One of the greatest experiences I ever had was the epic railway journey from Beijing to Lhasa. The train left in the late evening and reached Xian in the early morning (for a map see here). The landscape around this city famous for its Terracotta Army is characterized by the Loess Plateau. Rainfall is scarce and signs of erosion of the precious soil were abundant. Throughout the day, the countryside became less densely populated and at nightfall we passed Xining. I woke up early in the morning to witness the train entering the Tibetan Plateau south of Golmud. Now the altitude was already several thousand metres and the land was more and more rugged. The highest point of the journey is the Tanggula Pass at an altitude of 5072 m! Even now in the middle of May, snow was falling outside and I feared for the weather in Lhasa. Due to the height, oxygen masks were distributed to the passengers to avoid altitude sickness. The train still had many hours to go across the plateau with its vast and seemingly endless vistas. Outside nomads were living in their tents and yaks were grazing together with wild antelopes, while inside the train you could eat your meals in the comfort of the dining car. At the end of the day and after a number of short stops at local railway stations, the train approached Lhasa allowing the first view of the mighty Potala Palace dominating the city.
Of course, the train journey was only the start of great experiences in Lhasa, the “place of the gods”, but this is covered in the following post! 🙂