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China Day 8 - Across Qinghai-Tibet Plateau By Train

Added: September 06, 2009

Tags: Tibet mountains photos
Monday, 13th of July. We are leaving Lhasa. We are going to Xining by train. It should take about 24 hours to get there (1972km). It might sound boring, but it is passing through Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. It is the highest railway in the world - the highest point at altitude 5072m. The train is passing though amazing country with colourful mountains, many lakes, rivers canyons, every few hours it looks differently.

We were lucky our train departed in the morning thus we got quite far during daylight (I can only guess we passed through less attractive country during night).


Due to our early departure we needed to get up pretty early. I was bit surprised we had hot water in the shower at such early time. Our breakfast was pre-ordered yesterday and everybody was getting the same so there should not be any delays. Still I could see horror in the widely opened eyes of a waitress as she tried to make sense of orders of coffee and tea for 4 people sitting at our table. Maybe only then I realized it is not very easy for them to understand English. Who would expect not only coffee can be black, but also tea! ;-) OK, enough of grumbling about meal experience (and reliability) in Lhasa, overall I was very satisfied.

It was still dark and rather cold when we arrived to train station. Bunch of people were already staying at the furthest possible point from station building. The point is that they allow people to go to station only shortly before train departure. When police men came to our gathering about 20 minutes later we formed our own queue next to chain. After short time they allowed us to pass and we went through big concrete area. Next step was metal detector and baggage scanning. Apparently you are not allowed to take a sword to sleeper train.

It took some time, because two in our group had something suspicious in their luggage. Some uniformed men waved at us to continue to station building, but we were waiting for rest of our group. Then other passengers started coming and eventually ran to building (Buying their tickets? Or maybe popcorn buckets were limited, I do not know). After all from our group were finished with "sword detection" we went to gate at the left side. Rich shown our tickets to 3 uniformed men (one by one) and we were allowed to spacious hall. It was very nice - clean, thick cushioned seats, nicely lighted. Some went to explore toilet - they were satisfied.

Finally railway lady allowed us to go to platform and after final checking of our tickets we got to our coach. A coupe was the nicest I have ever seen. 4 TVs (one per berth), nicely cushioned berths, fresh flower and thermos with hot water.

In the train

Train departed at 7:35 and we started to take photos...

Unfortunately it was in the morning and heavy clouds were in the sky. Train moved quickly so very short shutter speed was needed to avoid movement blur. Polarising filter I tried to use to help with reflections in windows did not help with lack of light too. So I had to use ISO 800 or even 1600. After a few hours I had removed polariser as I noticed the colours are not like other people were able to catch. But then fighting with reflections got much worse.

Everybody in our group was jumping from right to left window and vice versa for several hours. It was beautiful. We were passing through wide plain with mountains in distance on both sides. Sometimes mountains got closer. There was not much snow at the mountains in the beginning. To me and also to Alan from Glasgow it sometimes reminded Scotland. Maybe bit more colourful. Later afternoon country started look more like Iceland and in the evening it was like mountains in some desert.

Only a few photos from Lhasa area as most of them are terrible. I am not very happy with these too.



Train slowed down at this place, otherwise I would probably show dark smudge here :-)






Everybody took many photos during this ride. They were usually of different places. But there was one place everybody photographed repeatedly. It was a display showing altitude.

I started to observe other members of our group and to my satisfaction I have learned I am not one who liked this subject the most.

I nearly forgot to mention this one was taken at the highest point.






Some details of snow to prove we have been to Himalayas :-)












It is strange, but we needed to change our train. Rich told us it has never happened before. Train (probably) stopped in Golmud where another train was waiting. It stopped exactly next to it and after some time of waiting conductor allowed us to get out. A lot of policemen were there, TV camera was present, in my opinion they filmed us, somebody else suggested they filmed rail-men (both alternatives do not make sense to me).

We walked into arranged door and after a few metres we were stopped by conductor inside. She told us something. I do not speak Chinese, so I only guess she wanted to see tickets (even everybody could see clearly we got out of nearby train and she could check slow motion replay...). Of course we did not have tickets. Rich had them, but he was in the next coach handling other part of group. So I told her Rich is over there (waving with my hand) and he has tickets. Her English was at the same level as my Chinese so I had to repeat my dumb show several times before she decided it is over her competence and she better allow us into some coupe, before trying to alarm her superior. She led us to the last coupe in the coach (she probably knew it is unoccupied). We waited there until Rich came to rescue us and led us to our coupe we knew since beginning where it was...

This train was not as nice as the first one, but it worked well for our purpose. In the meantime it got dark outside and after some time we went to sleep.


I would not say in the morning we will see so many nice mountains. I was really impressed and I would recommend this train trip to everybody. But make sure you are going by train that leaves Lhasa in the morning or arrives there in the evening. Just to see the same we did.