Rail Adventure to Tibet
September 26th to October 2nd, 2010


In our family, we are big rail fans... I've been a rail fan pretty much all my life as far back as I can remember.  It probably started around the time my Papa gave me my first Lionel train set for Christmas in 1974 when I was four years old. My parents then perpetuated my love for trains during my youth by buying me books about trains, taking me on train trips in various places, and taking me to train museums.  In more recent history we've lived in Japan which is the land of trains. We took Grant on many a train ride there from when he was an infant. Since moving to China, we have not had much of a chance for rail travel.  But when I first learned about the newly completed train stretching across China to Tibet, I knew this is one train adventure I wanted to experience. I have to give credit to Audrey for coming up with the idea earlier this year of a father-son rail journey to Tibet with Grant as part of a grand celebration of my 40th birthday and Grant's 7th birthday since both our birthdays are in October.

So a few months ago, I began to plan the trip from Shanghai to Lhasa for Grant and myself.  The distance by rail is 4,373 km (2,717 miles) and the time needed to travel that distance is 48 hours. This amazing railway line crosses almost two-thirds the way across China and passes through some of the most diverse geography and settings that I have ever seen on one trip...from the coastal mega-metropolis of Shanghai, through the heavily industrialized eastern provinces of China, into the interior of middle China with granite mountains and muddy rivers, into the arid west and high pleateau through hundreds of kilometers of permafrost and snow, ending up in Tibet in the southwest in the high foothills of the Himalayas where the 'low' altitude in the city of Lhasa is 3,650m (12,000 feet).  The rail line is a feat of engineering in itself breaking several different records and is the highest railway in the world passing a maximum altitude of 5,072m (16,640 feet)...so high that oxygen is pumped into the cars from Golmud to Lhasa so passengers like us can breath and help avoid getting altitude sickness!

I knew that the train trip in itself was going to be a great experience in itself but what Grant and I didn't expect was how beautiful and enchanting a place Lhasa and Tibet is in itself.  Lhasa is steeped in history going back into the 7th century AD and is the birthplace of Tibetan Buddhism.  There are influeneces of Indian and Chinese culture in the architecture, the religion, and the food that meld to form the Tibetan culture.  But even within Tibetan people themselves there is great diversity.  And most everyone we met from the farmers to the monks were warm and friendly and really got a kick out of Grant with his fair skin and blonde hair.

I believe in Lhasa you can really feel a culture and history that has sustained itself over the centuries and still thrives today without being overly commercialized.  It is a place where many tourists come but still does not have too much of a touristy feel to it...this is pretty rare in the world today. If you dig into the interior of Lhasa and it's people (and probably much so more the rest of Tibet) you can really still get a feeling of being a true explorer from a far off land coming into a wonderful new, yet ancient, world.

And I must tell this little story-within-a-story: We had a great Tibetan guide on our trip whose name is Nam. He is a very kind man and was great with Grant. And what I found out is that Nam and I share the same birthday...I mean the exact same birthday, October 8th, 1970.  So fourty years ago Nam and I were born on the exact same day 8,000 miles (13,000 km) away and through all our lives' twists and turns we ended meeting up in Lhasa fourty years later....how about that as an example of providence?

The map of our route and photos from our trip start below...



Below is the map of our route from Shanghai to Lhasa.  The green point is Shanghai in the east and the red point is Lhasa. Thanks to Google maps!  You can scroll around in the map and zoom in...even put it into Google Earth.



View Shanghai to Lhasa Train Route in a larger map




Below are photos from the trip taken in order. Be sure to use the 'full screen' and 'back' buttons when viewing the galleries (see example on the right).








Part One:

Train Journey from Shanghai to Lhasa

Grant and I make the 48 hour journey from Shanghai to Lhasa. See the beginnings of our trip here.







Part Two:

Potala Palace

Easily one of the most recognizable places in Tibet and Lhasa, Grant and I toured the facinating and beautiful Potala Palace. See the photos of the place and the people here.







Part Three:

Jokhang Monastery on Barkhor Square

The second place we went to on our first full day in Lhasa was the Jokhang Monastery. It is located just a little over one kilometer from Potala Palace. Nam told us that Jokhang is the heart of Lhasa and once we were there we could easily see why. It is a busy place full of life! See Jokhang here.







Part Four:

Drepung Monastery, Norbulingka, and Ani Tsankhung Nunnery

Thursday was our busiest day in Lhasa as we delved deeper into the history of Lhasa and Tibet. One of my favorite places was the Dreprung Monastery which was high on a hillside at the edge of Lhasa. It was a very serene and beautiful place. See all the day's travels here.








Part Five:

Yamdrok Lake and Headed Home

We spent our last full day in Tibet heading out of Lhasa to go see Yamdrok Lake. The lake is situated on the far side of a 5,000m mountain pass. It gave Grant and I the chance to really see the countryside outside of Lhasa. Then when we got back to Lhasa later that evening and also Saturday morning before we had to head back to the airport, we took some time to walk around Lhasa one last time. We sure will miss being here! Grant did not want to leave. See photos of our last day and a half in Tibet here.  





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 All images Copyright © 2010 Thomas Nord