Gliding along the rooftop of the world...
10.22.2007 - 10.23.2007 50 °F
As a family, we had probably anticipated this one day experience more than any else in China. We had read so much about the new train; from its political impact on Tibet, to the beautiful country side; from the quality of the food, to the quality of the bathrooms. We had read about the Beijing to Tibet train in the New Yorker, The LA Times, the San Luis Tribune, and other sources. Believe me when I say no reading can prepare you. We were advised to skip the first segment of the trip from Beijing to Xining, being warned that the route was lined with industrial towns and that same blue grey air we met in Xining. We did.
We anxiously waited in the Xining train station, in the special area for sleeping compartment travelers. We waited with Chinese Government officials, a group of German tourists, an interesting guy from New Zealand and his wife. Our humongous and identical OGIO bags, were a source of good laughs and spirited conversations and we chatted with folks and made friends. After about an hour, they let us out of the room just before the train lumbered into the station. We were to be in Car 11. We had help from our driver and our guide getting the bags into the aisle of the car – now it was time to figure out how to get them all into the sleeping compartment along with the four of us. The train left the station after a very brief stop, and after much maneuvering we were able to fit all of our bags into our cabin and leave enough room for us to lie down. It was kind of amazing we got it all to fit. Even some of the German tourists had to store their bags in open areas. The cabin was a soft sleeper, which featured 2 bunk beds, framing a picture window, which sat atop a tiny table. It was perfect for our family of four. The beds were actually comfortable – much better than the Xining hotel. We went to sleep and slept pretty well, rocking to the rhythm of the train.
When we awoke, we had just rolled out of the city of Golmud, another industrial town on the edge of the Tibetan plateau. As we progressed onward and upward, the plains of the plateau seemed to roll past the horizon, giving way to distant mountains that we knew would eventually fill our picture window as it was aptly named. We strolled into the dining car for a sit down breakfast that was strictly Chinese, and quite edible. We made our way back to our sleeper, rearranging luggage for a day of hanging out, playing games, reading, writing and gawking at the scenery. The scenery was amazing. We saw 20,000 foot mountains, actually chugged our way through a 16,600 ft pass. We saw wild fox, eagles, wild donkeys, wild Yaks, and as the sunset, we saw a nomad bringing in his yak, as he danced a traditional dance (we later learned) following them in. What an incredible site on which to spend our last daylight. We reached Lhasa at around 9:30 and could see the Potala Palace off in the distance. The Lhasa train station is brand new and fabulous. The scale is tremendous and almost nonsensical, given the few people there. Guess they’re expecting big things here. On to Lhasa.