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kiting, diving, trippin' I ain't never been lost, just confused for a few days - Daniel Boone

Qinghai - Tibet train trip

CHINA | Wednesday, 17 March 2010 | Views [805]

More yaks, more snow

More yaks, more snow

Back on the trains again, this time across the Qinghai Plateau and in to Tibet.

The Chinese are very proud of this rail line - as they are of most things they get right - but it is certainly a interesting trip. There are commentaries along the way letting you know where you are, how high or cold it is, and what the silly looking pipes are that are sticking out of the ground are for.

Around 500km of the total 2000km rail line is built on permafrost so there are all sorts of measures in place to stop the ground thawing - read tracks sinking - that the Chinese railway Institute, amongst other institutes, have trialled and come up with to protect their 'engineering marvel'. Sorry, but the propoganda gets a bit thick along the way. They have 7m pipes in the ground full of liquid ammonia that will turn to gas when the ground warms up. The gas then rises up the pipe to the top where there are radiating fins that let the heat escape and the outside freezing air cools the gas back to liquid. There are other horizontal pipes with temperature valves on one end that will let warm air escape and trap cold air under the ground. There was even a shed over one spot on the edge of a river to stop the sun getting on to the ground. All in all there was a lot of money spent on the line and they are not shy when it comes to letting pepole know how much.

Our trip started from Xining, capitol of north west China's Qinghai province. In the train station any yellow haired people got checked over to make sure they have their TTP (Tibet Travel Permit) in order. Foreignors are not allowed to enter Tibet without one and the entry / exit dates have to line up or you can either sit at the station a day or so, or if you've stuffed up, find yourself sitting in another kid of station - with cops. We got checked over at least twice, but the interesting thing was we got an easier time of it than a few of the very non Han Chinese - read Tibetan - looking people going to do the same trip with us. They would get asked for ID cards - ALL Chinese have one - , some would get asked for some papers, and they would have them taken off them, recorded, photocopied and given back. Only to have another cop come along half an hour later to repeat the whole procedure.

Once we got on the train we shared a soft sleeper berth with a young Han Chinese buddhist, an engineer working in Lhasa and a Wrigleys chewing gum executive, all from from Beijing. Gordon, our chewing gum supplier for the trip, spoke fluent english almost ALL the way but was a nice enough guy to with it.

So for almost 24 hours we slowly climbed from 2000m in Xining, past Qinghai lake at 3500m - in the dark - the over the Kunlun Mountains at 5100m, then through the worlds highest tunnel at 5070m - dug through permanently frozen ground - and back down to the the relatively low altitude of 4000m at Lhasa.

For the last hour or so we followed the Lhasa river in to where we saw the Potala Palace set on a hill in town before stepping off the train to be herded past the black uniformed police through the gate to, you guessed it, more checks and questions. Welcome to Tibet.

Tags: ice, snow, tibet, trains, yak


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