This photo-blog is designed to work either as a standard blog with images or - by clicking any image - a photo-album. To see an image in full resolution in the 2006 journey, click to the left or right of an image in blog mode.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lhasa to Golmud by Qinghai-Tibet Rail

The Potala from across the river on the way to the station

We took the Qinghai-Tibet railroad from Lhasa to Chengdu on the 19th September 2006 - a day late because our Nepali travel agent failed to book our train ticket, probably hoping he could skip with the proceeds, avoided only by a lot of hassling on the phone. This is largely a photo essay of the journey to give everyone a chance to witness the unique geography, with a few comments about the demographic and military implications of Tibet's northern border with China along the way.

Crossing the river

Lhasa station, sweeping in its enormity

The day was fine and the views splendid of mountain ranges, nomads, yaks and the permafrost and wetlands bordering the railway and the Tibetan lakes that abound. A lot of the line is up at 5000 metres and the train had oxygen on tap with breathers that go up your nostrils which made it possible to swoon out in the evening hardly breathing at all, although we had by now acclimatised to 16,000 foot air.

The land is initially dotted with Tibetan villages

Prayer flags gradually give way to Chinese flags displaying toeing the 'party line'

There has been a lot of concern that the rail line might break up the permafrost of the tundra, so the Chinese claim they have done an environmental coup by impregnating the surrounding ground with mosaics of rock to reinforce the boggy ground and possibly to vent gasses. The line is a superb piece of engineering with a very contoured course running for miles above ground on viaducts so as to disturb the surrounding ground as little as possible and probably also to avoid the train becoming snowbound in winter.

Moving panorama

The peerless landscape of snow capped mountains separating broad pastoral valleys with Yaks and small villages gradually reduced its dimensions towards sparse semi desert, even with a few sand dunes, and the mountains to rolling steppe, where the views are uneventful, but as endless as the curvature of the Earth. Towards evening a final range of snow-capped mountains appeared with one last high pass of 5000 metres.

Long distance trucks on the highway following the line.
This is snowbound in winter giving the train primacy as a transport route.

Yaks grazing

A bus on the adjacent highway

Shepherd nomads

Cyclists making a long journey across Tibet

Te Yaks were driven nearly wild by the passing train

Much of the surrounding land is delicate swampy tundra

Pristine wetland by the rail line

The whole area is permeated by transmission towers, this one powered by both solar and wind

A very clear lake beside the line

Chinese reinforcing of the tundra to prevent the degradation of the permafrost layer

One thing you learn from this journey is why Tibet was always completely vulnerable to military and demographic absorption into China. Although the Himalayas form a stark barrier between Tibet and India to reverse is true heading north with rolling high plains which a motorized army or even large numbers of foot soldiers can cross in summer months with complete ease. Given this combined with the severe demographic differential of some 1.5 billion Chinese against only about 4 million Tibetans and you can see how inevitable it was that Tibet would become engulfed by China once the Buddhist Lamas short-sightedly set the country on a path of complete isolation from the rest of the world.

Extended viaducts sweeping the valley

Another view of the permafrost grid

Christine and Chris in a pristine rail compartment.
You can see the oxygen supply in a tap on the wall!

Altitude 5002 metres

Long distance trucks on the highway beside a railway viaduct

A very remote north Tibetan industrial town

Last views at dusk of the last range of mountains approaching Golmud

We finally arrived at Golmud in pouring rain in the middle of the night for a fuel stop, having crossed some kind of pass over the last range of mountains we saw in the deepening dusk.

1 comment: