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Qinghai Tibet Railway ~ Sky Train to Lhasa

Tibet Travel Blog

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K917 from Lanzhou to Lhasa

Tibet, the mystical land and dubbed “Roof of the World” becomes easily accessible with the exciting launch of the train that runs from the various cities in China to Lhasa on 1stJuly 2006. China’s President Hu Jintao declared at the launch of the first train to Lhasa as another magnificent feat made by the Chinese people after the completion of the Three Gorge Dam. This train has aroused much of the world's attention and it had certainly caught our attention too. Plans made, booking secured and we were on our way to try out this novelty ride three months after the launch.

Not wanting to ride through entire China to Lhasa, we chose to start our train ride in Lanzhou.

Lanzhou Lhasa Train K917
The entire train ride from Lanzhou to Lhasa was 29 ½ hours. Our train K917 departed Lanzhou at 4.45pm on 20thOct 2006 and arrived in Lhasa the following night at 10.30pm. The good thing was that the scenic part of the journey through the Tibetan plateau would start only at the next morning. That means we could have a good night rest and wake up to enjoy watch the beautiful scenery passing by on the journey to Lhasa.

This railway is certainly something to rave about - from being the world's highest and longest plateau railroad to being an engineering marvel with technological breakthroughs in the railway construction as almost half of the total track was being built on fragile permafrost (frozen soil). About 960 km of the track is located 4,000m above sea level.

A journey on this railway meant that we became witness of magnificent projects, of which 9 made world records in the railway history:

1)  The highest railway in the world at 5,072m above sea level.

Scenery of the Tibetian Plateau along the way to Lhasa

2)  The longest plateau railway stretching a length of 1,142km.

3)  The longest plateau railway crossing the permafrost.

4)  The highest train station in the world – Tangula Train Station at 5,068m above sea level.

5)  The most elevated tunnel in the world on permafrost – Fenghuoshan Tunnel at 4,905m above sea level.

6)  The longest tunnel on permafrost with a length of 1,686m at the Kunlun Mountain Tunnel.

7)  The highest track-laying base in the world - Anduo County with a height of 4,704m above sea leavel.

8)  The longest rail bridge over the plateau permafrost – Qingshuihe Bridge at 11.7km.

9)  The fastest train compared with all other plateau rails at a speed of 100km/hr on permafrost and 120km/hr on regular soil.

Snow capped mountains and permafrost

The scenery along the Tibetan plateau was nothing short of breathtaking – grand snow capped mountains, glaciers, miles and miles of vast wilderness, wild yaks and sheep roaming in the grasslands, highlands and of course the beautiful and peaceful Cuona Lake which is a huge lake covering 300 square kilometers and the highest freshwater lake at 4,594m above sea level.

Considered as an engineering miracle, the construction challenges include the fragile permafrost and marsh easily damaged by human encroachment, oxygen deficiency due to the high altitude, freezing coldness and ecologically vulnerable environment including the wild highland animals. To prevent the permafrost from melting and the railway track from sinking, sunshades and high-tech cooling columns had been plunged into embankments and thick gravel pads were used to keep the ground stay frozen.

Permafrost stabilisation poles along the way

Like in an aircraft, the inside of the train was regulated with oxygen from 3,000m above sea level onwards. There were many oxygen outlet points along the entire train, including under the seats and tables in the dining car. Unwell passengers suffering from altitude sickness could easily obtain the additional oxygen by plugging a nozzle into these outlets located next to seats / sleepers and along the corridors.

The soft sleepers that we had booked were very comfortable. The soft sleeper compartments consisted of four cushioned beds with thick blankets and pillows. Each bed had its own TV screen at the foot of the bed including headphone and reading lamp. There was also a control to adjust the volume of the train announcement to avoid any disturbances at night.

Yaks roaming in the vast wilderness
As the train ran very smoothly along the track, one could get a good night rest.

The cuisine served on the train was local Chinese food. A variety of set meals were available at economical prices. For a set dinner costing US$60 for three people, we had a feast of nine dishes including excellent cod fish, meat and vegetables and herbal soup with cordyceps (Dong Cong Xia Cao) which was supposed to help with altitude acclimatization.

This train ride was a great alternative to flying into Lhasa. Not only was the view of the Qinghai province and the Tibetan plateau breathtaking, it also allowed the body more time to start acclimatizing to the higher altitudes.

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anupa_rk says:
Great info!
Posted on: Jun 12, 2016
skippyed says:
One day :-)
Posted on: May 12, 2016
vodkaphix says:
I can only say WOW to this trip! Thank you.
Posted on: Aug 31, 2009
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K917 from Lanzhou to Lhasa
K917 from Lanzhou to Lhasa
Lanzhou Lhasa Train K917
Lanzhou Lhasa Train K917
Scenery of the Tibetian Plateau al…
Scenery of the Tibetian Plateau a…
Snow capped mountains and permafro…
Snow capped mountains and permafr…
Permafrost stabilisation poles alo…
Permafrost stabilisation poles al…
Yaks roaming in the vast wilderness
Yaks roaming in the vast wilderness
Permafrost
Permafrost
Along the aisle of the train
Along the aisle of the train
Extra oxygen supply outlet inside …
Extra oxygen supply outlet inside…
Trying out the oxygen supply for f…
Trying out the oxygen supply for …
Traffic jam on the highway through…
Traffic jam on the highway throug…
Permafrost stabilisation poles
Permafrost stabilisation poles
Trucks on the highway
Trucks on the highway
Inside our 4 person cabin
Inside our 4 person cabin
Enjoying our 9 course dinner feast
Enjoying our 9 course dinner feast
Scenery along the way to Lhasa
Scenery along the way to Lhasa
Wild yaks roaming in the wilderness
Wild yaks roaming in the wilderness
Crossing one of the bridges along …
Crossing one of the bridges along…
Sheeps in the vast wilderness
Sheeps in the vast wilderness
Prayer place in Tuotuo River villa…
Prayer place in Tuotuo River vill…
Passing by some local workers on t…
Passing by some local workers on …
Qingshuihe Bridge the longest rail…
Qingshuihe Bridge the longest rai…
Tanggula Station 5013 meters - hig…
Tanggula Station 5013 meters - hi…
Brief stop at Naqu - 4513 meters
Brief stop at Naqu - 4513 meters
Tanggula Mountains
Tanggula Mountains
Cuona Lake at 4594 meters - larges…
Cuona Lake at 4594 meters - large…
Reflections
Reflections
Cuona Lake, highest freshwater lak…
Cuona Lake, highest freshwater la…
Cuona Lake, highest freshwater lak…
Cuona Lake, highest freshwater la…