The Train to Tibet

Travelers to Tibet have a new option with China’s recently launched train

By: J.L. Erickson

Travelers looking for an adventurous way to get to Tibet have a new option with China’s recently launched passenger train on the world’s highest and longest plateau railroad, the first rail to connect the two regions.

The train, which can carry about 800 passengers, takes about 48 hours from Beijing about 26 hours from Xining, capital of Northwest China’s Qinghai Province to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, with departures from Xining every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

At the rail’s highest point it rockets through the Tanggula Mountain Pass, requiring the train to pump extra oxygen into its cabins to prevent altitude sickness. The train cars also have special fittings of double-paned windows with ultraviolet filters to protect passengers.

Some regional tour companies, including Shanghai Odyssey Travel Agency, already have begun offering a variety of travel packages, including, for example, an eight-day tour from Shanghai that costs about $1,500 for foreign passport holders and includes a travel permit, meals, accommodation and all transportation.

Beijing travel agencies also are promoting packages that combine air and rail, recommending air to Xining where they also can visit Qinghai Lake, the largest saltwater lake in China and the shorter train ride to Lhasa and air back to Beijing.

U.S. visitors to Tibet are required to obtain permits, which can be obtained at the travel agencies under the Tibetan Tourism Bureau. And while in Tibet, travelers can take in the 13-story Potala Palace, built in the 640’s during the reign of King Songtsan Gampo west of old Lhasa. The stone-and-wood palace has more than 1,000 rooms on 100 acres.

Travelers to the “Roof of the World” at 13,000 feet above sea level also can visit the Sera Monastery and the Jokhang Monastery as well as take in traditional Lhasa lifestyle along Barhkor Street.