It was a sad farewell when we said goodbye to Driver and Songtsen at the train station our last morning in Lhasa. We’d really had a wonderful time with them both, and learnt so much about Tibet, Buddhism and Tibetan Culture, especially from Songtsen. We’d also gotten a first-hand understanding of the price Tibetans are paying for the “patronage” of the Chinese, that we were not all that excited about going into China and having to spend our money there.
But duty calls (for Daniel, at least), and we were soon on the Tibet-Qinghai railway headed to Nanjing, 4,000 km to the east. By travelling all the way to Nanjing, we were actually “overshooting” Malaysia, but our travel budget was being increased, so it was OK.
Our train waiting to leave
The Tibet-Qinghai railway is a feat of engineering (something Papa K would definitely like), partly built over permafrost across the Tibetan plateau. The journey to Shanghai would take 48 hours, meaning that we’d spend two full days and two nights in the train. We were quite looking forward to a train ride again, after more than two weeks of bus and car travel, but a bit worried about our fellow cabin-mates, as the train has only 4-sleeper compartments.
The sleepers themselves were fairly luxurious (worth the price, at least!), with soft cushiony seats and proper bedding. There were even individual TV screens at each seat, however they didn’t work at all! The cabins have oxygen piped in to help breathing in the high altitudes – at one point the train reaches 5,000m, the highest of any train line in the world.
Much of the Tibetan plateau was still covered in snow or frost, making for some very pretty views on Day 1. We also passed by numerous rivers and lakes, and passed time trying to figure out what we were looking at based on the Lonely Planet and Daniel’s map of Tibet. Unfortunately our travelling companions were not much help – they were probably the least friendly we’d encountered in all our train rides thus far. It was very strange for us, given that we’d travelled with so many people whose languages we could not speak. Nevertheless we’d managed to have conversations in broken English, a smattering of their language, and hands and feet. The Chinese we encountered on our train ride (and indeed during our time in China – apart from a few friendly young people) seemed reluctant to even communicate with us in the first place. Although we tried to use Mandarin words here and there, they just refused to engage with us, leaving us quite disappointed.
Anyways, the scenery compensated somewhat, on Day 1 at least
Tibetan plateau with snow-capped mountains
River – we think it may be the Salween, that goes down into Myanmar
Fellow travellers…different vehicle though
The scenery on Day 2 was quite boring to say the least. We seemed to be passing through a massive quarry, with huge brown boulders on either side of the railway line. The monotony was broken somewhat by a couple of stops at stations along the way, with vendors selling apples, oranges, instand noodles, and some funny kinds of dried meats which Daniel was adventurous enough to try for dinner that night (apparently it was quite disgusting – it looked a bit like run-over satay, and tasted worse!!).
Passing through a massive quarry
It was a very welcome sight that greeted us early in the morning of Day 3, as we woke up a couple of hours outside of Nanjing. We’d entered the Yangtze river plains, with lush, fertile land all around it. It was so refreshing to see greenery after so many days of snowy and rocky mountains.
Greenery on Day 3
The final highlight of our train ride was crossing the Yangtze River on a special double-decker bridge. The top level of the 4.5km bridge is for cars, buses and other motor vehicles whereas the lower level is for the train. The sight of the Yangtze was simply breathtaking – it’s so huge! We drank in the sight of the Yangtze, especially since we had decided not to do the Yangtze Cruise on this trip – it was the wrong season and it would have been too cold to enjoy the cruise.
After almost 48 hours of travelling, we finally pulled into Nanjing station, tired out, a bit stinky, and rather hungry!
Finally – arrival at Nanjing!