Train of clouds or Transtibetan, the railway to Lhasa


It is known as Cloud train, Transtibetan or Qinghai-Tibet Route to the highest railway track in the world, an engineering challenge that communicates the Goldmud or Xining route with Lhasa defying all established physical laws and ascending more than 2,000 meters, leaving one of the greatest human losses in history along the way (3,000 people died of freezing or altitude sickness). It is the railway to Tibet that since 2006 already communicates Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Lanzhou or Guangzhou but that, inevitably, has its starting point in Xining and from Golmud the most fascinating scenarios. Today begins our adventure through Tibet although before the mountain of the sun and the moon, Riyue, and the largest and largest salt water lake in China, The sacred Qinghai Lake, they were going to serve us as a perfect prolegger.

At this time of night when I write this, the Tibetan plateau with its snow, mountains and intense blue sky by day show us the way.

Riyue Mountain, the mountain of sun and moon, and Qinghai Lake

ALTITUDE 2,270 m I'm nervous, nobody cheated by now. One may have traveled unusual places in this world, feel privileged to have reached points all over the world dreamed, but I have never faced a height challenge as monumental as Tibet. On the one hand I am aware that I am fulfilling everything that I prepared with care for more than 15 years but on the other I feel a certain respect a few hours of facing the train of clouds or Transibetan that will take us to Lhasa.


Although we will talk about the symptoms and remedies of the so-called "altitude sickness" tell you that since last night I am taking Edemox (in the morning on an empty stomach and before bedtime | UPDATE: I reduced it to only mornings in Lhasa and subsequently stopped taking it after Everest since I was always well) how well it worked for me in the area of Colca and Puno Valley in Peru 2010. However, I went back to consult with my GP and with External Health before "self-medicate" which I strongly recommend, especially when you don't remember its diuretic effect (as it happened to me tonight) and one who never gets up in the bathroom while sleeping today has done it 4 TIMES! and worry, haha.

He hasn't told me anything at breakfast or at 90km (1h and a half) that separate us from our morning visit but I think Sele has similar feelings.

ALTITUDE 3,399 m Our train leaves at 19:31 from Xining so we will take advantage of the morning to continue acclimatizing what we will need and, for this, we have come to the "test of the day" to more than 3,000 m (a step more) approaching the Riyue Mountain, literally translated as the "mountain of the sun and the moon"

And why come here? Possibly it is the best place to assess what we will later discover by train and that any trip to Tibet, landscape, does not contribute anything to this place, a division in the country's own geography although Tonight the wind has brought a sandstorm that does not help to take away that restlessness that invades us. We really are in an acquaintance mountain pass that separates the Qinghai Lake Basin from the Huangshui River Basin (Yellow River tributary) and leaves that contrast between a pastoral zone in the west and an agricultural zone in the east.

In Tibetan, this mountain is known as Nyima Dawa, associating it with the legend of a princess named Han-China Wencheng who, when she was going to marry Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo in the seventh century, wanted to see her family through a magic mirror that He had but only saw his own reflection breaking it desperately. Today the Daotang River that flows west from the passage to Qinghai Lake is believed to have originated from the princess's tears, even a festival is held in her honor. Not only the landscapes are related to the legend of the princess but the main visits are the Pavilion Ri (Sun) and Pavilion Yue (Moon) built on each side of the mountain in his memory

ALTITUDE 3,205 m But if landscapes go the way, we have managed to "roll" our guide to get closer to the famous sacred lake Qinghai although it did not enter the initial plans. It is not really the best season to see it since neither the meadow is green as at any other time of the year, it is not a holiday stage nor the surrounding mountains are especially snowy, but it is the largest lake in China (although unfortunately it is suffering a reduction similar to that of Aral Sea in Karakalpakstan -Uzbekistan-) and also the largest salt water lake in the country (still adapted species live) and we had to see it.

Being in one zone mainly of Tibetan and Mongolian population, It is not surprising that the turquoise waters in other seasons or its geography, has given to many legends about its formation or the appearance of a spring that quenched the thirst of its inhabitants

As they are still preparing everything for the summer season, they have allowed us to approach a private area where they are preparing prayer flags and dependencies for when the Chinese come in droves. That nobody thinks that they bathe or come looking for the sun since in the Chinese society it is not well seen to be brown. And what are they coming to? We assume that you enjoy some relaxation in a privileged landscape.

At a prudent hour and after chatting a bit with the Tibetans (we already know that we are going to spend a few days among a friendly people like few others), we have resumed the way back.

RESTAURANTS IN CHINA | JIANGXIGOUXIANG: Impronunciable (see photo), stop on the road in typical Chinese style with its round table

He had Tibetan dishes so we took advantage of the first ones, including some that contain yak meat (which we also started to see on the road)

It was around 16'00 when we entered Xining again and took the opportunity to have a coffee in a modern place before moving to the station.

Train of clouds or Transtibetan, the railway to Lhasa

ALTITUDE 2,270 m The restlessness mixed with illusion. It is 5:45 p.m. when we begin to teach our Tibet Permits for the first time, which our guide has printedYoulan Tours (Remember, it is not possible to enter Tibet for free, it requires a specialized agency that processes an itinerary even if it is designed with you and permits)

We take the opportunity to get some supply (cookies, etc.) and essentially several 1.5 liter bottles of water to continue hydrating and eliminated toxins.

