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frenchfrog Golmud - A travel report by Isabelle
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Golmud,  China - flag China -  Qinghai
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frenchfrog's travel reports

The Sky Train from Chengdu to Lhasa

  11 votes
The highest train line in the world caused much controversy when it opened in 2006. I choose to travel to Tibet by train which takes much longer than by air, but there is no doubt that the train experience is far more exciting than the plane!

Train Map
Train Map
Building a railway to Tibet has been a dream and an obsession since Chairman Mao to every Chinese leader. Since July 2006, this dream came true when one of the greatest engineering projects in railways opened. It took five years (It started in June 2001), hundred of thousands of workers to lay the tracks through the Tibetan plateau.The new line runs from Golmud, it runs in the south-south-west direction to Lhasa, through Nanshankou, Kunlun Mountains, Tanggula Mountains passes, then over the Qinghai/Tibet border southwards to Amdo, Nagqu, Damxung, Yangpachen. After that, the line turns southeast into Lhasa, ending just outside the town. According to Chinese Government sources, the project involved the permanent employment of 67,000 Chinese technicians and workers and another 16,000 workers seasonally employed locally. Only “a handful” lost their life due to accidents in the construction work.

The line in world records according to the official China Railway website:

- The highest railway in the world. About 960 kilometres of it are at an altitude of 4,000 meters and more with the highest point being 5,072 meters above sea level.

- The longest plateau railway in the world. From Golmud of Qinghai Province to Lhasa, capital of Tibet Autonomous Region, the rail link crosses deserts, Gobi, marshes, wetland, snow capped mountains and meadow with a total length of 1,142 kilometres.

- The longest railway crossing on frozen-earth plateau with 550 kilometres built on a foundation of perennial and continually frozen ground.

- The highest-altitude railway station in the world – Tanggula Railway Station, 5,068 meters above sea level, and covering an area of 77,000 square meters.

- The longest frozen-earth plateau tunnel in the world – Kunlun Mountain Tunnel, 1,686 meters long, at an average altitude of 4,600 meters and with temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius. The oxygen content of the air is half that in plain areas.

Favourite spots:
Tanggula Pass 5072 metres
Tanggula Pass 5072 metres
I got up just in time to see the Tanggula pass, I nearly missed it, the train did not even slow down, no announcement were even made, not even in Chinese, a fellow travelling companion from the next bunk was like me taking photos. The station is what we call a ghost station, it just here for the sake of it, but the train do not take passengers. The highest point, we are at 5072 meters above sea level!

Tanggula Pass marked the border between the Qinghai Province and the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Tibet at last! I realised my dream to see and touch the land the closest to the sky!

But at least they can say it is the highest railway station in the world. It was really amazing to think that we are higher than the Mt Blanc the highest peak in Europe.

What's really great:
Sunset over Qinghai Hu
Sunset over Qinghai Hu
I watched the sunset over the Qinghai Hu (Lake of Qinghai). The lake is the largest inland salt water lake in China. Qinghai means which is also the name of the province means green lake in Chinese. It has an area of 4,635 sq km and is more than 360km (220 miles) in circumference. The sunset was a marvel, really beautiful, I felt so lucky being able to see this!

The altitude is 3229m. Tibet is getting closer!

Tso Nag Lake
Tso Nag Lake
Tso Nag lake, it was beautiful, especially are big dark clouds were starting to form above the lake.

After the Tanggula Pass I saw a lonely nomad waving at us, then later I knew I was in Tibet for good as I saw some P.L.A (People’s Liberation Army) soldiers based at on an average every kilometres or so along the line. They all had a motorcycle and a small white tent. They were standing saluting the train as it comes along. I later discovered that officially they were here to protect the railway line. Authorities fear that the line might be blown up by disatisfied Tibetans, they also banned foreign travellers along most parts of the railway. The other version I also heard is that they are more worried about scavengers eager to steal the rails than saboteurs wanting to disrupt services

Golmud travelogue picture
I was lucky enough to be in the soft sleeper car with a couchette. Other passengers will just have a hard seat. Stop overs can include Xining station or Narqui.

