The Buddhist Kingdom of Tibet is believed by some to be Shangri-La. Its colourful people and incredible history have inspired travellers for decades, but has been so difficult to reach.
Since the formation of the Tibetan Autonomous Region in the early 1950s, the Chinese government has wanted a railway connecting Tibet to the rest of China. Shortage of technology and money prevented the project from starting, but now it is a reality with a line running into the heart of Lhasa, Tibet's largest city. Trains run from Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Xining and Lanzhou.
The section between Golmud and Lhasa was inaugurated in July 2006, at last connecting China proper with the Tibet Autonomous Region. Carriages on that section are either deep green and yellow or deep red and yellow. Signs are in Tibetan, simplified Chinese and English.
The railway runs from Qinghai to Tibet and is the world's highest. Trains were specially built to handle the altitude. Tanggula Pass is the world's highest rail track at 5,072 metres. The 1,338 metre Fenghuoshan Tunnel is 4,905 metres above sea level and the Yangbajing Tunnel is a little lower at 4,264 metres. More than 960 kilometres over 80 percent are at an altitude of more than 4,000 metres and there are 675 bridges along the route.
Operational speed is 120km/p and slows to 100km/h in sections laid on permafrost.
The journey from Beijing to Lhasa takes 47.5 hours and covers 4,064kms. The cheapest option is a hard seat, the next is a lower hard sleeper, a bunk in a basic sleeping car or the most comfortable way is in a lower soft sleeper, a bunk in a more luxurious sleeping car. There is an extra charge for forward-facing seats and berths.
The train is equipped with two oxygen sources. One is released throughout the cabins upon reaching Golmud and heading into Tibet and there are personal oxygen canisters in case passengers feel light headed. These are available between Golmund and Lhasa.
Getaway's journey began in Xian in Shaanxi province, home to seven million people. The important city was China's ancient capital for 13 dynasties spread over 1,100 years and is renowned for being the eastern terminus of the Silk Road.
Xian is a city of contrasts, showcasing prehistoric ruins alongside typical scenes from a vibrant, modern Chinese city. Its city centre is bounded by city walls and its four main streets branch out from a large belltower. It has various temples, museums and a Muslim quarter. It's a good idea to rent a bicycle and peddle your way around the city.
A huge drawcard is the amazing Terracotta Army, a collection of 8,099 life-size Chinese figures of warriors and horses near the Mausoleum Qin Shi Huang, founder of the Qin dynasty in 221 BC. The funerary figures were uncovered in 1974 by peasants who were digging wells.
The figures were spread over three underground platforms measuring 76 metres high and covering 120,000 square metres. In 1978 a fourth pit shaped in the Chinese character for 'middle' was discovered, and in 1980 two bronze chariots with four horses were discovered.
At Golmud, a 3800 horsepower GE specialty application locomotive is added to the train. It is capable of operating efficiently at five kilometre altitudes which enables it to climb the Tibetan plateau.
Golmud is a new industrial city on a plateau in the mid-west of Qinghai province. It is close to the borders of the Gobi Desert, the Kunlun Mountains and the Cai Erhan Salt Lake. It is dusty and desolate and for China, sparsely populated with just 140,000 residents made up of Han, Tibetan, Mongol, Hui and other ethnic groups. It is rich in mineral resources and is predicted to become an important industrial city.
Next week the journey to Tibet continues.
Travel Directors operates The Himalayan Express 19-day tour, including the Qinghai Tibet Rail Journey. Packages start at $7447 per person twin share and include return airfares from Australia, transfers, accommodation and most meals. Departures are scheduled in September and October, 2007 and April, May, September and October 2008. Contact Travel Directors for information on other tours.
Prices quoted are correct at July 12, 2007
China to Tibet.
For further information
177 Oxford Street
Ph: (08) 9242 4200 1800 641 236
Fax: (08) 9242 5366
It is recommended travellers to China see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information visit www.welltogo.com.au
Ph: (07) 3114 4300
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