Train from Xining to Lhasa

Trip Start Sep 08, 2010
1
116
228
Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of China  , Qinghai,
Monday, November 22, 2010

Plateau pastures scorched to hues of brown by the thin-aired sun, herds of black yak, a cluster of deer beside a frozen river, solitary tents and birds of prey with stretching wingspan, their feather tips gripping just enough of the particle-less sky to stay afloat. Snow-filled furrows and snow-dusted peaks rising either side.
Such beauty outside. Such beauty.
And inside? Children crying, squat toilets filled to over-flowing, the carriage attendant smearing it around with a fetid mop, hoiking, spitting and snotting on the carpet, all the basins blocked, the water switched off and a shifty guy who boarded at a random stop in the middle of nowhere has now made himself quite at home in our booth, stretching himself out on someone else's bed.

The train is relatively empty; carriages a quarter full, peaceful and relaxed. All that is bar carriage 1. We are in carriage 1.

But still the most perfect day on a train imaginable. Living up to all expectations. I have been looking forward to this particular day's train for months, since the very inception of our travel plans and yet it has still managed to be more than all those expectations. It is the most perfect days train ride imaginable - if you ignore the mayhem inside the carriage and concentrate on the stunning landscape that you are so privileged to be travelling through, watch the passage of the sun through the sky, crossing over the carriage, sending shadows back from where it came - ignoring also the cultural and ecological devastation this piece of engineering represents: ethnic-cleansing by infrastructure. And yet there is no denying that it is a marvel of engineering and when you sit there and gaze out of the window you can be forgiven for letting all those thoughts slip away as you become immersed in the wonder of the Tibetan Plateau.
You sit down and try to take notes, or have a kip or eat some lunch but you cannot tear yourself away from the window. You turn your head and you miss another spectacle. You just want to photograph everything, capture it and take it with you but there is too much beauty and in the end all you can do is sit and gawp.
We pass clustered settlements, each homestead arranged around its own courtyard, pass pilgrims prostrating their way down the long, empty road to Lhasa, we pass the bluest, highest, flattest lakes that surround us and then are gone. And we arrive in Lhasa, full of excitement, full of dizziness and short of breath, to find a station that has attempted to pay architectural homage to the Potala Palace but succeeds only in emulating Lenin's mausoleum in Red Square.


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