To travel to Tibet you can fly in directly to Lhasa or take a more leasurely entry by taking a long train journey from China known as the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. We decided on the latter route as we thought it may help us adapt to altitude over a longer time (not true!) and also to enjoy some of the scenery on the route through the high Tibetan Plateau (yes, true!).
After flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Xi’an in China and spending a couple of days in Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors and the Xi’an City Wall, we boarded a train from Xi’an to Xining. This journey was around 4 hours long and the train was very fast and modern reaching speeds of 300km/h giving us fleeting glimpses of the Chinese countryside as we sped through numerous long tunnels.
At Xining we had a few hours to disembark, get our tickets for Lhasa and then board the overnight 22 hour train from Xining to Lhasa. I am always amused at the Chinese signs and was particularly intruiged by the “Intentions Services Warm Trip” counter!!
We had booked the second class cabin which comprised 6 bunks and a very small area to sit so space was at a premium as we loaded on our bags and squeezed them under and over the bunks.
We departed on time at 20:30 from Xining and started the relatively slow train ride west towards Lhasa in Tibet. We had taken some dinner at the Xining train station so it was early to bed around 10pm and tried our best to get some rest.
I was sleeping peacefully in my bunk when at around 3:00am I was rudely awoken by the female guard who shone a torch in my face and shook me awake. She had woken the wrong person … it was the man in the adjacent lower bunk she was meant to waken as he was getting off at an overnight stop at some station.
So after a restless sleep I was up early at around 6:00am just as dawn was breaking. As I looked out the train window the cool blue light of morning shone on the stark bleak landscape and I took my first few images.
After leaving Xining on the way towards Lhasa in Tibet the train ascended until it reached a vast expanse of high plateau which is the largest and highest plateau in the world, with an area of 2,500,000 square kilometres (970,000 sq mi) (about five times the size of Metropolitan France).
We could see some animal life on this plateau; horses, donkeys, yak and teh occassional Tarbagan marmot (Marmota sibirica).
The Tibetan Plateau also known in China as the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau or the Qing–Zang Plateau or Himalayan Plateau, is a vast elevated plateau in Central Asia and East Asia, covering most of the Tibet Autonomous Region and Qinghai in western China, as well as part of Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir, India. It stretches approximately 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) north to south and 2,500 kilometres (1,600 mi) east to west.
Sometimes termed the Third Pole, the Tibetan Plateau contains the headwaters of the drainage basins of most of the streams in surrounding regions. Its tens of thousands of glaciers and other geographical and ecological features serve as a “water tower” storing water and maintaining flow. The impact of global warming on the Tibetan Plateau is of intense scientific interest.
With an average elevation exceeding 4,500 metres (14,800 ft), the Tibetan Plateau is sometimes called “the Roof of the World” because it stands over 3 miles (4.8 km) above sea level and is surrounded by imposing mountain ranges that harbor the world’s two highest summits, Mount Everest and K2.
For much of the way along the railway line from Xining to Lhasa there was a small road running parallel to the tracks and we could see many large trucks carrying goods in both directions. Like the train track this road was built on the tundra-like ground and was raised above the ground level. In wintertime this ground would be frozen solid but in summertime would turn soft and muddy.
I saw one overturned lorry which may have strayed off the hard road surface for whatever reason and the tires had sunk into the soft earth and overturned its load.
The train had food onboard and this was either brought round by the staff or you could go to the dining car and sit down for a proper lunch. It was pleasant to sit in the dining carriage having lunch and watching the spectacular scenery slip by the window.
Toilets on board were fairly basic, as per normal Chinese standards and there was a small area of sinks where you could clean up and brush your teeth.
On the 22 hr train trip from Xining to Lhasa, Tibet we stopped at a few remote railway stations on the high plateau known as the Tibetan Plateau. Some of these stations were at an altitude of over 5,000m.
The stunning scenery continued as we headed further west with large expanses of tundra-like landscape.
The train eventually went passed a very large beautiful lake … Tsonag Lake (also known as Cona, or Dongaii Cona) which is a major lake of northern Tibet Autonomous Region and is located in Amdo County, west of the road between Nagqu Town and Amdo Town. The lake is considered holy to the Tibetans especially in the Bon religion, as it is seen as the “soul lake” of the Razheng Living Buddha.
As we neared Lhasa we started to descend from the high plateau and as we got down the valley we started to see more greenery and the distinctive bright yellow rape seed flowers in the fields.
And so after 22 hours we arrived in Lhasa at an altitude of 3,700m. The train journey cannot be regarded as a particularly good acclimatisation method as the train is ventilated with oxygen and the railway rises to over 5,000m before descending to Lhasa. However the scenery as you travel over the Tibetan Plateau is well worth the long journey.
Passionate Photographer …. Lost in Asia
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