Lhasa – Chengdu High Altitude Railway (2014)

Lhasa – Chengdu High Altitude Railway (2014)

3360 Kms, 2.5 days – Lhasa -Golmud – Delingha -Xining – Lanzhou -Guangyuan -Chengdu

Lhasa sits at a height of 12000 feet, same as Leh. Yet, when you travel by train to Lhasa, you will cross Tanggu La at 16,640 feet, high enough to give you Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS.  Tanggu La railway station is almost twice as high as Ollantaytambo on the Peru Rail from Cusco to Machupicchu, the second highest railway station in the world. On the Lhasa railway, you will also cross the more than one-kilometer long Fenguoshan tunnel, all of it over 16000 feet high. This railway, known as the Qinghai-Tibet Railway is the most advanced railway in the world, the fancy Swiss trains notwithstanding.  It connects Lhasa to several cities in China via Xining in Qinghai.

My friend Indu and I flew from Beijing to Lhasa, but took the train from Lhasa to Chengdu.  Our Sichuan journey had begun long before we had reached Chengdu, the capital. We had taken the fancy high-speed train from Lhasa.  All trains emanating from Lhasa traverse through the Tibetan plateau upto Xinning and diverge in different directions from there.  The journey from Xinning to Chengdu had served up rectangular steel frames of verdant Sichuan countryside. Shiny bottle gourds hanging from vines on shingly rooftops, lush paddy fields cultivated in a series of meandering terraces on the mountainside, arched bridges faithfully reflected in the silvery waters of a gurgling stream below, the Sichuan countryside is exquisitely beautiful, even better than Tibet where the scenery, though stark and stunning, is somewhat unvarying. Sichuan farmers are busy planting, weeding or fishing in shallow waters. Occasionally, one comes across a lone farmer taking a break, puffing away contentedly.

However, from time to time, as the train hurtled through Sichuan countryside, this pastoral paradise was punctured by a jungle of concrete commercial and housing blocks.  Towns with obscure names which even the Chinese are not familiar with, emerge out of the rice paddies, sprouting high-rises, flyovers and underpasses, signs that ‘development’ has reached remote interiors of China. During this journey, we crossed both Yangste and Huang Ho, the two major river systems of China.

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