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From China to Tibet

On the 1st of July 2006, the first train rolled out of Golmud station bound for Lhasa some 1142Km away, completing the Beijing to Lhasa line. The trip takes 47 hours and costs between $100 and $160 depending on which class you take. Although it’s only recently been built, the idea is not a new one and plans to link Tibet by rail can be traced back to Mao. They were even described by the CIA as far back as 1970 as “the key to total integration of Tibet”

With Tibet now fully connected to the rest of China it’s expected that integration and Chinese migration will step up a gear. Some groups argue a total boycott of the train, others suggest that like the Chinese, it ‘aint going away.

Like it or loath it, the project has been a pretty impressive feat of modern engineering. Permafrost tracks were required to remain stable across the mountains and changeable weather conditions, and pressurised cabins have been installed to prevent passengers suffering from altitude sickness – that is of course until they get off in Lhasa.

From its start in Beijing (sea level), the train climbs some 5000m plus until it reaches the Tang Gula mountain pass (5072m), before it descends to Lhasa (3,650m). When the passengers disembark completely un-acclimatised the high altitude can be devastating. Rumours in Lhasa claim there have already been some fatalities as a result. Typically, the Chinese deny any such thing.

Whatever your views, if you do plan to take the train, it might be less unpleasant taking it down, from Lhasa to Beijing rather than the other way round.

From/To Distance KM Hard Seat Hard Sleeper Soft Sleeper
Beijing To Lhasa 4064 389 813 1262
Chengdu – Lhasa 3360 331 712 1104
Chongqing – Lhasa 3654 355 754 1168
Lanzhou – Lhasa 2188 242 552 854
Xining – Lhasa 1972 226 523 810

*Prices shown in Chinese Yuan, where 8 = 1$, and 15 = £1 approx.

Tariq El Kashef

Tariq El Kashef is the author and editor of www.alternativeegypt.com – The Online Egypt Travel Guide