The good news is that our compartment is just around the corner from the loo and the 3 sinks outside in the corridor outside it. We have the convenience of proximity but it comes with the dark side. The evenings are terrible as the hawking and carry-on in the sink area goes on and on. Why is this so essential? Could it be that the Chinese produce more phlegm than others? Or is it just a (fill in the blank) habit? Once you get past that, it’s not so bad. (Ed. Note: Hmm not so bad, she says. Take a look at Terry getting ready for the destination and appropriate attire.
You see, as she found out the first time, when you flush, it sprays not only down into the bowl, but also up and around the room. The trick is to get out, reach across, flush and close the door before getting sprayed. Also, not to be too graphic, but there is a large kettle outside the lavatory which you can fill and then pour into the “toilet bowl” to get rid of the, let’s say, stubborn residue which might remain above the flush line. I know I, for one, was thrilled to open the door the first time…)
We woke at 7:00 and threw the curtains open at 8:00: what a different scene than the one we left as darkness fell the day before! The pictures will describe the snow-speckled tundra and rising mountains around us. It is beautiful in this barren and remote landscape. Once again, I am impressed by the geography and glad that I retained some things from my high school classes. I know now what lichen-covered actually means. The colours are amazing! We have seen wild donkeys and yaks and a small number of some sort of deer. Crows and hawks are here but not in any great numbers. There must be voles and mice to provide food to the birds but we can’t see them from the train. One sort of low-to-the-ground varmint moved along kind of like a badger but looked different, with a smaller head and tawny coloured fur.
We agree that in spite of the difficult first night, the decision to travel by train has been the right one. (Ed. Note: Last night there was only one interruption after we turned out the lights.) We would never have seen this amazing landscape, nor experienced the helpfulness and friendship of other travellers. One of the food sellers on the train seems to be looking out for us and after we bought a number of coffees (think vanilla latte—as sweet and creamy) from him, he stopped by later to provide us with altitude sickness pills, which may or may not keep the potential effects at bay. Last night we had to sign forms declaring we knew about altitude sickness. I woke up with a headache and that is part of it so hopeful the pills will help.
(Ed. Note: Along the way there are hundreds of thousands (seriously – they can go on for hundreds of yards at a time for miles on end) of these 3 or 4 foot squares. They will start and stop at exactly the same place on either side of the tracks. Terry thinks they may have something to do with snowdrifts but who knows?)
A fellow in the compartment next to us speaks a little English and gave us two cans of coconut water, which was very kind. Again, I stupidly left our Canadian flag pins at home in Jiaxing so Geoff got his email address and will later send him some. He lives in Xi’an so possibly we can call on him to show us around when we decide to go there.
All along the route are military establishments—some which have buildings and others that are merely tents. A few lone guards (for what?) stood at salute as the train passed. We wonder if these posts are the prelude to some advancement. They would hardly seem to be choice assignments. (Ed. Note: We saw a convoy of Chinese army trucks – there were literally hundreds of them and they all looked like they were carrying troops. Brewing rebellion in Tibet?)
As we made the climb to the summit at Tanggu-La (5072 metres) at the border to Tibet, the ground and peaks were completely snow-covered. (Ed. Note: How high is that? Well it is 16, 484 feet. When I jumped out of the plane, the plane was at 15 000 feet). Now that we are descending towards Lhasa, the tundra is exposed again. The train has stopped—we’re not sure where—but it has given us a good opportunity to photograph a yak close up and a nomad walking purposefully across the tundra.
(Ed. Note: We also stopped at Naqu and got out for some fresh air. According to the schedule we had a 30 minute stop, but after 5 minutes of being outside the guard told us all to get back on the train. I figured we were behind schedule and they wanted to make up time, but no we then just sat there for 25 more minutes! When Terry went to try to get off again, no dice, baby!)
As we continue our descent to Lhasa (a mere 3650 metres or 11 862 feet above Vancouver) we are seeing more and more small camps of nomads or perhaps yak herders (maybe a couple of hundred of them) and thousands more yaks and sheep. There are enough of them around for a school and basketball court to have been built. There also seems to be a strong military presence – at least there are many many building which appear to be barracks and a Chinese flag flying at each one.
We have also just finished a rather enjoyable dinner of noodles and broth, hyped by a strange looking dude in a lavender sweater, followed by some very delicious yak yoghurt (really).
We look forward to our time in and around Lhasa to see more of the indigent people.
(Ed. note: Now before we finish this with some breath-taking scenic photography, I ask you which of this two are more appropriately dressed for train travel to Tibet and thus the winner of the Best Dressed Contest: Contestant #1 – the young lady with the knee high boots, short shorts and a low cut blouse festooned with pearls on the front, or Contestant #2 the young man with the brown cords, and red and blue striped sweater vest over top a red, white and blue plaid shirt? And NO, you cannot vote for Terry’s biffy attire!)
And now, here are some photos of the landscape we enjoyed – no descriptions necessary. I will likely add more photos later, but for now this is it.