China’s State Ministry of Railway launched the Qinghai – Tibet railway trail operations on July 1, 2006. The first group of trains entering Tibet will be from Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Shanghai deployed by State Ministry of Railways. These specials trains are equipped with a plateau oxygen supply system to guarantee smooth operation and passengers’ safety in an extremely cold and anoxic environment.
Qinghai-Tibet Railway is the world’s highest railway. Some 960 kilometers of its tracks are located 4,000 meters above sea level and the highest point is 5,072 meters, at least 200 meters higher than the Peruvian railway in the Andes, which was formerly the world’s most elevated track.
Our train journey
Our group departed from Shanghai and started the 52 hours train journey. We left on Friday evening and arrived at Lhasa on Sunday night. It was a great journey passing through many provinces of China which provided great insights for people like me who is not aware of the various Chinese cultures.
Our journey started from Shanghai and proceeded towards west then north then west again. Major cities we passed by were Wuxi, Hangzhou, Zhengzhou, Xian, Lanzhou and Xining, which was the starting point of the new rail into Tibet, followed with the cities along this new railway. It’s not physically challenged because we opted for the soft bed. I think the over-night train ride is a must experience because one can really enjoy great view passing through the China countryside. You can try a similar thing other countries depending on one’s affordability. Of course, be prepared for hardship if you take a long train ride in China.
To kill time, we read books, played cards & mahjong on the train. This made our train journey interesting and not a slight hint of boredom. The mahjong was brought along by Petrus’ German colleague!
On Sunday, we were excited once our journey entered the new rail track starting from Xining heading towards Lhasa because it’s long waited for and the view was so different from our past experience. The view was magnificent, mountain ranges, plateau, blue sky, icy land, wild animals etc. We were supposed to stay calm while enjoying those but we were shouting out with joy when we first saw the yak. And it was really yuks! When we saw them in Tibet, they were everywhere and they were smelling like yuks! Urgh.
Earlier I mentioned about hardship in a train journey in China, it’s the hygiene issue. Imagine, there is no bathroom in the train. So, we could not take showers for the next 52 hours. And the train attendants didn’t clean the toilet on the second day onwards. Coupled with the bad habit of local Chinese, you can imagine how dirty the toilets can be. The train was compressed with oxygen when we were approaching Xining so we didn’t feel any difference in air pressure. It was just like airplane.
The experience in Tibet
But I felt shortness of breath once I stepped out of the train. Our movement has to be slow, less talking (good, no fighting), less food, to conserve energy and not to stretch our lungs as the air was thin. Their weather was still cold and we were told not to take a bath on the first day to avoid catching a cold and to consume lesser oxygen. We have to remind ourselves that every simple movement takes up oxygen. So, we limit our movement unless it was necessary.
Alas, I hadn’t bathed in the past 52 hours, so it wasn’t any big deal to wait for another 24 hours. It was a big mistake to shower & washed my hair on Monday night, plus other activities such as packing, watching TV etc and I suffered severe headache on that night and I was having a sleepless night!
I felt really sick the next day. Felt like asthmatic, felt severe shortness of breath, couldn’t move a lot, worst we have to leave Lhasa (it’s about 3500m height) to a higher city! Unfortunately, one of the teammates withdrew and left Tibet on Monday after suffering high blood pressure and high pulse rate. Since I have travelled so far to be in Lhasa, I decided to continue with the journey but to move on thinking I should be able to acclimatize later. Most of the time, I stayed in the car, reduced walking and rested early. I consumed all kinds of medicine as long as it was claimed to be good. Lucky me, I was a fresh person the next day.
The highlight of the tour was reaching 5220m at the Mt Everest base camp (EBC). Wow! We were so thrilled when we saw the Mt Everest summit as it was so close. It was so near and yet so far. We could see snow flying off the slope of Mt Everest blown by a strong wind. We spend the night at the Everest base camp and yet again, a new experience to us. We stayed in the native tent and they were friendly to us.
They continued supplying us with warm water collected from spring nearby knowing that we were frozen. The temperature dropped to minus at night. Our clothing worn on that day has to be packed separately coz those were really smelly! We couldn’t visit their toilet because we couldn’t stand the sight of it. We decided to go for the natural toilet when it turned dark.
This was the only trip I lost weight and I won’t call it a holiday but an adventurous trip. I achieved a new personal record to go on without a bath for 4 days.