OTHER TRANSTIBETAN TRAJECTS: As we have been telling, until July 1, 2006, the Chinese railway lines only reached Golmud or Ge Ermu (2,829 m altitude) where they had stayed in 1984 and the limitations did not allow the line to move forward. On that date it would finally be inaugurated the Qingzang Railway or Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the section known properly by locals as the Cloud Train or Trans-Tibetan although thanks to the previous lines and subsequent modernity of them, you can communicate with the main destinations to leave from them with the following route times to Lhasa:

- Beijing: 42h 20min to travel 3,757km (daily departures)
- Shanghai: 47h 20min to travel 4,373km (daily departures)
- Chengdu: 41h 37min to travel 3,360km (departures every 2 days)
- Lanzhou: 26h 27min to travel 1,972km (daily departures)

Why maybe It makes no sense to stick such beatings? Because the reality is that the landscape that is worth it goes from the Tibetan plateau in Xining, the rest of the route being quite monotonous without much to offer. From Golmud the fascination capacity is increasing

Fear? No, but a lot of respect, yes. We have fulfilled everything the "statutes" said to avoid altitude sickness, spent 2 days in Xining at 2,270m and drank a lot of water to eliminate and purify the blood in the face of good oxygenation but the train of clouds (not to be confused with the Argentine, nothing has to do) will take us to Lhasa (3,680m altitude) passing through the Tibetan plateau at an average of 4,000 meters and even surpassing the Kun Lun mountains on the way to Tanggula pass at 5,072m

Nor did it help the fact of so much military presence (it is the last city before entering Tibet abroad) once we started boarding from 19.00. Already They have asked us for permission, tickets and passports 3 times also checking the Chinese visa (in the access to the station, entrance to the wagon and a policeman as soon as he has left the only foreigners)

… or the sign a paper where you exempt them from liability "If something associated with height happens to you" (the so-called "Passenger Health Declaration Form")

The time has come, there is no turning back. At 19:31 the 20-hour, 59-minute journey that separates Xining from Lhasa In Tibet it begins for us although it will be done in separate compartments in the same car so each one will have new "friends" (the train goes to the top but we are the only foreigners). After a first dismissal, we search among the 13 wagons which will be our cabin. There are 3 types of wagons, the first 2 private ones that are compartments with capacity for 4 people and “soft” beds”(Ours), 7 of compartments for 6 people of“ hard bed ”and 4 carriages of seats (that must be death). In addition, each car has oxygen supply systems that are put into operation from 3,000 meters. Of course, the bags fit only above and "justitas" "justitas" ...

I had also read that the wagons were hermetically sealed to prevent leaks, in addition to have oxygen valves in the aisles and extra supply under the seat or on the bed. The latter is true, but not pressurization. It is a normal car in that sense.

Undoubtedly, the Transtibetan is one of the most impressive engineering wonders that exist (as a hallucino engineer). No more no less 5 years with 140,000 workers and 2000 doctors were needed to build the Qinghai-Tibet railway but, far beyond, a true holocaust of China's engineering history with more than3,000 workers killed by freezing and / or altitude sickness.

To overcome the difficulties of the terrain but also the extreme weather of the area was an almost unthinkable challenge last century. A plateau at 4,000 meters high, a drop of up to 2,000 meters, the highest station in the world and half the route through permafrost (632 kilometers in total)! What did that mean? That the railway exceeds ICE FLOOR

The solutioninterestingly, it is based on a 2000-year-old technique discovered by archaeologists in Kazakhstan in an area of ​​ancient tombs built with small piles of stone but that gives for a separate article

At a speed of 110 kilometers per hour thanks to a NJ2 locomotive of 138 tons with 8000 horsepower, we are opening a road of records between more than 160 km of bridges, the largest being the 11.7 km long Qingshui Bridge (considered the longest permafrost bridge in the world), the Fenghuoshan tunnel of 1,388 meters in length (the highest railway tunnel in the world at 4,905 m) or the Tanggula Mountain Pass at 5,072 m

And the dining car for dinner? Let's say that it took us a little more to make us understand what we expected until a supervisor with a little English (not too much) has helped us out. Between that and pointing dishes from other tables we have achieved one more than dignified dinner based on veal, chicken and rice (95 CNY)

Already less restless but just as excited, it has been around 22'00 when, with the wagon-restaurant already empty, we have decided to close each day to his cabin (I have had a family of very nice youngsters, the young lady He knows English and has told me that they are going to do a tour too).


While yesterday we talked about the types of Buddhism and where Tibetan fits, today we have not had much time to advance their understanding. If it is important to understand that Tibetan Buddhism, like Buddhism in general, It is not a religion but seeks personal liberation and that of all beings through happiness, fulfillment and wisdom. Anyone can practice it without being a Buddhist.

“The highest train in the world”, the “Lhasa Express”, the “Sky Train” or simply the Trans-Tibetan is a unique experience in the world in one of the most special train trips that exist, that in which the blue sky is transformed into a rare color, perhaps darker, the herds of that singular yak congregate in the highlands and the view is lost in the horizon dotted with snowy mountains. Let's see how we spend the night ... Tomorrow Lhasa!

Isaac (with Sele), from the Trans-Tibetan towards Lhasa (Tibet)

EXPENSES OF THE DAY: 95 CNY (approx 12.67 EUR)