At one stage the train attendant came to the carriage to give us the oxygen tubes. The train is equipped with oxygen supply to combat altitude sickness. The atmosphere here holds between 40 and 50 percent less oxygen than the sea level. Oxygen is pumped into the rail carriages.

The area is really stunning, amazing these mountains act like a rampart, I saw a few nomads, they are using small passage ways under line to cross with heir yaks to access the grazing grounds on the other side of the railway line. I just saw a lone horseman galloping along the line.

A few bridges along the line it is so amazing how they managed to built this line.

When I spoke to the Tibetan gentleman at the station he thought that the train was a good thing as it is easier for trade and cheaper for the local population.

The enviromentalists were kept happy as under-passes were constructed under the line for migrating animals such as the Tibetan antelope, or for local herders to cross from one side to another with their yaks, sheep or goats.

On board there is a restaurant carriage serving Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. The menus is in Chinese but armed with my phrase-book, I got what I wanted. Later I was invited by other people in the carriage to share their food, we usually order a meal each, share the food. It was good fun!

Other recommendations:
Lhasa Bridge
Lhasa Bridge
I could not believe my train trip is almost over. I suddenly spotted the span bridge over the Kyichu River (Lhasa River). It is one of the landmarks on this line, the bridge has a lengh of 928 meters, it was designed to look like a yak. The main span is 108m. I am arriving in Lhasa once the forbidden City, the ancient capital of Tibet! As the train approached the station I saw the Potala Palace on the horizon, what a great first view of the city!

During the construction of this railway line a lot of people have to be re-settled and lost their home, yes the railway line has some benefits to Tibet but caused damages as well. We could open a debate on the goods and bads, but I won’t right now. The main benefit is that trade is easier for both Tibetans and Han Chinese, the main disadvantage is that yes Tibetan culture will not be the same and some people have to move home. Now there are 8 trains a day in each directions to and from Lhasa station and 3 trains carrying goods

Published on Tuesday November 18th, 2008

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Thu, Nov 27 2008 - 01:57 PM rating by marianne

Excellent! What a beautiful trip

Mon, Nov 24 2008 - 08:06 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Fantastic journey !! and wonderful pictures and text!

Thu, Nov 20 2008 - 03:59 PM rating by rangutan

Great! Your enthusiasm & excitement for the trip comes out well in the report.

Thu, Nov 20 2008 - 01:15 AM rating by gloriajames

Brilliant! What an adventure it was for you!
I have forwarded your reports to my friends. They are planning a trip for next year.

Wed, Nov 19 2008 - 11:17 AM rating by louis

I really like your report. Also the pictures are beautiful.

Tue, Nov 18 2008 - 10:30 PM rating by mistybleu

Isabelle, great report it really sounds like an awesome adventure. I also love the pictures you have been uploading. Nice One.

Tue, Nov 18 2008 - 08:57 PM rating by pesu

Thanks, Isabelle, for this very personal informative report!!! How long did it take from Golmud to Lhase?

Yuliang, I would appreciate it a lot if everyone here tried to be objective and careful with words, at least. I am not an expert for the history of Tibet but I like to get information from all sides. I can't find a single word in Isabelle's report that could have caused your attacks.

Tue, Nov 18 2008 - 07:12 PM rating by yuliangpang

Thank you so much for the report the railway station, unfortunately I have stayed in Europe since it was put into use in 2006, therefore I have not got any opportunity to try it. But it was already in my top agenda when I am back to China. You mentioned something about pros and cons of railway. But I think your points are not objective and not based on this fact that Hans and Tibetans are living in one country, not two. How you can say that Tibetans are hurt by Hans if we are in one country? I do not know how much you know about the history of Tibet, but if you believe that Hans are destroying the culture of Tibetans, you are totally wrong. We are doing everything to protect them. Please be careful with what your country did during the Olympic torch was relayed in Paris, it really hurt at least my good feeling towards France. heard the news that your great president decided to meet Dalai Lama in Poland soon,congulations!!

Tue, Nov 18 2008 - 04:07 PM rating by krisek

Isabelle, thank you for a beautiful report. So unusual and educating. How did you get on the train if it was forbidden for foreigners? Or did I misunderstand something?

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