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My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - My Big Adventure

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 7 March 2011 | Views [101] | Scholarship Entry

The Sky Train: A Breathtaking Adventure

Heart pounding and palms unusually clammy, I turned restlessly from side to side in the cramped train berth of Qinghai-Tibet Train, as it swooped through Tanggula Pass, the world’s highest rail track at 5,072 meters above sea level. ‘This is it,’ I thought. I’m suffering from the dreaded altitude sickness. As air pressure abruptly dropped, I heard oxygen outlets emitting a steady “swoosh” in the darkness to alleviate the breathing difficulties of some passengers. Paranoia crept in, which heightened the symptoms I can no longer identify as real or not. Supposedly the lesser evil, taking the train will help as acclimatize slowly as we go up than if we take the plane. I began to doubt myself. Did you know that a man actually died while riding the highest railway of the world?

As darkness enveloped the train while chugging through a seemingly endless tunnel, my sleep-deprived mind replayed events before boarding the train. What happened to us was close to an “Amazing Race” experience. Having forgotten that the Chinese national holiday will crowd public transportation terminals, we left the hostel a bit late and dashed for the train station which was already jam-packed by the time we arrived. After the longest line we experienced, we got to our respective berths at the tail of the train. We found out that our tickets were in separate coaches and my friend was on the top third berth! She had to endure climbing up only to find that she cannot even sit straight lest she bangs her head on the ceiling. To improvise, she bunks in my bottom berth and just climbs up when it’s time to sleep.

Drifting in and out of consciousness, I recalled how confident we were that our co-passengers will somehow understand us through English usage, being the so-called “universal language”. Their blank faces told us that they flatly cannot understand a word we were saying, let alone read our lame hand gestures. Luckily, a petite Chinese woman slowly caught on, and replied in halting and painful English. Later on, at loss for words, others resorted to their laptops’ translation functionality just to get across their messages.

As rays of light and excited exclamations seeped in through my fitful consciousness, I dragged my shivering body from the berth and peeked on the window. I was speechless – then I also burst into expletives. The Tibetan plateau was beyond words – it was simply and amazingly picturesque. Ground permafrost and snow capped mountain ranges against the vast and arid landscapes were magnificent. Grasslands had yaks grazing in them, just above the deep turquoise colored holy lake. When I scrambled outside the hall, photographers with all kinds of cameras and tripods were lined up to capture the nature’s beauty that we so rarely see in other parts of the world.

I took my own camera and snapped photos until my arms and fingers hurt. My big adventure was figuratively and literally breathtaking.

Tags: #2011Writing, Travel Writing Scholarship 2011

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