished we had more time to explore the local food here. They had Naan at the train station!
We picked the 10pm train as we wanted to be fully awake when crossing the Tangula Pass during the day. Xining itself is at 6,000ft and we would spend most of the night in the lower elevations until we reached Gomud at 5am next day. All of the compartments had Oxygen outlets and they started pumping this right after Golmud. Not sure if it was the elevation or the Oxygen, we were all pretty lethargic and sleepy throughout the day.
It’s pretty crazy that 80% of the route in the Golmud-Lhasa section is at an elevation of over 13,000 feet! And frankly we didn’t expect the high Tibetan plateau to be so lush green with grasslands as far as the eye an see. Yaks and antelopes grazing everywhere, snow-capped mountains, snow melts feeding gushing rivers, wild dogs – quite the view all day long. The meals on the train were fairly vegetarian friendly with some of the choices being veggies or shredded potatoes over rice or a veggie-noodle soup.
I took a picture of my Suunto a couple of hours before we reached Lhasa. This elevation profile above describes it all. You can see the climb from Golmud (10,000 feet), up and over the Tanggula Pass before descending into Lhasa right around 13,000 feet. We reached Lhasa around 8pm and got picked up at the station. On the way we saw Potala Palace beautifully lit and standing tall. The acclimatization was definitely not complete, but I’d say taking the train was a lot better than flying into Lhasa directly.
Tomorrow we explore Potala Palace!
Blogs in this Tibet Travelogue series:
- The Logistics
- Aboard the Qinghai-Tibet Train
- Potala Palace and Jokhang
- Lhasa to Shigatse
- Everest Base Camp
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