Greetings from the roof of the world!
I’m in Lhasa, Tibet. Getting here was a fun but exhausting journey.
I packed up my bike, then Robin and I boarded an afternoon train from Beijing for the 24h journey to Xining. The train ride was fun but long – we provided entertainment for a whole pile of non-English speaking locals. Main sources of entertainment were elephant photos on my laptop, the alphabet song, and my zip-off hiking pants.
From Xining, I rode out to Kumbum Monastery. Another Tibetan monastery, another mysterious CD. This temple is famous for its yak butter sculptures, which are much bigger and more elaborate than I expected.. colourful too, since they dye the butter. Sadly, as in most Tibetan monastaries, photography is not allowed.
It was great to ride for a few hours somewhere less polluted than Beijing. Part of the road was under construction too, so I got to do some mountain biking.
In the evening, I said goodbye to Robin at the train station and boarded a train for the 24h trip to Lhasa. This train was halfway along its journey, having done the 24h trip from Beijing. Unfortunately, I learned that they don’t change the sheets between passengers. Oh well.
The service to Lhasa runs along the world’s highest railway, the Qingtai-Tibet railway. The highest point is 5072m, higher even than Lhasa but not as high as I’m planning on cycling to. Each car has an on board oxygen generator with outlets throughout the car. Most of the time they just hiss out into the surrounding air, but they’ll give you a cannula if you need one (I only saw one person using one.) I didn’t have much trouble, but in the afternoon I felt a bit dizzy so I turned on the outlet by my bed and took a nap.
There were some nice views out the window of the train, but nothing mind blowing. The tracks mostly run through flat plateaus with the mountains far on either side, high above the treeline (but not above the yak line.) I’ve heard the views are much better from the highway we’ll be cycling on…
The neat thing to see out the train window was the track and railbed. There’s a ~1m high yak fence all the way along the track, there are lots of small bridges, and every now and then the train passes through an area with rocks arranged in a diamond pattern in the dirt, plus strange fences. I learned that these somehow keep dust storms from affecting the train.
And, despite this being a showcase train, there’s a good serving of FAIL. Many of the fixtures on a Chinese rail car are not capable of surviving a 48h journey! My car’s toilets stopped flushing and were locked at about 28h from Beijing. All the hot water dispensers were broken by the end of the trip, so to get hot water you had to open a door below the dispenser and get it from a tap on the boiler itself. Half the hallway seats in my car were bent down at an angle too low for sitting. And so on. I’m not terribly sad that this is the last Chinese train I’ll take for a while.
The train arrived on time in Lhasa. I put my bike together outside the station, surrounded by a curious crowd, and slowly rode the 10km to my hotel.
(I arrived in Lhasa on May 28.)