Train through Eastern Tibet

At 4:30pm in Xining we boarded car #1, just behind the engine car and found the middle bunks # 15 and 16 in a doorless room of 6 hard sleepers. We greeted our bunkmates with a smile and a Ni Hao and we were relieved when they responded in kind. For half of our previous train experience our neighbors were not so friendly, not returning our smiles even. Our new bunk mates were the opposite; they even shared food with us offering cherry tomatoes and the smallest cucumbers we had ever seen with the stem still on them. They were crisp and delicious.

We watched the sun disappear behind a low rounded mountain, did our evening ablutions and snuggled into bed. The train lights went out at 10pm but we stayed up and watched Donny Brasco with Al Pacino and Johnny Depp on our small tablet computer. We ate Oreo cookies that we had bought ourselves as a treat. At midnight we fell asleep knowing we would wake up on the Tibetan plateau.

The next morning we awoke just in time to witness the sun rise and make the long soft grasses glisten golden as they blew in the wind. The morning scenery included every shade of beige with a beautiful blue sky. We saw herds of sheep pass by our window and what Ligeia called “furry cows” which we realized were yaks, a very prevalent in Tibet.

As we moved along we began to sparingly see small concrete houses with colorful Tibetan prayer flags flapping in the wind. We saw some motorcycles with the drivers face completely covered except for a narrow slit to see.

At one point in the morning our bunkmates generously grabbed our attention to point out a gorgeous large blue lake we were passing. One woman even offered us her very coveted seat right by the window so we could see better. Without a doubt all the passengers filled the one side of the train to look, take pictures and exchange smiles with other passengers expressing their appreciation of such a natural beauty. We felt very lucky to be a part of that experience.

As our journey continued the white-caped mountains in the distance became not so distant and we found ourselves go right through them. The blue sky changed to cloud-covered. This blanket of white made spotting black yaks very easy. Our window in either direction looked like paintings of a white winter scene speckled with black yaks over the landscape.

In the afternoon Mindy, who always faces the direction of the train to avoid motion sickness, spotted dark clouds ahead. By this time the train was considerably less crowded with only one person left in our room of bunks. The corridors were much less packed with people making a trip to the “bathroom” much easier.

When we reached the dark clouds it snowed for a bit. It was at this point that we began wondering how we would meet our guide. Would s/he have a sign with our name? What if no one came to pick us up? We would have no way of contacting the agency other than an email address. We also didn’t even have the name of the hotel in which we were staying. We decided to just put our faith in the company and see what happens.

We arrived in Lhasa after 24 hours on the train and it had become a bit sunny again. We were met by a man named Buchong who will be our guide for the next week. We also met our 3 Dutch traveler companions who also signed up for the tour. Buchong gave us all white satin scarves welcoming us to Tibet.

After checking in to our hotel…

…we immediately went out exploring. Besides we needed water. We found ourselves at the Barkhor where we walked around with people doing a kora or pilgrimage. It was amazing to watch. We watched a temple for awhile and just looked at what people were doing. But we’ll talk about our impressions of Lhasa later after we’ve been here for a bit.

Both of us have experienced a bit of altitude sickness including symptoms of shortness of breath and mild headaches. Mindy also became a bit dizzy at times. We’re keeping a close watch on that. For those of you that might worry about this, please know that we will stay in Lhasa for a few days before increasing our altitude again.

Please check in again for our Lhasa experiences.

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