Gangster B-movie set

Xining Travel Blog

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Train to Lhasa

12 Hours later I arrive in Xining and are welcomed by what looks like a 90's gangster B movie set. Mr. Niu awaits me near the station exit and asks me if I'm the man from Holland and I respond if he is Mr. Niu and continue to ask him if he is the man who can help me with my little problem and off course he can!

He brings me to a dirt-cheap Chinese hotel that is probably used for the hour. In the hotel room he explains his "service" and what it takes to buy his "service". Well his "service" doesn't come cheap; Y900. For this I will get one hard sleeper train ticket leaving from Xining to Lhasa and a "free pass" that will get me past all the checkpoints. The ticket itself is only Y528 but as Mr. Niu assures me hard sleepers are really hard to get and must be purchased on the black market with a premium. After he "obtains" my ticket from his contacts, he can tell me what time my train will leave. But that is not all because he has to go to the civil servant who checks the permits and "tell" him not to check mine. He particularly tells me not to go to the station, as it will cause suspicion and that is the least we want now. That's fine with me as I'm a little bit beaten down by the bus and train I took in the last days and need some desperate rest.

So I lock myself up in the hotel room and am asleep when Mr. Niu rushes in and is very nervous and asks me if he can have my passport for a photo check because there's a new procedure that if you buy a ticket for a foreigner you must show his/her photo. I'm not gonna give my passport to him as I don't want that thing happening again when I was in Cartagena, Colombia, so I give him a photo of me and that's fine. After this we're off to the supermarket to buy some much needed supplies and medicines for my cold, when we return I lock myself up in the hotel room again as it is better not to speak in public about going to Lhasa.

It's all a bit to hush hush for me, so I check my ticket and there it is; English naming on the ticket. This ticket can't be bought at the black market as only foreigners get these tickets! Well at least someone is making some good money on this deal and it isn’t me. My suspicion is further aroused when two Japanese tourists are offered the same deal but in just 30 minutes before the train leaves. How can he be so sure that he can purchase those tickets for this train from the black market in such short notice?

Anyway I'm too tired to question his antics and am just glad that I will be on the train shortly. The "promised" check ups are also non apparent and boarding the train is a piece of cake, so why the nervous and hush hush act? Probably to make me feel I'm in a 90's gangster B movie.

On the train I meet a Belgian family with two kids so I can speak some Dutch again which is very nice. They travel with an Australian couple Sean & Claire and a Canadian photographer Connie. We have great fun as the train is the most luxurious and modern I've been on in China, there’re even power lets to hook up your electronic gear! Eddie the Belgian teaches us a great card game; "Vieze" and we kill our time between this game and taking photo's from the amazing scenery of the Tibetan plateau.

At 06:30 pm we arrive in Lhasa or at least a few miles away from Lhasa as the train station is built on the other side of the river and there is no bridge yet so we have to charter a minibus to get us to Lhasa. Eddie has already a minibus for his family and triumphantly tells us that the driver will bring the four of them to Lhasa for Y10. Well he's in for a big surprise as the going rate is Y10 per person. Sean & Claire, Connie and me manage to get a shared minibus for Y30 for the four of us.

All characters and names in this story are fictional and any resemblance is purely coincidental.

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Train to Lhasa
Train to Lhasa
photo by: bluemarbletreader