The China-Tibet train, also known as the Qingzang Railway, is the highest railroad in the world stretching for 1,956 km / 1215 miles to connect Xining, the capital of the Qinghai Province and Lhasa, capital of Tibet. Xining has connections to China's major cities, like Beijing, Shangai or Guangzou so you can reach the starting point of this journey easily.

The railway beat several world records in this form of transportation ,being the longest plateau railway with the entire tracks built from start to end on it. The Tanggula station is the highest at 5,068m /  16,627 ft above sea level, the Fenghuoshan is the highest tunnel built on permafrost at 4,905 m/ 16,902ft.

It was mostly built on permafrost, which was a massive challenge to the engineers ,along with the fact that at that high altitude the oxygen available is half of that you find at sea level. Side-effects of high altitude sickness are present, although there are oxygen masks and doctors on board in case someone has an acute case,  so take that into account if you plan to travel on this train.

Snow capped mountains
The train crosses between snow capped mountains and prairie - Copyright by Jan Renruik/Wikipedia
The train passes along a greenish mountain range
Along a greenish mountain range - Copyright by Tjendra/Flickr
Enjoying the views outside
Enjoying the views outside - Copyright by LhuBoom/Flickr
Passing by Qinghai lake
Passing by Qinghai Lake - Copyright by yangXue/Flickr
Yet another spectacular view
Yet another spectacular view - Copyright by randomix/Flickr
The Potala Palace
The Potala Palace in Tibet - Copyright by HeroFigaro/Flickr

The Journey

Journey map

Starting in Xining, the capital of the Qinghai province, the first part of the journey ends in Golmud and stretches for 814 Km / 506 miles. 120 kms / 75 miles towards west, the first point of interest is the Jinyintan Prairie, an unlimited portion of land covered by lavish green grass and blooming little blossoms. To appreciate the natural beauty and life that exists here it is best to come from July to September.

About one hour into the journey, the second major landmark is the beautiful Qinghai Lake with its crystal clear waters and vast areas of Cole flowers blossoming while the background of snow capped mountains is something to remember from this journey.

Altough we describe the journey as travelling in the Spring or Summer seasons, the views have a unique look from season to season, so it is up to you to choose the best time to go and which one will you enjoy. If you love to see vast areas of nature covered in snow, then the Winter will delight you as well.

The next highlight is the Qarhan Salt Lake, which has a wide bridge over the lake made of salt extending for 32 kilometers / 19.8 miles.

After the inhospitable views of the salt lake, the Kulun Mountains are next ahead and get ready for its breathtaking views. In the limits of the Qinghai province, you will see its east pinnacle, the Mount Yuzhu which is still covered in snow in the Summer. An interesting part of this area is going through the Kunlun Mountains Tunnel, which is the longest permafrost tunnel in the world. After leaving the passage, see some traces of Taoist culture with a couple of santuaries in view, Mani stones of Tibetan Budhism and several types of stone statues.

Kunlun Mountains
Kunlun Mountains - Copyright Larry He/Flickr

The train then moves onto Hoh Xil, China's biggest and the world's third biggest inhabited ranges. Here you can see several waterways and creatures and if you are lucky, you can see the Tibetan eland and yak. Passing over the extensions of the rivers Chamuer and Tuotuo which are in the pper reach of the Yangtze river the area is just terrific and marvellous to watch. Sometimes the railway takes a turn and goes straight to what is called the "paradise" which is a great description and mark on the Tibet "Grand Road"

This is a journey full of mountain scenery that doesn't stop with the Kunlun mountains as ahead is the Tanggula mountains. Here is the highest train station in the world, the Tanggula station at 16,627 feet (5,068 meters) and where the oxygen is at 60%, so follow the advise given above and be ready for this journey since it is one of the most thrilling and challenging out there. These mountains have snow all year round which along with the blue colors of the Tanggula river, will put you at the window admiring all the scenery.

Tanggula Mountains
Tanggula Mountains - Copyright Wikimedia Commons

Moving away from Tanggula mountains, the train reaches Nagqu district with its landscape variety that can differ between lakes, extensive prairies and wild species of birds. The Nakchu railway station serves the district which is located in the Qiangtang Pasture. If you come in August, the Nakchu Horse Race is held and attracts numerous visitors.

Continuing our journey, the Cuona lake is another highlight. With a size of 400 square kilometers (154 square miles), the waters are clear and the surrounding meadows and animal life that go into here is a very special view.

Nagqu Horse Race
Nagqu Horse Race - Copyright Wikimedia Commons

Onto the last mountain in the journey, you will see the Nyainqentanglha mountains. On a perfect sunny day, its crest can be seen surpassing the mists.

Done with mountain views, we arrive in the area of Yangpachen, a region rich with hot springs where China's major power plants are located to make the most of Earth's energy sources.

Stream in Yangpachen valley - Copyright Mackaysavage/Wikimedia
Stream in Yangpachen valley - Copyright Mckaysavage/Wikimedia

Before reaching Lhasa, the route lowers in altitude and the landscape displays more trees and small towns. You enter Dagze County, and will be in awe at the mix of landscaped points and the streaming waterway the train will go through in the valley.

Ahead the train enters Lhasa stream valley and goes through the fantastic Lhasa River Bridge, the clear blue waters below and the mountains tipping the blue sky is the perfect end to this wonderful journey.

Enjoy your time in Tibet with a visit to the Potala Palace, the Norbulingka Summer Palace, the Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Street to wrap this great travel experience in the best way possible.

Norbulingka Palace - Copyright Richard Mortel/Flickr
Norbulingka Palace - Copyright Richard Mortel/Flickr


To check prices,timetables and buying tickets visit the China-Tibet train website at China-Tibet train website.

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