Monday, 6 June 2011

The highest train journey

So apart from sharing the highest mountain in the world, Tibet also claims the highest train line in the world. At points the train reaches 5072m - higher than Mt Blanc. It crosses the vastness of the Tibetan plateau to the northern Tibetan border with China and is yet another demonstration of Chinese engineering prowess. The line was completed in 2005 linking Lhasa with the well developed Chinese network. The engineers had to use a range of technologies to overcome ground movement caused by the seasonal shifts in the permafrost. This included building some of the line on concrete stilts. Other unique technologies on the train include oxygen ports in each compartments to attempt to stave off altitude sickness for the unacclimatised!

The train from Lhasa was our ticket to China and a key section of our overland journey back to the UK. But first we had to overcome the airport style security checks to get into the departure lounge. On this check the only victim was an almost empty gas canister, luckily they didn’t notice the four full ones buried deep in one of our bags. Two other people from Team Budget were also on the same train, Nao, the Japanese representative and Anton, the Russian representative. Anton was travelling with his bicycle and aiming to cycle back home. James and I were sharing our hard sleeper (not as bad as it sounds, in fact quite comfortable) compartment with  Nao, who looked like a cartoon character and kept getting mistaken for a Chinese person, and also 3 actual Chinese. One of the Chinese guys on the top bunk sneezed, showering us from above. By day 2 man flu had been passed from one man to another and James was feeling dreadful, but not as dreadful as Anton who was hard seating it to Chengdu (this is as bad as it sounds).

Our train trundled across the Tibetan plateau, through snow storms and past 1000 strong herds of yaks which stretched as far as the eye could see until they were mere black specks. When spending 2 days on a train any sense of time is distorted, gauged only by the trundling sound of the meals on wheels trolley at allotted meal times. This was when tasty hot Chinese meals could be bought for a few yuan. After 44 hrs and having travelled 3360 km we arrived in Chengdu and a bed which wasn’t mobile.

Getting high!

Cabin mates James, me (with eyes closed as usual), Nao and Anton

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