Lhasa, Tibet: Flights, Sleeper Trains & The Tibetan Plateau...

Tibet was the big one! It was a trip that almost didn't happen, through the craze of cancellations I made my two day journey to the Tibet Autonomous Region at the end of April 2017. Taking a flight and then an overnight train beginning in Central China to the Wild West of Tibet took some going! It was an experience for sure! Oh, that upper bunk on the sleeper train was insane!

Securing some extra days away from work, I was enabled to book the trip of a lifetime to Lhasa, Tibet. Choosing Tibet Vista didn't take much thought because the itinerary and date worked for me just fine. Deciding upon the four day Lhasa short trip, I was excited to see the main highlights that the holy city of Buddhism had to show me. Booking a train from Wuchang to Lhasa would have taken me two days but I got dealt a bad card, the train journey was thrown into jeopardy because a hard seat would not do for that journey! My tour advisor suggested that I change the train from Lanzhou to Lhasa, scrap Wuchang completely by flying up to Lanzhou the night beforehand. That alteration caused a lot of drama! The day arrived for me to jet off to Lanzhou, boarding my Hainan Airlines flight from Wuhan was a breeze. Descending into Lanzhou Zhongchuan Airport in the dead of night was exciting still, the landscape looked mystical! Was it still China? Of course, I grew closer to the Tibetan Plateau! 西藏 was calling! 是!

Waking up bright and early in my Lanzhou hotel, I was pumped for my first sleeper train experience in China! Was I crazy? No! My Lanzhou Railway Station facing hotel afforded me the chance to catch some vital sleep before I ventured over the next morning after the flight. With everything in hand, I didn't have any time for those famous noodles, it was off to catch my Tibet bound train! Producing my Tibet Travel Permit to the ticket guard to retrieve my ticket, it was an unnerving moment whilst the lady took my documents away for further inspection. Trading those Lanzhou Noodles with some train worthy snacks, I was half prepared for my first every sleeper train in my life! Z917 was due to depart at 11:16 a.m, after scrambling under the platforms to reach platform five was an effort! Finding myself onboard that train at long last was a blessing but I would need to buckle down with that Chinese language learning! I was bound for a 23 hour and 55 minute train journey that would arrive into Lhasa the next day at 11:10 a.m!

So, the hard sleeper cabin looked fine from the outside, not much different compared to the soft sleeper apart from the upper berth. Trust me to have been allocated one of those 'upper bunks' for my first overnight train! No, I'm not the most agile of people, in-fact I'm damn right awkward but I got a grip of that situation. With the help of a Chinese guy who looked around my age, he helped me stow my back at the foot of my high up sleeping place. I had to work out getting up and down from that triple bunk rapid, no mistakes could be made because it was just so in that time period. It was to be for one night only and I could deal with that for the experience alone. The short trip from Lanzhou to Xining flew past literally, another Muslim city within China's northwest that I must visit! The landscape changed dramatically as we left Xining, truly then the wildlife came out over the never-ending Tibetan Plateau. I was genuinely excited to see the upcoming views, I would not be disappointed in the slightest! O, I felt blessed! 

With no door to close, it was great to hear the chattering Chinese conversations. I had packed with me some instant noodles and a few other bits for the journey including a beer or two so I could get over the height and craziness of my sleeping situation. Day turned into night, with lights out at 10 p.m prompt, that signal gave me the chance to have a sound sleep, the change in oxygen was something to deal but with the motion of the train I slept soundly until 7 a.m. For photos, I relied on my iPhone heavily. We made our last stop in Gansu Province the previous night just after 9:30 pm, finally we had reached the Tibetan side of the vast Plateau. If truth be told, anything past Gansu and beyond looked amazing, the views were unstoppable. Seeing the herds of Tibetan yaks and frontier houses gave me the sense that Lhasa wouldn't be far off. I had been transported to another world, I felt very fortunate to see such wondrous settings. The sky looked heavenly, no polluted views were in sight, it was like heaven on earth! Yea, truly, truly!

Getting off the train was a relief to say the very least, the journey from Lanzhou has passed me by effortlessly, time was never an issue. Going through the exit of Lhasa Railway Station, I was ushered into a separate building without my documents in my possession. Yes, another passport and permit check needed to be done! For a moment I didn't see the Tibet Vista logo or even my name but after looking close enough I found 'Phurbu' who was my tour guide. I don't do group tours but travel in Tibet is different for citizens other than Mainland Chinese. I was prepared to adapt my way of travelling for this special once in a lifetime trip. In the thick of the old city, Lhasa showed me a myriad of alleys that were brightly adorned with prayer flags and colourful souvenir crafts. Incense could be smelt in the air, it was an attack on my senses in the very best way. Taking my time, I had the rest of the afternoon and evening to myself. My small carry-on bag would soon be filled up with incense sticks and goodness knows what else, I had my money! 

The journey from the train station felt bizarre as the minibus passed for formidable Potala Palace! Lhasa knew that I had arrived! The hotel check-in was fine, it was a comfortable and clean place for us to stay on Beijing East Road. Lunch was tasty, I had a Tibetan Bobi that was like an Indian Chapati served with chicken and a cool Raita. Making the most of the free time, I found a quiet Tibetan tea lounge, I ordered a yak butter tea and a potato dish to eat. The tea house had me feeling like I had found a gem, the potato dish tasted as if it was Indian with a certain spice to it. I found my way around the old city well, staying close to the hotel it was going to be a quite day for that first one in Lhasa. The whole journey from beginning to end prevailed no issues, no longer could I say that I hadn't been on a night train in China! My some major miracle I found myself standing in Lhasa, Tibet with a new set of lungs because that high altitude setting had me breathing in some really fresh air! I took in absolutely every moment! 

Heavenly Tibet...

Joseph Harrison 


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